AddMe - Search Engine Optimization Book Printing Forum: April 2005

Saturday, April 30, 2005

Additional Evidence for a Distributed Book Printing Network

Book printers are recognizing the value in a distributed book printing network throughout the world. Edwards Brothers and Rowman & Littlefield (parent company of National Book Network) announced a strategic relationship that leverages the two firms already existing digital book printing network. In June 2005, Edwards Brothers UK, Ltd. expects to be printing and shipping books on demand for National Book Network International (NBNi) client publishers in the UK and Europe. A print-on-demand facility is being established inside the National Book Network International operation in Plymouth, England. This solution integrates print-on-demand seamlessly with NBNi’s order processing system so digitally printed titles are perpetually available.

James E. (Jed) Lyons, President of Rowman & Littlefield PG says, “Edwards Brothers is an expert at print-on-demand.” Steve Smith, Manager of Digital Operations and Pre-Press Services for Edwards Brothers is responsible for making the facility fully operational by June. He says, “We are confident that our offer and pricing will be very attractive to UK publishers. Our rates are competitive and our staff are trained print professionals.”

The Plymouth, England print-on-demand facility is the second printing joint venture between Edwards Brothers and National Book Network. In 2000, they jointly launched a satellite print-on-demand facility at NBN’s US distribution center in Blue Ridge Summit, Pennsylvania.

In addition to this announcement, one must factor in the news of Amazon’s acquisition of BookSurge and Ingram’s ownership of Lightning Source. These are key indicators of a change in the book printing and distribution market. Amazon, Ingram and National Book Network appear ready to battle in the book distribution arena. Each has its own book printing capabilities. Each is looking at both the US and international markets. What do these acquiring companies see in the international marketplace that others do not? Which companies will be next to join the battle? Which book distributor will next acquire a printer? Which book printers will aggressively seek a partnership or to acquire a distributor?

The implications of these mergers and acquisitions may not be understood for years to come, but one thing is evident. The line between book printing and distribution is disappearing both in the United States and internationally.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Providing Superior Customer Service

No book printer ever sets out to do a bad job, but sometimes problems do occur. The mark of a good book printer is to have good problem resolution systems in place and recognizing the danger signs early. Set these procedures in place to help minimize problems and to overcome them when they do arise.

Begin with knowledgeable, well-trained customer service reps (CSR). Provide them with product knowledge, company knowledge and equipment knowledge. If the CSR is new, partner the new CSR with a more experienced one for a period of time to monitor calls and to listen how the more experienced CSR handles customer questions. Avoid putting a new CSR into a situation where he/she can make promises that your company cannot keep.

Provide all customers with written estimates of the job. Include a set of Terms & Conditions for the printing. In the Terms & Conditions, spell out key issues such as overs and unders, who owns the digital files, who owns the negs and plates (if there are any), how quality issues will be resolved and any company specific items you think are necessary. If you need a generic copy of Terms & Conditions, check the GATF/PIA web site,

Create a specific document, commonly called a Change Order form, which records all changes the customer makes to the document or printing requirements after the quote has been accepted. Often a publisher may not know that even small changes may cause the price to change by a substantial amount.

Have a clear escalation path to resolve problems when they arise. If the CSR is unable to solve the problem, make sure that everyone on the escalation path has decision-making authority to correct the problem or complaint. Nothing is more disturbing to a publisher than explaining a problem to someone who cannot resolve it. Finally, have a standard plan of action to address printing quality issues. If a publisher refuses delivery on a job, consider how to rectify the situation without giving a refund, if at all possible. Reprints, discounts on future orders, free shipping, or complimentary storage are all common solutions offered by printers. Keep in mind, however, if a job is good enough to keep, it is good enough to pay for. A bad quality job circulating in the marketplace is more damaging to your reputation and business than any financial loss you might incur from reprinting the job.

No one is perfect and even the best printers occasionally have a “job from hell” where everything that can go wrong, does. The printers who have the best systems in place are the printers with the best problem recovery skills and the ones that keep their customers happy.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Selling Book Printing When There is an Incumbent Printer

Selling book printing to an existing publisher is difficult. In every case, there is an incumbent printer. Since book printing is only ten percent of the publisher’s value chain, there is great resistance to change printers if the incumbent is performing adequately well. Sometimes a technology change provides a clear advantage over the incumbent. A new 48-inch, heat set press may provide a significant cost advantage over an incumbent who doesn’t have the same equipment. Sometimes you may catch a publisher when the incumbent printer has made a mistake or missed a deadline and the publisher is interested in making a change. Most times, however, inertia sets in for the publisher and the incumbent wins the jobs. What, then, is the best strategy to unseat an incumbent printer?

To unseat an incumbent printer begins with the basics. Does your current salesperson adequately represent your company? Is your salesperson properly groomed? Does your salesperson wear appropriate attire on sales calls? Does your salesperson have a pleasing personality? Does your salesperson understand the industry and speak the same language as the publisher? Does your salesperson understand the needs and challenges of the publisher? If the answer to any of these questions is no, then you must work to improve your salesperson in that area. If the answer to all these questions is yes, then it’s time to look at advanced selling techniques.

To overcome a publisher’s inertia and to unseat an incumbent printer, you must find a compelling reason to change. The publisher is never going to tell you outright that his current printer is unsatisfactory. In fact, unless the printer is blatantly bad, the publisher will continue to work with him because he feels it is easier to work with a printer that is trained in what the publisher wants rather than find and train a new one. You will have to uncover “hidden” wants and needs of the publisher through a systematic line of questioning.

The first step is to build rapport by asking the publisher about his business. To whom does he sell? What genres are his books? Who is his current printer? Once some rapport is built, then you can ask the questions to get at the hidden needs.

The line of questioning has two steps. First, ask the publisher what he likes best about his current printer. This is a non-threatening question. It allows you to learn what the publisher likes and values in his current printer. These qualities are the same ones he will value in you after the switch. Make note of the qualities for future discussions, but don’t comment or try to sell yourself at this time. Second, ask the publisher this question, “if there was one thing you would change about your current printer, what would it be?” This question exposes the incumbent’s weaknesses and provides you the key to presenting your company as a superior choice. It is important that you ask the question in exactly the same way I have shown you. Others have asked me if they must ask the question in this way. The answer is yes. Any other way of asking the question creates a threatening statement and may turn the publisher against you.

The next step is to ask a question that confirms what the publisher has told you. Pose the question in this way. If the publisher could find a printer that overcomes the one thing the current printer doesn’t do well, and did the same things the current printer does well, then would the publisher switch? For instance, if the publisher says he likes his current printers turnaround time and pricing but dislikes the customer service he receives, then the question would be phrased this way. “If you could find a printer with solid customer service and the same turnaround time and price as your current printer, would you switch?”

Too often salespeople get drawn into the price trap—that is trying to unseat the incumbent based on price alone. Unless there is a significant price difference—a minimum of 20%—then inertia will keep the publisher with the current printer. If the salesperson is confronted with comments like, “just tell me your price for 500 books” or “all I’m interested in is price,” then it requires some verbal judo to flip the conversation back to the hidden needs. A salesperson might say, “I know you get a good price from your current printer, and you have a certain level of service for that price. If you could change one thing about your current printer, what would that be?” Now you are back to a probing question that may unlock a hidden need from that publisher that you can fulfill.

Unseating an incumbent book printer requires specific selling skills for your salesperson. Invest in training your salesperson to ask the fundamental questions I outlined above. If you do, your salesperson will convert more established publishers and you will be rewarded with more book printing sales.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Printer's Responsibility to Reduce Returns

What responsibility does a book printer have to help publishers with book returns? Surprisingly enough, a great deal. Book printers have some control over minimizing returns to a publisher.

The idea of book returns is a practice that dates back to the Great Depression. At that time, bookstores could not sell books, so publishers put books into bookstores on consignment—only requiring payment when the books sold. If the books were damaged in shipping or did not sell after a period of time, the bookstore could return them to the publisher for a full refund. After the country emerged from the Great Depression, bookstores found an advantage by not changing the practice of returns, so it remains an advantage to the bookseller and an albatross to the publisher today.

If the book is not selling well, there is little a book printer can do to minimize the returns of that title. Marketing and promoting the book are the responsibilities of the publisher and the author.

If, on the other hand, the book is returned because of damage, then the book printer may play a bigger role in reducing returns. Most damage happens when the books are shipped. In today’s distribution model, a book may be shipped as many as four times before it arrives at the bookstore; once to the publisher, once to the distributor; once to the wholesaler and once to the bookstore. Proper packing of the books into the shipping cartons helps reduce the damage in transit.

