Monday, February 02, 2009

Lightning Sources Strikes 2 Million

Print on Demand (POD) is still relatively new but is now well established in the publishing world. In its inaugural year Lightning Source UK, a sister company to Lightning Source US and an Ingram company, produced some 30,000 books. Today some 8 years later it announced that it had printed over 2 million books in 2008. So what impact has POD really had and what has changed in those few years?

Traditional printing remains more a case of just in case than just in time with the calculation on the print run often being down to economics than hard sales. If you don’t print off a certain quantity you don’t get the price, if you don’t get the price you loose margin or potential sales and then there is always the special deals on offer to print that little extra you didn’t really want.

POD has had some significant success stories and no more so than Cambridge University Press whose program has now passed 11k titles and continues to question those titles that will still continue to generate small sales but would not justify a traditional print run.

But what is the right POD model is it aimed at short print runs, single copy fulfilment, self publishing? Which books suit it best? Is it only economic for textural and greyscale or can it compete on colour?

More interestingly is it aimed at perpetuating the print and distribute model or moving towards distribute and print and offering true local print facilities? If it merely reduces bulk inventory but creates or perpetuates titles stocked, is this merely shifting the cost from bulk to range? The same transport is required, handling will increase and holding more titles doesn’t guarantee more sales. The interesting Blackwell in-store experiment, like the Foyles one before it, has been scrapped and no one has stepped up to providing the community answer. Perhaps their isn’t an effective economic local model and we have to face the facts that we have replaced the big printer presses with new small POD presses, bulk with range and just lowered publisher risk.

The other side of POD is that it has moved the digital agenda forward. Some would say that POD has given Ingram a huge amount of ‘digital’ files on which to fuel Ingram Digital ventures and maybe that is what Amazon saw as the opportunity to replicate with their directives on Booksurge. Digital files can be a real asset when you are building a digital repository offer.

Lightening Source took bold steps, invested and grew to a dominant market position both in the US and UK. Although tradition printers followed, their actions weren’t as bold and their results today are far less impressive. Sounds a somewhat familiar story.

1 comment:

Derek Albiston said...

Others in the market such as the Sheridan-Euradius global print network - which dissolved on January 9th - made bold steps on the distribute print model, but failed in the 'traditional' pioneering way for the wrong reasons such as it was more expensive to distribute directly from Singapore to Oceania than to send bulk back to Europe for onward distribution and customers did not want to jeopardise their volume agreements with carriers. The technology, quality or vision was not at fault, solely vested interests and global postal infrastructure.