Amazon Acquisition of BookSurge Impacts Book Printing
Amazon.com acquired BookSurge, LLC today. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. For the details of the story, please see http://aolsvc.news.aol.com/business/article.adp?id=20050404072909990019.
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.