Proper packing begins with using the correct shipping carton—one that is designed to ship books. What’s more, there are specific cartons for specific sized books. Select the carton that is appropriate for the size book to be shipped. There are cartons that are ideally suited for a 5.5 x 8.5 or 6 x 9 sized book that are inappropriate for an 8.5 x 11 sized book and vice versa. Furthermore, if the book seems likely to be damaged in shipping, then it may be wise to shrink-wrap the books in packages of one, two or five books. The number of books in a shrink-wrapped package depends, in part, on the requirements of the distributor or wholesaler receiving the books, too.

We produced one book, “Rise, the Tao of the Diva” with an embossed cover. It was a high value book and we knew that the embossed cover stood a strong chance to be damaged in shipping, so we shrink-wrapped the book into packages of five books. For identifying the potential shipping damage issue, thereby reducing returned books because of damage, we were rewarded by charging for the shrink-wrapping.

There are other sources of potential damage. The next most likely source of damage is poor binding—either perfect binding or case binding. I receive e-mails from publishers complaining of a large number of returns. They claim that bookstores or book reviewers comment on poor binding as being the cause of the returns.

A quick and easy quality control step to check the quality of the binding is to examine several books at random. Perform a stress test on the sample books by grabbing an interior page and jerking the book to see if the page rips out. This tests the strength of the bind. If the book is perfect bound, check the top and bottom at the bind for excess glue oozing out or an uneven glue line. Both symptoms are signs of poor quality binding. If the book is case bound, check the headbands. Also check the stitching, if the book is Smythe sewn to make sure it is not too visible when the book is opened. Check the gluing if the book is glued into the case binding.

Attend to these few quality control checks to help publishers minimize returns. Consult with the publisher, as early as possible, to discuss packaging and shipping requirements. Suggest shrink-wrapping the books, if necessary. In this way, you will make yourself more valuable to that publisher and capture more work.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Premium Book Example

I discovered a unique use of a premium book in the February 7, 2005 edition of BusinessWeek magazine. There was an advertisement in the magazine for Computer Associates. The ad promoted logging onto the Computer Associates’ Web site to register to win a copy of a new, highly acclaimed book, “Wedding of the Waters, The Erie Canal and the Making of a Great Nation,” published by W.W. Norton. BusinessWeek had given the book a favorable review the previous week, so regular readers may have read the review and would understand the value of the premium.

What struck me as interesting about this premium is that it had nothing to do with the sponsor. Computer Associates makes software. It is not an engineering firm, it doesn’t make products used on canals nor does it have any historical ties to the Erie Canal. The only connection is that the book is well written and was positively reviewed by BusinessWeek, the same magazine in which the advertisement appears. Computer Associates wants to be aligned with the book precisely because it is well written.

Giving a book as a gift says something about both the giver and the receiver. The receiver of the book is flattered that the giver thinks enough of him/her to give an enlightening gift. It also shows the giver put some thought into the gift to match the subject to the receiver’s interests.

So it is too with Computer Associates. They want to be seen as giving a premium of value and distinction with their premium gift. In addition, Computer Associates associated themselves with BusinessWeek by writing in the ad, “BusinessWeek brings you the world of business every week. CA brings you the latest innovations in management software.

The lesson for publishers is that any book may be used as a premium for a company, regardless of how loose the connection may be between the product and the book. “Wedding of the Waters” has little to do with Computer Associates, yet it was selected as a premium because it was well written and was positively reviewed in BusinessWeek. Book printers can help publishers to see these connections between the book and products that may benefit from using the book as a premium. Continually work with your publishers to think of imaginative ways to sell more books. If you do, you will be rewarded with more book printing for that publisher.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Innovative Review Options for Publishers

Part of the service a book printer may offer a publisher is offering a variety of methods to promote and market a book. The best way to promote a book is through book review. There are two new book review media that may be valuable to your customers. They are and uses short Flash video clips to summarize and promote books. It is a unique way to promote books to internet-savvy readers. Liz Dubelman created the site. It appears to be successful. One million people viewed the film for Ellie Weiner and Barbara Bavilman’s 2004 book, “Yiddish with Dick and Jane” (Little, Brown) in two weeks. has a large group of readers who look for reviews and opinions of all different kinds of media. Book reviews are a large part of the site’s content. In recognition of the number of self-published books, is adding a section to highlight five books per month. Blogcritics offers a great opportunity for independent authors to get publicity for their books. Blogcritics gets upward of 10,000 visitors per day and these visitors are the kinds of people who buy the media that they read about on the site.
Slots on the page will be filled on a first-come, first-served basis and will cost $300 for the placement in the featured book box as well as the five honest reviews from our various critics.

If you have any questions about the offer, or ideas as to how to make the better for independent publishers please contact Craig Lyndall; 440-666-1087; Email:

Successful book printing is about knowing how to make oneself indispensable to the target audience. Guide authors/publishers to sites such as these to promote their books makes any printer more indispensable than one who doesn’t.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

More on E-Books

E-books are the latest addition to an author/publisher's product offerings. There are some devoted e-book readers in the general population. Dan Poynter, a leading industry consultant, thinks they are the wave of the future. While they may be the future, today an e-book helps an author/publisher extend his product offering for a book. Consider a packaged goods product marketing analogy. If one goes to the grocery store, marketers are trying to compete for shelf space by offering a variety of products within the same product line. Hence, Campbell's has its regular soup, dry soups, microwaveable soups, individual serving soups, economy sized soups, etc. Campbell's dominates the soup aisle by offering so many types of soup that the shelves look red and white for as far as the eye can see.

Books are no different (although traditional book publishers won't agree). Author/publishers compete for shelf space in bricks & mortar bookstores and for web space on Amazon. Having a hardcover, trade paperback, e-book, audio book, and large print book provides the customer with a variety of options to consume the information and extends the books "shelf space" in the bookstore or on Amazon.

E-books have three distinct formats: Adobe Acrobat PDF, Microsoft .lit and HTML formats (readable on Mobibook readers and others). Continuing with the product extension concept, an author/publisher may opt for all three e-book formats to appeal to the broadest range of e-book readers. There are distinct differences in the readership among the three leading types of e-books, though. PDF books (and their specialized cousins, Acrobat e-book format) are the most popular. Microsoft is in second place, although a considerable distance behind and HTML books are a distant third. This may change, however, as Amazon has recently purchased Mobibook. Author/publishers are scrambling to convert their books into HTML to be read on Mobibook readers because they think that Amazon's marketing muscle will make this format more significant to readers.

E-books are constructed in two distinct parts, the text pages and the cover. As with traditional books, the cover of an e-book helps to sell the content inside. Unlike traditional books, however, most e-books are selected by the title first and the cover art second because most web sites list the titles but not the book covers for the buying public to see.

Constructing an e-book is divided into two distinct processes, converting the text pages into e-book format and converting the cover art. The text page conversion ranges from easy to hard depending on the format of e-book selected. If a printer owns a full version of Adobe Acrobat (including the distiller software), If a printer owns Distiller, converting the text is as easy as distilling the Word or page layout file into PDF. If the printer doesn't own distiller, then Adobe has a web site where one can upload a file and Adobe will distill the file. This service used to be free for up to 10 files, but may now cost a minimal amount. Microsoft .lit file conversion requires specialized software that few people own. A printer can opt to purchase the software or go to a service bureau to create the .lit file. HTML compilers for text are also available, but they are hard to learn and use. A printer can opt to go to a service bureau to have them create the HTML file for you.

Cover art is created in the same way as the text file for all three formats. The challenge is marrying the cover art to the text file to create a complete e-book. It is easier with Adobe Acrobat than the other two formats. With all three formats the trick is to keep the file size of the e-book small enough to download over the Internet. Cover art, unlike text files, is very large (images are always larger than text files). Combining the cover art to the text files and then optimizing the overall e-book file size requires skill.

E-book pricing is bi-modal; it is either very low or very high. Publishers have experimented with different price points to discover what price point sells best. At the low end of the price spectrum, e-books from $4.95 to $9.95 sell well. The ideal price within that range is $5.95 based on several studies. At the other end of the spectrum are the publications that offer specialized information available nowhere else. These publishers price their e-books from $69.95 to $125 with the ideal price at $79.95. The higher priced e-books require significantly more Internet (and sometimes direct mail) marketing to drive potential buyers to buy. At those prices, however, they have more profit margin to invest in such marketing. E-books priced like traditional books languish. Most readers understand that part of the price of a traditional book pays for the distribution (up to 70% of the retail price, in many cases). With e-books, however, the readers know the distribution costs are negligible and the readers are unwilling to pay nearly the same price as a traditional book.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

Opportunities at the LA Times Festival of Books

This year’s LA Times Festival of Books was more vibrant and electric than the last two years’ event. There was more buzz and excitement about books than in the past. There was also more opportunity for book printers and several of them capitalized on the excitement by exhibiting there. Overall, there was more emphasis on helping authors publish than in any of the previous ten festivals.

