Highlights of BISG's POD Program
Thursday, June 27, 2019
Posted by: Maya Fakundiny
Market Opportunities: On-Demand Printing was held on Thursday, June 6th at a community space in Midtown. The event featured Rich Dzurus (Canon), Andrea Fleck-Nisbet (Ingram), Michelle Weir (HP), Rob Zaffiris (Shakespeare & Co.) as speakers, with Ken Fultz (Bookmasters) moderating.
Mr. Fultz opened with a reminder that the session was a conversation, not a presentation, which was abundantly true during the course of the program thanks to the engaged audience. Each of the speakers introduced themselves: Mr. Zaffiris mentioned the continued expansion plans for Shakespeare & Co. bookstores and the Espresso Book Machine; Mr. Dzurus talked about Canon’s workflow solutions and the machines that can execute these workflows; Ms. Fleck-Nisbet explained that Ingram provided service to clients who did not have a full distribution solution; Ms. Weir explained her role in developing the Piazza Platform, a global distribution cloud-based system.
What follows are the highlights of this conversation among key industry players, including audience questions. The day was filled with interactive participation, and the results of the session are publicly available for all who wish to add to the conversation around POD in the modern publishing marketplace.
After all present introduced themselves and explained their involvement with POD, Mr. Fultz said that it was remarkable how quickly this technology has advanced. Ms. Fleck-Nisbet responded that within Lightningsource, there are now 7 POD facilities globally. These are all currently transitioning to HP 240 printing technology. Ingram’s unique position, according to Ms. Fleck-Nisbet, is facilitating distribution across the supply chain as a whole. Mr. Zaffiris added that the right product to the right consumer captures that consumer, meeting spikes in demand. Ms. Weir said that workflows before and after the printing press is a money saving opportunity. Automation and optimizing workflows is critical. Mr. Dzurus agreed, and said that Canon offers front-end workflow management, including barcoding and accounting, which ultimately keeps printers running. Now, Canon is moving into post-processing and the finished product. Ms. Weir said that inkjet technology and high-quality printing was critical, but more than that is the integration and standardization of the new processes.
At this time there was an audience question about hardcover POD products. The panelists confirmed that hardcover POD was possible. Ms. Weir mentioned that the format and batching requirements were essential, and that she was happy to discuss this separately. Mr. Dzurus added that some presses were churning out full-color postcards. It was also mentioned that Booksmart Suite makes finished books, and it can be purchased at three different levels depending on the complexity of the software. Another audience question was about the quality of straight black text on POD products. Mr. Dzurus clarified that the correct paper grade was essential. If the results were not the correct quality, he recommended experimenting with various paper stocks.
Mr. Dzurus emphasized that the POD business was going to boom. Ms. Fleck-Nisbet added that short-run printing had been popular at Ingram, but that she has seen a transition to 50% POD. This supports the industry and invests in the global supply chain. Mr. Fultz asked if this was a shift to “zero inventory” model. Ms. Fleck-Nisbet affirmed that this model improved inventory management and streamlined the supply chain. Virtual inventory saved money and prevented losing sales. There was a question about POD success stories. Ms. Fleck-Nisbet said that POD helped forecasting, and Ms. Weir agreed that HP Piazza clients had seen a 20% decrease in returns. She also added that these clients had seen a 40% increase in profits.
An audience member had a practical question about metadata, having experienced penalties for having a zero stock element in the datafeed. Ms. Fleck-Nisbet clarified that a POD book order could be turned out in 24-48 hours, with wholesale orders (Amazon was used as an example) prioritized over other orders. In the data feeds for these products, Ingram adds the virtual inventory number, not a zero stock feed. There was another question about “print to order” vs. “POD” terminology. It was explained that there were various use cases for POD, including print to order, as well as direct to consumer and inventory replenishment. Larger numbers, like 50, are also potential POD orders. An "order of one" isn’t the only scenario. Mr. Zaffiris said that POD had the capability to infinitely expand inventory, bring the warehouse to the storefront, and capture the sale. POD could be used in the event of a publicity spike in any author or topic. Thinking about POD as a strategic decision was encouraged, especially when justifying the initial costs of the project.
Another question was what percentage of POD orders were indie authors or out-of-print titles. Mr. Zaffiris responded about 10%. These orders are non-return, and the publisher is always paid. When asked about the process of POD ordering, Mr. Zaffiris said that first, the bookstore checks if the item is in stock. If not, it can be printed in three minutes. Then, the bookseller sends the money for the book licence back to the publisher, minus the manufacturing cost. If 20 books per day are printed, it pays for the POD machine. It also increases confidence in bookstores. Ms. Fleck-Nisbet said that the guaranteed availability program showed that books in the program sold more than books outside of the program. Often, if the book can’t be found easily, it’s a lost sale.
Mr. Fultz asked all the panelists how to promote this technology to the publishing community at large. Ms. Weir said that a huge opportunity was standardization, especially among designers and editors. Fancy finishing and trim sizes aren’t as necessary as these products aren’t competing with others on the shelf. Mr. Zaffiris added that file standards also needed to be implemented. Ms. Weir added that Piazza automatically standardizes file names.
A concern was that consumers might not want the POD version of the book. Mr. Zaffiris clarified that the offset and POD versions of titles are identical, and that in many cases, watching the book being printed is added novelty. The market for the book as an object was agreed to be fading. Ms. Fleck-Nesbit added that it could even become a specialty subset of publishing.
Moving back to promoting POD technology, Mr. Zaffiris said that often, publishers will begin the project with the deep backlist, which can be daunting and limit buy-in. Instead, he advises to start with the past two years and the newest titles, adding those to the POD program. That work will begin producing tangible results first, creating more enthusiasm for working into the backlist. Mr. Fultz said he would talk with his contacts and discuss the new hardcover capabilities of POD technology, but that the price was still prohibitive. An audience member said that an industry-wide issue was obsessing over the increased individual cost of the book, not the overall decrease in cost that could be achieved with POD. It was suggested that this conversation needs to continue in the industry, providing education about new ways to survive in the current market.
Mr. Fultz asked about the environmental friendliness of POD. Ms. Weir said that POD allowed for minimized pulping, the widespread use of recycled paper grades, and reduced carbon costs for shipping. An audience member expressed concern that shipping many “one book” orders was not inherently greener than sending large shipments overseas. Ms. Weir clarified that the digital files were being sent internationally and the printing was occurring overseas. Mr. Dzurus said that ink waste was also reduced with POD. Ingram has also streamlined packaging with multi-folding boxes.
The conversation turned to the capacity issues in the 4th quarter of 2018, and what may be on the horizon for 2019. There was discussion of moving away from the “just in time” model to a “just in case” model. The panelists warned that in August, the capacity issues could begin again. POD was suggested as a way to offset capacity problems. Returns could even be disabled using the new POD technology. Those looking to invest in POD for their businesses should visit all the vendors and draft new P&L statements to inform the purchase. It was mentioned that some offset printing had been moved to other countries such as Italy and China to bypass the issue of US timelines, which will be further complicated by tariffs. This reinforced the need for solutions here in the US, and the need for open-mindedness across the industry.