Book printing: Stimulating innovation through collaboration

Experts from Canon’s Future Book Forum share their views on industry collaboration

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Peter Fisk of GeniusWorks presenting at Canon’s Future Book Forum

Book publishing: The eight key drivers for innovation

Canon’s annual Future Book Forum brings together PSPs, publishers and digital publishing technology providers to share views and ideas about current publishing industry trends. The 2017 Forum explored the idea of the ‘Smart Book’ — a personalised experience combining the immersive, tangible characteristics of physical books with the capabilities of digital formats. 

The concept isn’t yet a reality. For it to happen, an expert ‘round table’ at the Forum identified the need for deeper collaboration and process optimisation along the digital book publishing supply chain to address the challenges that come with change. The discussion touched on eight key drivers for change and innovation.

Young woman reading book on train

1. Diverse distribution models: Content moves across multiple platforms, delivered by new technologies, monetised by new business models. Prediction is difficult: in 2011 the Financial Times ran an article on ‘The Death of the Guidebook”; in 2016 Nielsen reported guidebook sales up 4.45%. Then again, the nature of the product had changed; Lonely Planet now creates content for use across digital and paper platforms, and, when it opts for print, it offers a variety of printed guides: visitors to New York can choose from no less than four formats. 

2. Shrinking time to market: Books can’t compete for immediacy with the ‘always on’ environment of social media and the 24-hour news cycle — but they can provide in-depth background analysis and comment on emerging trends and topics. In addition, the ‘distribute and print’ possible with the digital printing process has potential. Michaela Philipzen, from publisher Ullstein Buchverlage, is working towards delivering books to German speakers overseas at the same time as publication in Germany. “If we can deliver comprehensive publishing files to align publication dates, it’s a huge win for us and our customers.”

WE ARE NOT MAKING FULL USE OF THE TECHNOLOGICAL FEATURES THAT ARE AVAILABLE IN THE PUBLISHING WORLD AND THEREFORE WE DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE FULL IMPACT THAT THESE CAN HAVE ON THE WAY WE OPERATE

Dr Sven Fund, Founder
and MD of fullstopp

3. Publishers are more risk-averse: Since its publication in 2003, The Da Vinci Code has sold over 80 million copies, yet in the last five years no title has sold over 20 million copies. Lower sales mean lower profits and increase the risk of publishing new authors. Likewise, the crowded market created by developments like self-publishing makes it harder for new launches to stand out — the ‘window of opportunity’ for new titles is now as brief as four weeks. 


4. Shrinking volumes: The Federation of European Publishers says ebook sales have stabilised at 6-7% of total book sales — lower than once feared. But there are digital challenges from other quarters: social media competes for consumers’ attention, as does people’s growing habit of ‘binge watching’ boxsets and streamed TV series. 

5. Self-publishing creates new content: While not a totally new phenomenon — Jane Austen and Marcel Proust self-published — today digital production options mean it’s easier than ever to get into print (or onto an e-reader device). 

6. Special interest publishing: With short run and on-demand digital book production models, tying up capital in inventory is not an issue, and every hobby or passion becomes a niche opportunity for publishers. Publishing in minority languages becomes economical. No book need ever be out of print — for example, Munich publisher Goloseo specialises in reviving treasured children’s literature in both printed and digital form. 

7. ‘Digital natives’ want physical books: People feel overwhelmed by digital media. In 2017 a survey by Two Sides found that 72% of respondents prefer printed books and newspaper, and 69% turn to print to ‘switch off’ from their digital devices. 

8. Consumers expect multi-platform content: When they’re not ‘switching off’ with a book, these digital natives are adept at viewing content on multiple devices simultaneously — be it the written word, audio, or video.

Delegates in discussion during roundtable debate at Canon’s Future Book Forum

WE ENCOURAGE BOOK PRINTERS TO AVOID PLAYING A PASSIVE ROLE AND REALISE THEY ARE IN A POSITION TO DRIVE INNOVATION UPSTREAM.

Peter Wolff, Senior Director
Commercial Printer & CRD
Customer Groups, Canon Europe

Opportunities, not threats

At first sight, some of these trends— self-publishing and falling volumes, for example — seem like threats, but they should be viewed as challenges, and challenges represent opportunities. To realise them, publishers, PSPs and technology solution providers need to work together. After all, they already represent a ‘triangle of expertise’ that encompasses almost all aspects of the book production process. 

Canon’s Peter Wolff summed up what’s needed during the round-table discussion: “All links in the chain must think beyond our current vision of the industry. A digital mindset enables publishers to embrace a future in which short runs and on-demand delivery are the reality, and in which more proactive lifecycle management of publishing assets enables them to maximise the commercial value of their content and make it more readily accessible to consumers. But innovation is less likely without an open dialogue and sustained collaboration between publishers, book printers and technology solution providers. The next move is ours to make.”

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