The crowd appeared to exceed last year’s total of 150,000 for the two-day event. The sunny weather brought out book lovers from throughout Los Angeles. There were also more vendor booths than in years past. An additional section of exhibitors were stationed near the West Entrance to the Festival of Books. Many famous authors, including Jason Alexander, Maria Shriver, Sue Grafton and others, were speaking or signing books.

Of most interest were the book printers and self-publishers. BookSurge was there, fresh off its recent acquisition by Amazon. They offered publishing packages to would-be authors that included printed books as the final product. Their booth was constantly busy. A new company, Cherish Bound, was soliciting consultants to sell biography and autobiography books to would-be authors. Cherish Bound is affiliated with a printer in Utah. They have a template for writing and laying out the books. Their process and procedures separate them from other self-publishing groups represented at the show. Also present was Star Publish, a self-publishing consultancy in the more traditional methods. They offer publishing packages ranging in price from $1,000-$1,800 for up to four free copies of a book and an e-book. The books are sold on their web site or through traditional bookstore channels and a royalty of up to 100% of the net price are paid.

The most exciting opportunity at the show was They offer a non-exclusive, distribution program for publishers to distribute their books through Amazon In the US, UK, Australia, New Zealand, France and Germany. The charge for distribution through AbeBooks is only 8%. The publisher pays the shipping costs themselves. Check out this program for your publishers at

The show was an opportunity to visit, briefly, with publishers to determine their printing needs. I met with Jeffrey Goldman of Santa Monica press. He has eight new books scheduled for release between April and November 2005 and two books for release in February 2006. Other publishers have books coming out this year that need printing, too. Some publishers I spoke with wanted new catalogues, while others needed marketing materials. Overall, I walked away with three solid printing quotes and several possible ideas.

Participating in consumer book fairs can be interesting, informative and productive. Read my April 16, 2005 posting for more details on how to effectively work a consumer book fair.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Aggressive Amazon

Google is doing book marketing; Barnes & Noble is in publishing; Random House is in distribution; and Penguin is in retailing according to Publisher’s Weekly. So what is Amazon doing with its latest two ventures?

Last Monday, Amazon acquired BookSurge, a print-on-demand and on-line bookstore. The acquisition gives Amazon the ability to print books in quantities as small as one copy. It also gives Amazon access to distribution in countries where BookSurge has printing partners and Amazon has no presence. There terms of the deal were not disclosed. BookSurge’s modest reputation obscures the acquisition’s meaning.

Also last week, Publisher’s Weekly announced that over the past few months, Amazon has quietly made the rounds to agents in search of authors to write short pieces for Amazon to sell. Amazon will charge $0.49 per electronic download for short stories, journalism, essays and other works ranging in size from 2,000-10.000 words. One report even suggests that Amazon may commission alternative endings to popular novels. The analogy used is Apple Computer’s iTunes—where music lovers can download songs for a fee.

In the financial structure of the deal, Amazon would charge $0.49 per download and receive 60% of each transaction. Volume of downloads is expected to be high. Which means if Amazon attracts the number of authors it intends, it could realize revenues of approximately $750,000. Amazon believes it has the ability to attract a large number of target readers without the help of publishers.

What are the implications of these two moves? One outcome is that Amazon is clearly positioned to battle Ingram in book distribution and book printing. Ingram owns Lightning Source, a competing, digital, print-on-demand book printer. Ingram is also the largest distributor of books to the bookstores. To wage this battle, what Amazon lacks in reputation and history, it makes up in marketing. Unlike Ingram, Amazon can pinpoint demand without investing a cent in additional infrastructure—which means it can begin printing immediately at a higher margin than an order placed through Lightning.

The two companies have existing working relationships, however. Lightning said in a statement that it has a strong relationship with Amazon and it “fully expects it to continue.”

What does it mean when a book retailer becomes a publisher and a printer? These two ventures are unquestionably Amazon’s most direct overlap with publishers to date. Amazon can do something that few editorial or retailer businesses can—use large amounts of exclusive writing where books are bought. One editor states, “The idea of one store being the exclusive publisher is the nightmare scenario. It would be war.” Amazon could attract authors with its marketing muscle and its ability to program search results on its site. Some observers are skeptical of the payment method. All songs on iTunes have already created a market by being previously released. It is unclear if book chapters, especially those previously unpublished, can be sold a la carte.

Time will tell if Amazon’s moves will produce results. The BookSurge acquisition validates those book printers engaged in short-run, digital book printing. If Amazon is investing money into the market, there must be an opportunity there. The move to attract authors is a longer-term investment. Will it put Amazon directly in competition with Ingram? How will Ingram react? How will large and small publishers perceive these moves? Will these ventures result in fewer book distribution options or will it expand the market for books and other printed material? Will these acquisitions improve Amazon’s share price? For now, all one can do is wait and observe the changing landscape of the publishing world.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

63,000 Publishers Counted in Recent Study

A revised estimate of the number of book publishers in the United States is exciting news for book printers. According to the Book Industry Study Group, the number is higher than once believed. In the new study, “Under the Radar,” there are about 63,000 publishers with sales of less than $50 million. The report was prepared by InfoTrends/CAP Ventures, a market research and strategic consulting firm. This figure, 63,000, is 14.5% higher than the last reported figure of 55,000 publishers quoted in the book “The Rest of Us” conducted by the Publishers’ Marketing Association in 1999.

The “Under the Radar” study goes on to state that these publishers generate annual revenue of about $14.2 billion, much of it outside traditional book publishing and book selling. The majority of that revenue—about $11.5 billion—comes from publishers with sales between $1 million and $49.9 million.

Jeff Abraham, executive director of BISG, said that while some of that revenue is represented in current industry sales estimates—which put total revenue at between $23.7 billion and $28.5 billion—a significant portion is not. “We’ve always heard anecdotal stories about how much activity occurs outside of traditional book publishing and bookselling. This study tries to quantify how much,” Abraham said.

InfoTrends finds that about 34% of the sales of publishers in the study come from bookstores and book wholesalers (including only 3.3% from the chains). Book wholesalers are found to be the fastest growing channel. Non-book wholesalers, which serve accounts such as health stores and sporting goods stores, represent about 20% of sales. Catalogues contribute about 10% of revenue. In addition to wholesalers, the fastest growing segments were online retailers and direct-to-consumer sales.

Abraham knows that the “Under the Radar” findings challenge many industry assumptions. “For several years, we knew there was a segment of book industry activity that was not being covered by traditional research,” he said. “Under the Radar” asserts that the industry is both larger and less concentrated than previously believed.

“We’ve been seeing signs for a long time, especially with the rise of the internet,” said Kent Sturgis, president of the Publishers Marketing Association, which represents thousands of independent publishers. “It used to be New York publishers were gatekeepers of what got into print. Technology has democratized book publishing.”

Book printers should be excited by these findings. The market is larger than once thought which means there is more opportunity to print different kinds of books. The market is also more fractured than once thought. New York is no longer considered to be the publishing capital of the world. The Internet and digital technology allows publishers to live and work where they please. This means there is opportunity for book printers whereever they are located. Finally, the book publishers scattered throughout the US make more money than once thought which means they have money to spend on printing more books.

The publishers in this study are classified as small businesses. Printers who have experience working with small businesses will have an advantage over those who deal exclusively with the book trade. Furthermore, the Internet and other digital marketing tools have “democratized” book publishing which means those printers who have marketing solutions geared to digital marketing will be preferred to those who do not.

Book printers would be wise to understand these changing market conditions to market to the new breed of publisher.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Mega Book Marketing Event Review

Mark Victor Hansen’s Mega Book Marketing Event was held April 15-17, 2005 in Los Angeles. This event brings together hundreds of authors and publishers who want to learn the secrets of book publishing success. Who is better equipped to give advice than Mark Victor Hansen, co-author of the popular “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series of books? He has sold millions of books throughout the world.

At the Mega Book Marketing Event, guest speakers and vendors include agents, book promoters, book packagers, publicity agents and more. This year, Ellen Reid, a Santa Barbara-based book shepherd, attended the event and made a presentation.

“The event was positive and upbeat,” said Reid. “Authors were motivated. Mark Victor Hansen’s information keeps on giving even after the event is over.

“One of the key points Mark made is that it’s the author’s job to market the book. This is eye opening for some authors and publishers who think that getting a publisher automatically guarantees that the book will be marketed to the right readership.
“The book must look good, of course. That’s where a good book shepherd can impact an author of publisher. Packaging and positioning the book correctly positively impacts book sales.”

“The Mega Book Marketing Event is an emersion into the world of book publishing and marketing. It must be experienced in person,” said Reid. “The outside world doesn’t exist for the three days one attends the event. It is the best place to get an advanced degree in book marketing.”

