Why should you care about short run book printing?
Fueled by online retail powerhouses like Amazon, people have learned to want their books cheaper, faster and with increasing variety. For publishers, short print runs are a way to respond to this challenge, eliminating excess backstock along the way.
It's not so common for books to sell millions and millions of copies like they used to. At the same time, it's actually easier to write a book and get it published, which increases variety in the publishing market. According to the Federation of European Publishers (FEP), a total of about 590,000 new titles were issued by publishers in 2016. The strong growth in titles has been accompanied in recent years by another phenomenon: a steady decline in average print runs across most, if not all, EU and EEA territories.
There are two key customer trends transforming the publishing market as a whole:
1. From bookshops to showrooms
In the UK, where I'm based, it can be seen more and more that bookshops have turned into showrooms for publishers. People like to browse at bookshops but order the books cheaper online. People search for discounted books and buy them where it's most convenient for them.
2. 24/7 culture
The other trend shaking the book publishing industry is the ordering process, as people want to get everything very quickly. Amazon aims to deliver the same day or the next, and this poses a significant challenge for book publishers. They need to keep up with demand from companies like Amazon and be able to make their books available very quickly after the customer has placed the order. And if maintaining a large backstock of all books is no longer financially viable, this might mean publishers could have a hard time satisfying sudden demand for a non-seller.
"With short print runs, book publishers can eliminate unnecessary warehouses, save money, and even use fewer resources."
I think these trends also serve as publishers' biggest opportunity, made possible with digital printing. They don't have to keep vast stocks of all books just in case, but instead print the requested title just in time. A customer can order a book from five years back and get it within 48 hours. With short print runs, book publishers can eliminate unnecessary warehouses, save money, and even use fewer resources.
At the moment many companies are literally printing just one book at a time. They are able to do it because they are using digital data and printing digitally with suitable paper. Even the big sellers might be printing in smaller runs throughout the year and by demand, instead of printing and trying to sell the whole run on day one.
At UPM, we don't have an official definition for short print runs, but it ranges from a single copy to 500. Technological advances in digital presses and data allow printing houses to produce short runs, and we now produce a range of papers that can be used in those presses.