A Distributed Book Printing Network
For years, the idea of a distributed book printing company has appealed to me. Ever since I did the preliminary research for Kinko’s on the book printing market, I knew that an opportunity existed for one company to jump in with book printing plants throughout the country and capture significant market share. Why? For the simple reason books are heavy. It costs money to ship them; sometimes nearly as much to ship them as to print them. Printing the books closer to where they will be distributed reduces shipping costs for publishers.
For any company embracing this opportunity several challenges must be overcome. First, how many printing plants are required? The actual number depends on whether the printer is targeting trade or industrial book publishers. For instance, if the printer targets trade book publishers, there are five Ingram warehouses, four Baker & Taylor warehouses and four Amazon warehouses located throughout the country. The printer would want to be close to these warehouses to minimize shipping expense.
In the past, printers have centralized their production in one facility because of the heavy capital expenditure of duplicating equipment in multiple locations. Centralization also eased the management, quality control and customer service issues. With today’s digital printing equipment, the capital needed to duplicate printing facilities in multiple locations is a fraction of what it once cost. For instance, a Xerox Docutech may be $500,000 but a traditional web press might cost $5 million.
Second, the quality of printing must be consistent from plant to plant. With a distributed network of printers, it is harder to control the quality on each shift in each plant. Once again, digital technology comes to the rescue. Creating the digital original in a standardized format, such as Adobe Acrobat’s PDF format, and running it on standardized digital output devices, improves quality control. Standardizing the digital original allows the quality control to be performed on the digital file before sending it to the output devices. While by no means perfect, a well-made digital file increases the chances the file will printing consistently on any output device.
Third, pricing the printed product must be fast, easy and consistent at each plant. Using standardized pricing and management software overcomes this shortcoming. Concentrating all the pricing and estimating and customer service functions in one location greatly aids consistency, too. Software makes creating an estimate faster and more accurate than creating one by hand. Fast turnaround on estimating is a requirement in the marketplace today. Furthermore, the pricing must be competitive with “traditional” book printers. And, while each printer’s cost structure varies, combining digital printing techniques with state-of-the-art pricing and estimating reduces the differences between traditional and digital printers in quantities up to 3,000 copies of a book.
Finally, fast turnaround of the printed book is paramount to the success of a distributed printing network. Scheduling work becomes one of the big constraints for any distributed book printer. Those printing plants closest to the largest warehouse, such as Ingram’s main warehouse in TN, will receive more work than plants nearer the remote warehouses and distributors. Fortunately, digital printing equipment is scalable and additional capacity can be added relatively quickly compared to adding additional presses.
The market is waiting for some company to offer a distributed book printing solution. Large chains, such as Kinko’s, have the potential to capitalize on the opportunity quickest. Franchise printers, such as Sir Speedy, PIP, Kwik Kopy and others, can capitalize on the opportunity too, but it is difficult to organize and coordinate independent franchisees to act as a coordinated group. The traditional book printers are too heavily invested in legacy printing presses and procedures to start completely new businesses. So, which company will step up to the challenge? Only time will tell.