A significant message throughout the Mega Book Marketing Event is that authors and publishers create books to “give back” to the community—either through the content of the book or through spending the book’s proceeds to improve the world.

Reid captured the spirit of the event by saying, “authors were motivated to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do as a result of attending Mark Victor Hansen’s event.”

There were no book printers represented at the Mega Book Marketing Event trade show—partly because the event is geared towards connecting an agent with a publisher. Still, in any group of authors, there are always some who will want to self-publish. The challenge to book printers is who will be the first to take a booth at Mark Victor Hansen’s Mega Book Marketing Event next year? Who will capture those customers who are motivated and excited to publish their book?

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

13-digit ISBN Number Creates Printing Opportunities

What event is one of the greatest opportunities for a traditional printer to get work? When a Zip Code or area code changes in a city. Why? Because it means that customers in the effected area will reprint business cards, letterhead, envelopes, Rolodex cards and invoices. A Zip Code or area code change means thousands of dollars to local printers.

What is the book printing world equivalent of a Zip Code or area code change? Any change in the ISBN numbering system for books. The International ISBN agency is making such a change between now and January 2007. All 10-digit ISBN numbers will be changed to a 13-digit ISBN number. This is the first change to ISBN numbers since they were first introduced in the 1970s.

Publishers will need to recalculate all their ISBNs and accommodate the new number format in their systems. This will include ISBNs for all titles in print, probably all or most out of print titles for which orders or other enquiries might be received, and for all outstanding unallocated ISBNs supplied by local agencies.

The International ISBN Agency says, “Since publishers will inevitably be holding stock for many years to come, they may feel that it would be sensible to move towards printing the 13-digit ISBN on their books as soon as possible…”

The opportunity for book printers is enormous. All existing books—even out-of-print books—are required to carry the new 13-digit ISBN number. That means these books will need to be reprinted. The result will be millions of dollars of printing.

One may ask, “can a publisher put a sticker on a book with the new ISBN number instead of reprinting?” The answer is yes, but the sticker will not be as professional looking or as durable as a reprinted cover or dust jacket. And printing the labels means more printing for some printer, even in the event a publisher goes the inexpensive route.

The International ISBN Agency has printed guidelines for the transition to 13-digit ISBN numbers. These guidelines are valuable to the publishers you serve. If you want a copy of the guidelines, please e-mail me at: and I will send them to you by e-mail.

Monday, April 18, 2005

e-Books In Education Markets

Dr. Craig D. Swenson presented his thesis, “How Professionals Learn Today: International Learning and the Irrelevance of Textbooks” at the eBooks in Education Conference on April 14, 2005, further fueling the speculation about eBooks replacing textbooks in the educational systems. Dr. Swenson is the Provost and Senior VP for Academic Affairs at the University of Phoenix—the nation’s largest private university with an enrollment of more than 240,000 students. It has more than 140 physical locations in 37 states, Puerto Rico, Canada and the Netherlands in addition to its Online Campus headquartered in Phoenix.

During his address, Dr. Swenson demonstrated how the University of Phoenix has replaced textbooks with digital materials and how it has fundamentally changed the way students learn. All students enrolled in the University of Phoenix can complete 100% of their educational and administrative activities online. Students can access an online collection of over 14,000 digital journals and 20 million full-text articles for their classes and research.

Other leading educators, publishers and technology vendors spoke on advances in the access and delivery of digital academic content. These presenters included executives from WebCT, Connections Academy, Virtual High School, Blackboard, OverDrive, Thomson Learning Labs, McGraw-Hill Higher Education, Microsoft, Thomson/Gale and Simba Information.

The implications to educational publishers of this news are profound. Academic books command very high prices—often in excess of $100 per title. Furthermore, educational publishers revise the content frequently, in part to stay current with the subject and in part to insure that students cannot use older editions to substitute for the current one. In my April 6th blog, I opined that eBooks may put an end to the monopoly pricing of educational publishers. Dr. Swenson may have moved to the next step, bypassing educational publishers altogether. Another implication is that publishers may begin writing textbooks and supplemental textbooks directly for institutions such as University of Phoenix, thus opening up a new market for smaller publishers.

The downside for book printers is that none of these articles, research papers or books are printed by a printer. They may be downloaded and printed locally by the students, but that printing happens on a laser or inkjet printer in the dorm room. This isn’t a reason to despair, though. It simply means that printers must look for alternative, complementary products to sell. The students need formatted, easy-to-read material. They no longer need it in a printed format. This supports the case for eBooks. If printers can produce eBooks for publishers, they can still capture the typesetting and layout work required to prepare the book to become an eBook.

As more of these types of conferences happen around the country and more educators learn of the value of digital books, it becomes clear that book printers will need to be flexible in the future. Being able to meet the needs of a University of Phoenix and make a profit will motivate book printers to consider alternative products like eBooks, blogs and other media we have yet to think of.

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Commissioned Books As An Add-on Sale

There are many ways that a book printer can advise a publisher how to sell more books, which helps to sell more printing. One of the frequently overlooked techniques is to print a “commissioned” book.

A commissioned book is one that is written specifically for a sponsor, usually a company, that helps sell an idea or product. The organization commissioning the book pays for the writing, editing and printing of the book. Many times the commissioner also distributes the book.

Commissioned books may be a misnomer because the commissioned product may be a pamphlet, a condensed version of an existing book or a completely new book written book.

A commissioned book differs from a variable data book for a corporate sponsor because the material is written for, or modified to suit, the sponsor. A variable data book is a standard book, with no modifications, that carries a company’s logo.

I read this interesting news short in John Kremer’s bi-weekly newsletter that reminded me of the topic of commissioned books. The article said, “McDonald's is encouraging hip-hop artists to integrate the Big Mac sandwich into their new songs. Artists will earn $1 to $5 each time their song is played on the radio.” McDonald’s is commissioning music to reach its target audience in much the same way a company commissions a book to reach its target audience.

The opportunity for book printers is to examine the material currently being printed for publishers to discover potential sponsors to commission a book from that publisher’s current material. Urge the publisher to contact the potential sponsor with a sample of the current book. The ideal job function within the sponsor organization is the Vice President of Marketing or Marketing Manager. These people are responsible to find new ways to differentiate their products from the competition, and having a book written specifically for the company or product does that.

Have the publisher propose to customize the book for the sponsor (a variable-data book) or to rewrite the book into a pamphlet or abridged book. If none of those ideas appeal to the potential sponsor, have the publisher suggest writing a completely new book based on the material contained in the original book.
Commissioned books are one way to help your publishers sell more books, thus generating more sales for you. Book printing sales are as much about helping the publishers market as they are about selling the actual books. The more value you bring to your publishers outside of the act of printing the book, the more locked into your business that publisher becomes.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Maximizing Attendance at Consumer Book Fairs

For printers seeking new business, attending consumer book fairs can often result in new leads. Working a consumer book fair is different than trade book shows such as the Book Expo of America. Consumer book fairs are designed for the publishers to sell books directly to consumers. At trade book shows, publishers sell books to the bookstore buyers. It is important to remember this distinction because it alters one’s objective and goals for attending the show.

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books is a consumer book fair. It will be held Saturday, April 23, 2005 from 10 am to 6 pm and Sunday, April 24, 2005 from 10 am to 5 pm. The Festival advertises itself as the largest and most prestigious book festival in the country, attracting more than 150,000 book lovers each year. There will be nearly 300 exhibitor booths representing booksellers, publishers, literacy and cultural organizations. The LA Times Festival of Books is held each year on the UCLA campus. Admission is free because it is a consumer book fair. Parking is $7. See the map below for exhibitor booth placement.

Originally uploaded by Bill Frank.

To effectively work a consumer book show, a book printer must remember that the publisher is there to sell books to customers, not to talk about book printing. Be respectful of the fact that you are interfering with the publisher’s main objective that day. Don’t interfere with any sales opportunities for the publisher.

One must be selective when approaching a publisher’s booth. If the booth is not busy, one can engage the publisher in conversation. Always allow the publisher to watch the crowd for prospects that may be approaching the booth by standing to one side. Speaking to the publisher makes the booth look busier and may attract customers who otherwise would not approach a quiet booth. Begin by asking the publisher about the books for sale, but tell him that you are interested as a vendor, not a customer. Ask how the books are selling. Ask what quantities the publisher prints. Get business cards of the main publisher or the print buyer, if it is a large publisher. Explain who you are and what you do. Offer a business card, but don’t be offended if the publisher doesn’t take one. The publisher is there to sell books, not find new vendors. Spend as much time with the publisher as he/she will allow and be prepared to move on to the next publisher when the conversation lulls.

If the publisher’s booth is busy, make a note. This publisher is selling books and may need a book printer soon. It may be necessary to return to the busy publisher’s booth when the crowds subside. If time doesn’t permit that, search the booth for the publisher’s business cards and take one. One can always contact the publisher at a future date to discuss printing. When the crowd does subside, one can use the same techniques to converse with a busy book publisher as described above for the not busy publisher.

Consumer book fairs were always a success for my book printing business. We developed at least two or three good leads at each LA Times Festival of Books. Consumer book fairs do take more patience when approaching the publishers’ booths than trade book fairs, but the results are worth the extra effort.

Bill Frank

Bill Cropped
Originally uploaded by Bill Frank.

Friday, April 15, 2005

Helping Publishers Minimize Inventory Expense

It’s Tax Day. Authors and publishers seldom consider the tax implications of their inventory of books. This oversight is a strong selling point for book printers to exploit when discussing printing quantities.

Printing too many books creates excessive inventory. While the printing costs can be expensed in the year they are incurred, the inventory is capitalized over several years during that time period the author/publisher must pay taxes on the inventory. If the books sell, there is cash to pay the taxes. If the books do not sell, however, then it costs the author/publisher money to hold the inventory of unsold books.

The smart printer knows this and capitalizes on the fact when selling to small or mid-sized publishers. The print salesperson knows that unsold inventory is bad for the author/publisher. Consultative print salespeople work with the publisher to select the optimum print quantity—one that is cost effective to print and to hold as inventory.

On the surface, this looks like a bad deal for the printer. Typically, this results in printing fewer books on the initial print run. If the printer stops and considers the facts, however, it works out to be a better deal. First, the act of consulting with the author/publisher on the quantity builds rapport and trust between the printer and the author/publisher. Second, two shorter print runs mean the author/publisher spends more money with the printer than one longer print run. Why? Because there are two set-up costs on two short print runs instead of one single set-up cost on a longer run. Third, if the author/publisher finds the market for the book on the first print run, the second run is longer and the two print runs typically are for more books than the initial print run would have been—which results in more money being spent for printing.

Remind the author/publishers with whom you work of the tax implications of printing too many books. Consult with them on how to optimize the initial print run so as not to pay too much in taxes on the inventory they create. By doing so, you will help the author/publisher and yourself at the same time.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

More Information On Book Covers

Yesterday’s posting about book cover design clearly points out one thing—it is best to work with a good cover designer. See April 10th’s posting for a list of designers with whom I have worked successfully.

Once you understand the elements of good cover design, then it is important to understand what prints well on what types of presses. Each press has its different characteristics. As a book printer, it is up to you to communicate those characteristics to the designers with whom you work. A cover designer should know to limit using large solids on the cover. They are harder to print, especially on digital presses. If a large solid is required, try to break it up with background noise to make the color easier to print. Likewise, selectively use gradients when printing. They, too, are harder to print. If a gradient is required, make the steps of the gradient closer together. In other words, don’t go from a 0% color to a 100% color in the gradient. Instead, go from a 40% color to a 80% color.

Consider other ways in which you can be helpful to publishers. Trade books require an ISBN number—by definition that’s what makes them a trade book. Industrial books benefit by having an ISBN number because the ISBN gives the book more credibility to the buyer and preserves the possibility the book may be sold in a store some day. The publisher is responsible for obtaining the ISBN number, but you may find with first time authors and publishers, they don’t know where and how to get an ISBN number. ISBNs are sold by R.R. Bowker Company ( They are sold in blocks of ten numbers. Purchasing information is listed on the web site. An important change is happening with ISBN numbers in January 2007. The required ISBN code will change from 10 digits to 13 digits. From January 1, 2007 forward, all ISBN numbers, EAN codes, etc. will require the 13-digit format. Publishers reprinting books should be reminded of this transition.

Coat the cover to improve its durability. There are three types of coatings available: aqueous, ultraviolet (UV) and film laminate—priced in this order from least expensive to most expensive. An aqueous coating is the least expensive choice. The coating is added at the time of printing. It adds to the books luster, but one downside is that an aqueous coating rubs off, especially in transit. Two books packed in a carton may smear ink on each other if protected by an aqueous coating alone. A UV coating provides protection from the sun as well as adding luster to the cover. Like aqueous coatings, the UV coating can rub off. Film laminate offers the highest protection against rubbing. It also provides some moisture resistance. Film laminates come in gloss, semi-gloss and matte finishes.

Book cover design is the prevue of the designer, but it is important for the book printer to know something about good design, too. Working closely with a professional designer and following these simple rules for non-fiction books will improve the book’s chances of selling well and returning for a second, or even third, printing.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Book Covers Sell Books

The old adage, “you don’t judge a book by its cover” is wrong. We do judge books by their covers. 175,000 new books were published in 2004. How does a reader differentiate between all these choices? One way is by selecting a book with a cover that is pleasing.

There is a standard cover design for fiction and non-fiction books. This posting will explore the elements of a non-fiction book cover. The rules apply for both a hard cover and paperback non-fiction title.

The layout for printing a book cover is counter intuitive to many non-printers; the back cover is on the left, followed by the spine, followed by the front cover. A dust jacket for a hard cover book is laid out the same way with the back flap first, followed by the back cover, the spine, the front cover and the front flap.

Real estate on a book’s cover is valuable selling space. Book authors and publishers would do well to remember they are called “best selling” books for a reason.

The front cover must be eye-catching. It contains the book’s title and author by-line. Equally important is the subtitle to the book. The subtitle allows the author to more fully explain what the book is about. Examples of good titles with subtitles include: “Action! Nothing happens until something moves,” and “Beyond the Bookstore. How to sell more books profitably to non-bookstore markets.”

The test of an eye-catching book cover is to view it from across the room. If the book is visible and intriguing from across the room, it will display well in a bookstore. A similar test is to reduce the digital file of the book cover to three inches by three inches. If the cover is visible and intriguing at that size, it passes the same test as viewing it from across the room.

The book’s spine should have three elements: the books title, the author’s name and the publisher’s name or logo. Some consultants suggest printing the books title in a vertical stack so it’s legible when the book is displayed spine out in the bookstore. This is unconventional and a matter of personal choice.

The back cover is the most important part of the book cover design. This, too, sounds counter intuitive until one considers that the book’s back cover is what convinces readers to buy books. Studies have shown that a book buyer in a store follows this pattern when deciding on a purchase. They pick up the book based on its cover or its title on the spine. They look at the front cover. If that appeals to them, they turn the book over and spend time reading the back cover. Based on what they read on the back cover, they either put the book down or purchase it.

What differentiates a back cover that buyers like and one that they reject? There are several common elements to a back cover. At the top left-hand corner of the page is the category for the book. This category designation tells the book stocker (who is typically a minimum wage earner) where to place the book within the bookstore. Next is the back headline. This headline is different than the book’s title to make the best use of the limited cover space. For “The Self-Publishing Manual” by Dan Poynter, the back headline reads, “Why not publish yourself?” Following the headline is a brief description of the book. State what the book covers. Next, list the promises and benefits of your book; typically as bullet pointed items. Follow the promises with testimonials. Three testimonials is the ideal number. Try to have testimonials from a variety of people in a variety of industries. Give a brief author biography to validate why the author is qualified to write the book. And close with a statement designed to induce the buyer to purchase the book. The bottom of the book is filled with the ISBN number, bar code and price. These elements are combined into the EAN barcode.

There are several key items to remember when it comes to cover design. First, consider the testimonials. Potential buyers read the names of the people giving the testimonial. They look to see who wrote them before they buy. In today’s crowded book marketplace, will buy books from testimonials given by people with whom they identify. Select your testimonials wisely.

Second, the width of the spine is a critical measurement to provide the book designer. The spine width is calculated by taking the number of pages in the book, dividing that number by two (pages are printed on both sides) and multiplying by the width of a single sheet of paper (sometimes called the paper’s caliper). The spine size varies, therefore by the number of pagers and the paper stock selected. A 60 lb white, offset paper is thicker than a 50 lb white, offset paper, for instance. It isn’t always so easy to judge a paper’s thickness, however. In the Imperial measurement system, paper calipers are not logical. Consult your paper vendor’s price book for exact paper thicknesses.

Third, think four-color covers versus one- or two-color covers. With today’s equipment, four-color is nearly the same price as two-color. What’s more, to attract attention in the marketplace, four-color covers stand out better than one- or two-color covers.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Variable Data Book Printing (part two)

Yesterday’s posting looked at variable data books as a product to differentiate digital book printers from traditional ones. Today’s posting will explore the selling process for variable data books.

One of the challenges to selling variable data books is to convince the publisher there is an opportunity to sell the books. Most publishers are stuck in the old paradigm of long print runs of the same book to reduce the unit cost. Few realize that a variable data book has more appeal to the book buyer and is less expensive to distribute. Think of it this way. The versioned book for Shutters Hotel or for Albertsons/Savon is worth more to them because it has their logo on it. They are proud to distribute the book for the publisher. This is where the cost savings come into play. The variable data books are not sold through the traditional book trade, so there is no need to forfeit 70% of the list price to move it through the distribution chain. Albertsons/Savon or Shutters Hotel will distribute the book. The publisher can afford to sell it to them at a lower discount, typically 40%, to have them distribute the book—which means the publisher can spend more to have the book printed without eroding the profit margin. The client gets a customized product and the publisher makes more money.

A recent example of opening a publisher’s eyes to the opportunity occurred with the book “Million Dollar Dentistry.” The author mentions a specific brand name on a piece of dental equipment in the book. The author believes this is a quality piece of equipment that is underutilized by dentists and explains how they can make more money with it. I contacted the publisher to recommend they sell customized books to the equipment manufacturer. It is a win-win-win situation for all concerned. The equipment manufacturer gets a customized copy of the book, with their logo on the cover, that they can use as a premium to any dentist buying their equipment. The publisher sells more books and gets the books into the hands of the target audience, dentists. The book printer prints more books.

Printing variable data books is one area in which digital book printers prevail over traditional book printers. Yet, it is one of the least utilized techniques with publishers. Until book printers make publishers aware of the possibilities by sharpening their selling skills to include variable data printing, this will continue to be an area of great opportunity.

Monday, April 11, 2005

Variable Data Book Printing (part one)

One of the great advantages digital book printers have over their ink & paper counterparts is the ability to print variable data books. Printing variable data books takes the limitation of digital presses to print long runs and turns it into an advantage—one for which the printer can charge more money. Digital presses can change images from one impression to the next while traditional presses are limited to printing the same image over and over again. In long print runs, the traditional press is superior (meaning less expensive to the publisher) because the set-up costs are spread over more copies of a book. At the same time, however, a traditional press cannot change images quickly because of the same set up costs which makes digital presses superior for variable data books.

There are several degrees of complexity for variable data books. Refer to the chart below.

Originally uploaded by Bill Frank.

The simplest level of complexity is to change one word or image within the book. This may include changing a logo or image on the cover of a book or customizing the interior of a set of books with a personalized message or selected name inserted within the text. Think of the analogy to a mail-merge letter. The body of the letter remains the same, but the name of the recipient changes from copy to copy.

The second degree of sophistication is versioning. Versions of the book are created based on target criteria. Book components change from version to version of the book. For instance, the cover for one version may be completely different for one version than it is for another.

The third degree of sophistication is personalization. Books have content for a specific individual. Each book has a unique combination of text and graphics.

The final degree of sophistication is database publishing, also known as variable data or customized book printing. This is a complex form of printing that creates a flexible layout based on input from a database.

I have printed books in each category, but I will say that versioning and mail merge printing is the most common. One book I printed for mail merge application was entitled “The Older Cat.” The print order was for 500 copies. The book had 20 contributors who supplied stories to the book. We were to print 480 copies without any customization, but add the contributor’s name to the cover of the final 20. I was present when the publisher gave the books to the contributors at the Book Expo of America. At first nobody noticed the personalization, but their eyes lit up when they saw their name on the cover. It was a gratifying sight to see.

I printed several version books. Two that come to mind are “A Christmas Dozen” and “Balanced Spirituality.” “A Christmas Dozen” was a best seller for the author. One Christmas, Shutters Hotel in Santa Monica ordered 200 copies of the book with their logo on the front cover to give to guests as a premium for staying with them over the holidays. We printed the 200 copies within a longer print run of 750 copies of the book. The publisher of “Balanced Spirituality” landed a contract with Albertson’s/Savon stores in Southern California. She requested that the cover of each book have either the Albertson’s or Savon logo on the back along with an inserted page in the front with a welcome message from Albertson’s/Savon’s president. We printed 500 of these books.

Personalized books are among the hardest to print. I printed over 1000 personalized books at Kinko’s for their annual “picnic.” Each member of the Operations and Sales team got a binder with their name on the front, a customized schedule of events based on their role within the company and a personalized set of meeting handouts.

We printed very few database driven books or publications. The closest we got was to print health care plan directories of doctors that varied by state and by type of plan.

Variable data books were very profitable for us. We were able to charge a 30% premium over our normal book price to print mail merge or versioned books. The change in cost to print the variable data books was minimal to us. The printing presses and pre-press computers did most of the work. There was increased quality control expense, as you can imagine, by inspecting each book in the print run. And if a mistake was made, it was expensive to reprint the incorrect book.

Variable data books were a product that I promoted heavily. They allowed me to differentiate myself from other book printers. In future posts, I will explore the challenges and opportunities in selling variable data books.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Graphic Designers As Strategic Partners

There comes a time for every printer when an author or small publisher asks for a recommendation for a good cover designer. One of the value-added services a book printer can offer is to have an extensive list of suppliers to recommend on such occasions. For my business, I always wanted to be certain that the vendors I recommended understood their craft and how to integrated it with our digital printing services. For no trade was this more important than for cover designers. The designers needed to prepare their files to be printed on our digital equipment. This meant understanding the capabilities and the limitations of what our equipment could print. It also meant preparing the files in such a way that they printed correctly every time we printed them.

It was not as easy as it might seem to find designers that understood our requirements. The designers would be stuck in the old paradigm of negatives and plates for printing covers. Furthermore, some designers did not understand the gamut limitations of printing color on digital printing equipment. Those designers that did understand our process and delivered clean files were the ones we tended to refer to customers asking for referrals. I have listed those designers below.

Tami Dever
TLC Graphics
Austin, TX
512-292-8798 tel.

Dottie Albertine
Albertine Graphic Design
Santa Monica, CA

Ernie Weckbaugh
Casa Graphics
Burbank, CA

Robert Howard
Robert Howard Graphic Design
Fort Collins, CO

Robert Aulicino
Aulicino Designs
Prescott, AZ

Chris Tobias
Outwear for Books
Grand Rapids, MI

Pam Terry
Opus 1 Designs
Los Angeles, CA

Patricia Bacall
Bacall & Associates
Los Angeles, CA
310 477-4330

There are many other competent book cover designers. This list is a partial sampling based on designers I have personally worked with. For additional recommendations on designers, contact me at

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Book Printing Industry Recap 2004

2004 was a mediocre year for book printers—though not all printers fared badly. The sales and performance measures of the various printers show the divisions that are developing in the book printing trade. It is clear that the digital, short-run printers are the ones that are succeeding.

In trade book printing, for instance, a lot of printing has been driven by a small number of big books, while backlist printing is down. This hurt the large book printers. The four-color children’s business and, to some extent, the low-end and high-end Bible business continue to be affected by the ongoing exodus to Asia. With time to market being the first priority on many jobs, however, Asia is not always the solution for four-color work. See the March 11 posting for the opportunity in four-color children’s book printing.

Much of the printing in 2004 came at the cost of reduced margins. While pricing pressures have been significant in the past, 2004 margin pressure was tighter as little sales growth in publishing plus overcapacity in the manufacturing sector made a very tough market.

The various book printing companies posted varied results for 2004. Arvato, Bertlesman’s book printing division, had a good year in the Offset Paperback Manufacturing and Berryville Graphics divisions, according to Randy Xenakis, executive vice-president of sales and marketing. Banta Book Group generated approximately $400 million in sales, with segments split almost evenly between educational, trade and catalog printing. A smaller segment, about 10%-12% comes from the tech business, according to Bob Kreider, president of the book group. For the most part, though, sales for the traditional, large book printers were flat to declining.

What is noteworthy, however, is digital printing Edwards Brothers president, John Edwards, said the Digital Book Center is the company’s fastest growing area. It gets a lot of attention both for its present business models and its future promise. Currently, the Digital Book Center is running three models for ultra-short-run printing: print to order; print to a minimum quantity; and print to order and ship directly to the customer. Mr. Edwards said nothing about their traditional book printing business, however.

Lightning Source president, Kirby Best, declared 2004 “spectacular.” Lightning Source has printed more than 14 million books since its launch, with an average print run of one to eight copies. Lightning’s record for a single day’s production is 41,000 books that was achieved in 2004. Typically, however, the average daily book production is up to 25,000. Lightning Source offers three different business models to its customers. In the distribution model, all orders are routed to Lightning, which prints and ships directly to the customer. Lightning then sends the publishers a check. In the drop-ship model, Lightning prints and ships according to the publisher’s instructions. The third is a short-run model, in which Lightning prints and ships the books to the publisher’s warehouse.

What does 2004 say about the book printing industry? Print runs are down which hurts large book printers. Margins are tighter which also hurts the large printers who have invested heavily in expensive press and bindery equipment. Work is fleeing to Asia in some categories of book printing. This kills those US printers competing in those categories such as children’s books and Bibles. Finally, digital printing is on the rise. Edwards Brothers, a large, “traditional” book printer has a thriving digital printing division. And Lightning Source continues to grow and prosper.

The market is shifting towards short-run, digitally printed books. The “traditional” book printers cannot or will not move quickly enough to capture the market. Upstarts, such as Edwards Brothers’ Digital Book Center and Lightning Source, are capturing some of the market, but there is more market to left to capture. Printers that move quickly enough will capture that market share. Those that do not will consolidate or disappear.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Printers Respect Book Publishers As Small Businesses

Publishers are small business. According to the Publishers’ Marketing Association, there are 55,000 publishers; five large publishers, 300 medium sized publishers and the rest are small. All of the large publishing houses are part of larger media conglomerates such as Bertlesmann, Viacom, Disney or News Corporation. Even the largest publishers are small compared to the other media within the media conglomerates. The entire book publishing industry is a $23 billion dollar business. Do you think that Rupert Murdock, CEO of News Corporation, or Michael Eisner, CEO of Disney, lay awake at night worrying about how their book businesses are performing? No. They are more worried about their movie or TV businesses. In fact, Sumner Redstone, CEO of Viacom, is selling off the book business to concentrate on the other media.

The fact that all book publishing is small business is an important dynamic to remember when working with book publishers. The needs of book publishers are the same as the needs of any other small business. Those printers already serving small and medium sized businesses have an advantage over those that do not.

The two main concerns for book publishers are distribution and marketing, regardless of the size of the publisher. These are the same issues faced by any small business. The printers dealing with the small businesses are aware of these needs and find ways to help their small business customers overcome these challenges. It’s easy, therefore, to establish rapport with the publishers because these printers already have solutions to offer.

Keep this advantage in mind. When competing against a larger book printer, the smaller book printer must emphasize the benefit of working with them because they already understand, and have overcome, the publisher’s challenges for other customers. This experience levels the playing field between small publishers and larger ones such as Banta, Edwards Brothers, Central Plains, Cushing-Malloy and Fidlar-Doubleday.

Thursday, April 07, 2005

Godfrey Harris' Comments on the Changing Nature of Publishing

I was my pleasure to hear Godfrey Harris, Executive Director of the International Publishers Alliance, speak on the changing nature of the publishing industry at the Book Publicists of Southern California meeting tonight. Mr. Harris is well respected worldwide for his knowledge about the book publishing industry. Mr. Harris made a number of good points, including the Harris Axioms for Small and Independent Publishers.

He began the speech by reminding everyone that publishing is a “commercial exercise.” The point of publishing, from its inception, was to make money. “Big publishing today has little to do with talent, or quality, or social benefit. It’s about making money.” This opens up a wealth of opportunities for small and independent publishers interested in fulfilling needs within the book trade.

The biggest publishers today are part of media conglomerates such as Bertlesmann, AG., Viacom and News Corporation. Interestingly, Viacom announced a restructuring to split its new media assets from its old media assets. Do you know where Simon & Schuster belongs—old media or new media? Neither. Viacom put it up for sale. CBS-TV, Nickelodeon, BET, MTV, Paramount, UPN, Showtime and Infinity Broadcasting are all more important to Sumner Redstone, Viacom’s CEO, than Simon & Schuster. Which brings up another interesting point. Within the large conglomerates, “big publishing” is a small part of the overall revenue of the corporation. In fact, even big publishing is small business in the scope of all available media.

Mr. Harris notes that book readership is down since 1987. It dropped from 57% of potential readers read at least one book in 1987 to 47% today. This is due to the staggering number of media alternatives such as TV, video games, DVDs, movies, concerts, the Internet, newspapers and magazines.

Readership Chart
Originally uploaded by Bill Frank.

Mr. Harris states that publishers are to blame for not making their medium more “reader friendly.” For instance, any printer knows that color sells. Items printed in color receive 60% more favorably response than black & white. Yet why do publishers persist in printing only black & white? Low cost color printing options are now available to help change this.

All of this discussion leads to Harris’ Axioms. Axiom One: Every book deserves to be written; but only a few deserve to be published. There was nervous laughter from the crowd when Mr. Harris said this. Many in the audience were wondering to themselves if their book deserved to be published. I agree with this axiom with one minor corollary: every book deserves to be published if it can be published profitably. As printers, we can help publishers find ways to make their books profitable by using marketing techniques we use with our other, non-publishing customers.

Axiom Two: Sell what the market wants, not what you want to sell to the market. Know your market. Know what your market will buy. Think about the readability of the book (page layout, typography, paragraph length, color) before worrying about the words in the book. Think marketing before substance. Think selling before editing. As printers, we can influence the salability of the book, if the publisher will allow us. It comes down to the rapport with the publisher.

Axiom Three: Publish to make a difference, not to win someone’s acceptance.

Mr. Harris’ speech had wisdom for everyone: writers, publishers, publicists and printers. The audience enthusiastically applauded him. If you have the opportunity to hear him speak, I recommend you do so.

Wednesday, April 06, 2005

E-Books As An Add-on Sale

One of the easiest add-on sales a book printer can make today is creating an e-book file for a customer. In my business, we specialized in Adobe Acrobat e-book formats. We charged the customer an additional $125-$150 per e-book. The costs to produce an e-book were negligible.

Most books’ text pages are created digitally—being delivered to the printer in a word-processing or a page layout format. The cover art is also created digitally. Our graphic artists took the digital text pages, distilled them using Adobe Acrobat’s Distiller program. They did the same for the cover art and then combined the two into a digital PDF file that could be sold as an e-book.

The benefit to the publisher is providing an e-book as a second product they can sell on-line through their own web page, one of the many e-book sites or Amazon. For very little money, the publisher gets another stream of income from the book.

There is debate whether or not e-books will succeed as a form of book. On the one hand, e-books are portable, lightweight and can be read on a computer or a dedicated, hand-held device. An ideal application for e-books is student textbooks. With school systems cutting back on lockers for students’ books, each child is forced to carry every book he/she owns in a backpack. One e-book reader could hold all the student’s textbooks and eliminate the need for lockers or backpacks. It is perhaps more important for college students whose books can cost more than $100 per class. E-books may be a way to lower the overall cost of college books and make them more accessible to all.

On the other hand, most people are not comfortable reading a book on a computer or a hand-held device. Eye fatigue plays a big part in limiting e-books’ adoption. Until screen technology on digital devices improves, the acceptance of e-books will be slow.

There are many forms of e-books that add to the dilemma. Adobe Acrobat PDF format is the dominant format, but Microsoft has a competing format, .lit files. There are also HTML-based formats for e-books. A clever printer might learn how to produce all forms of e-books, but would the time invested be worthwhile? Microsoft file based e-books are the second best selling form of e-book, but if you look on Amazon you will see that Adobe Acrobat format outsells Microsoft almost three-to-one. HTML-based format books are even farther behind Microsoft e-books. Most printers are familiar with Acrobat PDF files because they work with them daily. To maximize profit and reduce the learning curve required to master creating e-books, therefore, it is best to stick to Adobe Acrobat format.

Producing e-books in the Adobe Acrobat format is a win-win situation for the book printer and the publisher. Each gains an additional product to sell. The profit margin high for both the printer and the publisher, thus making e-books one of the easiest add-on sales a book printer has available.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Book Shepherds Are Key to Success

There is an important category of service providers in the book industry that benefits all book printers to know. They are called “book shepherds.” Book Shepherds help fledgling authors and publishers to take their books from manuscript to printed product. Dan Poynter, the guru of self-publishing, first used the term book shepherd in the late-1990s.

While each book shepherd has a specialty, all help transform a writer’s or first-time publisher’s manuscript into a finished product. Most offer such services as editing, typesetting, product positioning within the book marketplace, layout and design and, in some cases, selecting distribution channels. The book shepherd also helps select the book printer for each job.

A book shepherd manages several book projects at once. The larger the book shepherd, the more projects in process at any given time. This means numerous printing opportunities to a book printer over time. Furthermore, if the book sells well, it means reprint opportunities from the publisher even after the publisher or author has left the book shepherd’s care.

There are many book shepherds throughout the United States. The ones I have worked with, primarily in California, are listed below. Finding other book shepherds is not as easy as going to the Yellow Pages and looking under Book Shepherds. It may take some research to find the ones closest to you. The place to research book shepherds is on the vendor pages of book related web sites such as Dan Poynter’s, John Kremer’s and the Small Publishers Association of North America’s site

Ellen Reid
Ellen Reid’s Book Shepherding
510 Castillo Street, Suites 301 and 304
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
805-965-3352 tel.

Patty and Ernie Weckbaugh
Casa Graphics
1718 Rogers Place #1A
Burbank, CA 91504
818-842-4278 tel.

Penny Paine and Gail Kearns
To Press and Beyond
825 East Pedregosa Street, Suite #2
Santa Barbara, California 93103
Tel: 805-898-2263
Toll Free: 866-528-9901
Fax: 805-898-9460

Carolyn Porter & Alan Gadney
One to One Book Productions
7944 Capistrano Avenue
West Hills, CA 91304
818/340-6620 tel.

Mary Embree
1375 Poli Street, Suite 14
Ventura, CA 93001
805-643-6279 tel.

Monday, April 04, 2005

Amazon Acquisition of BookSurge Impacts Book Printing acquired BookSurge, LLC today. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. For the details of the story, please see

BookSurge is a distributed book printer with affiliates throughout the world. They print short-run, digital books for publishers. BookSurge competes directly with companies like Xlibris and Lightening Source.

The acquisition gives Amazon book printing capabilities to compliment its global book distribution network. Amazon now competes directly with Ingram who invested in Lightning Source. Ingram is the United States’ largest wholesaler of books to bookstores. The two behemoths will fight head-to-head to attract publishers, print and distribute books.

The implications of the acquisition and the subsequent competition are profound. Both companies are validating short-run, digital book printing as a legitimate form of publishing. Furthermore, both companies are leveraging their distribution channels to pump more digitally produced books into bookstores and libraries. The race is now on to develop a true, worldwide network of distributed book printers to meet an anticipated need.

Those companies already participating in digital book printing should feel vindicated. They were the pioneers who recognized the need ahead of the large companies. At the same time, these same companies should be concerned that the financial and marketing might of Ingram and Amazon will be directed at developing this market.

There still remains a great opportunity for any book printer to capitalize on this newly found interest in digital book printing. Smart book printers will take advantage of the marketing muscle these companies have and leverage it with their customers and prospects. Smart book printers will show how technology can help publishers meet the demands of niche markets. They will point out that corporate giants are investing heavily to develop a market in which they are already established. These opportunistic companies will use the marketing materials that both giants produce to support their position in the marketplace. Individual printing businesses should be able to “ride on the coattails” of the large companies to success.

A bigger question remains unanswered. What other companies will enter this market? Who will be the first to develop a worldwide, book printing network? What will the book printing leaders such as Banta, RR Donnelley, and Bertlesmann do? Equally importantly, what will the large chain and franchise printers such as Kinko’s, Sir Speedy, PIP and Kwik Kopy do?

The large book printing companies will likely do nothing. They are too heavily invested in “big iron,” large heat-set, web presses. They will not forsake their current technology to pursue a distributed book printing network based on digital technology. The opportunity exists for these large companies to acquire a network of independent, digital book printers. This process will take time, however, to research, negotiate and assimilate the potential companies. In the beginning, these cobbled networks will lack the consistency and unity required of a distributed network.

That leaves the chains and franchises to accept the challenge. Already there are signs that selected printers within franchise chains, such as PIP and Sir Speedy, are entering the digital book printing market as individual players. In many cases, these parent companies have a global presence. They also possess the infrastructure necessary to unify a distributed book printing network. These chains and franchises also have experience working together; teamwork that the larger printers will lack. Their common brand gives them some consistency and unity. It remains to be seen if they have the leadership to embrace the opportunity to play with the likes of Amazon and Lightning Source.

Today’s announcement demonstrates Amazon’s commitment to this market. Ingram has already invested in Lightning Source and is committed. Both companies see the potential of a distributed book printing network to meet a market need. Who else will recognize the need? What other types of companies will commit to the challenge? Or will the market be left to ingenious independent book printing companies who fill the void? No matter what, the future certainly be interesting.

Sunday, April 03, 2005

The Case for Self-Publishing

I correspond with Lindsay Kellock, a book shepherd in Canada, about the book business. She says that some of her readers are asking her to focus on solving the conundrum of the publishing-marketing-distribution of books.

I said I have to agree. The entire publishing model is based on 20th century thinking and is outmoded. Most notable is the idea of book returns; a practice that started in the Great Depression and has not be changed since then. What other industry allows a buyer to return a product 90- or more days later if they miscalculated the demand? None comes to mind.

The royalty payments modern authors receive are outdated, too. A 5%-7% royalty is a pittance compared to the self-publishing returns. Furthermore, most books don't even earn back their advance against royalties. It's only the John Grishams and Bill Clintons of the world that earn enough money to justify the publisher’s investment. This is why publishers are reluctant to take on "new" authors unless they think the author will be a mega-hit.

I am a big proponent of self-publishing. If the author has a solid idea to whom the book will appeal, then he/she can target that audience better than a publisher selling through bookstores. And every sale will be more profitable.

The challenge is for the author to assume the "risk" a publisher assumes for marketing and distributing the book. It takes money to market and distribute books. One cannot tie up precious capital in printing 3,000-5,000 copies. Short-run, digital printing permits an author to print 500 copies and use the money they save on marketing. Yes, the cost per book for 500 copies is higher, but the overall cash outlay is less. For example, is it better to spend $3 per book at 500 copies ($1,500) than 1.50 per book at 3,000 copies ($4,500). The extra $3,000 can be used for marketing and distribution. If the book sells well, there is cash to reprint (perhaps at a higher quantity, too).

Selling books must happen outside the bookstores if an author is to be successful. The Internet has made direct selling more affordable to self-publishers. That's only the start, however. There are many markets available to a publisher. Please see my illustration of the Book Compass that helps publishers give direction to the markets into which they wish to sell.

Book Compass
Originally uploaded by Bill Frank.

For a phenomenal examination of markets outside the bookstores, see Brian Jud's book "Beyond the Bookstore."

Saturday, April 02, 2005

The Golden Age for Book Printing

By a margin of 35% to 21%, most adults choose reading over television according to a Harris Interactive telephone survey of 1,014 US adults. In 2004, 175,000 new titles were published according to RR Bowker. The total number of books in print is nearly 3,000,000. That is a staggering number of choices for adults to read.

There are now more college graduates than at any other time in history; which means there are more people interested in reading than at any other time. It also means there are more people capable of authoring a book than at any other time in history—a fact confirmed by the growing number of new titles each year.

All these circumstances taken together make this the golden age for book printing. Never have there been more titles to print and reprint than today.

With this tremendous choice available to readers, however, there is a paradox—fewer and fewer copies of a single title are sold. Publishers are aware of this paradox and have to make two important decisions: 1) how many books to print and 2) how to reach the target audience for the book.

Book printers can help publishers with these decisions. By using short-run, digital printing, publishers can economically produce shorter runs of books. Printing 500 books today may make as much sense as printing 5,000 books did several years ago. While the unit cost of each book is higher, the total investment in printing is less. Furthermore, if the book sells well, the publisher has the option to print another run of digital, short-run books or move to a traditional book printer.

Reaching the target audience is another area in which the book printer can help. Savvy book printers offer to print, package and send review copies to selected print media for book reviews. In additional to review copies, the book printer can print and distribute a direct selling campaign similar to ones they may be producing for non-book printing customers.

For a fascinating discussion of the new dynamics of reading, please read “So Many Books, Reading in an Age of Abundance” by Gabriel Zaid. This book is an example of a well-made, short-run, digital book in addition to being an interesting read.

Friday, April 01, 2005

More Promotional Ideas for Publishers

When I read of this promotional item from Scholastic, Inc., US publisher of the Harry Potter series of books, it made me think how book printers can leverage the idea for their other customers.

Book Sense ran the following article:
Special Harry Potter Gift Card Created for Book Sense Stores
Beginning next week, booksellers participating in the Book Sense Gift Card program will be able to order a special limited edition Harry Potter Book Sense gift card and coordinating presenter, which have been created in cooperation with Scholastic, Inc., the U.S. publisher of J.K. Rowling's record-breaking Harry Potter series. The gift card will feature art from the eagerly awaited Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which has an on-sale date of Saturday, July 16.

What Scholastic has chosen to do is print “book reservation cards” that fit inside of envelopes to pre-sell customers on the forthcoming title. Scholastic’s printer will print the cards and envelopes. Scholastic will be responsible for distributing them to participating bookstores.

Savvy book printers will take this idea and sell it to their current book printing customers. The concept is simple. While a book is being edited and typeset, suggest to the publisher to print some “reservation cards” and envelopes based on the cover art of the book. The reservation cards are then sent to bookstores, distributors and individual readers who may want to buy the book when it is printed. Furthermore, the book printer can offer to mail the reservation cards for the publisher if the publisher provides a list. In that way, the book printer has created two additional printing opportunities for this title.

The lesson to be learned is not to be afraid to “borrow” a good idea from one source to use with your book publishing customers. The idea doesn’t have to be original to be effective for the printer and the publisher.