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Need To Know

Book Printing

With the Far East offering competitive prices for book printing, Genevieve Lewis explores how British printers can fight back and regain those all-important contracts

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Binding is an important process in book production

The Reboot of Book Printing

I recently travelled through Asia, flying to Jakarta in Indonesia from London, before travelling around Thailand and ending my trip in the mesmerising city of Singapore. A mishap with my book in Bristol resulted in buying two new books at the airport before I boarded the aeroplane. These two books were very good, and I enjoyed them thoroughly, but they did not survive the trip very well. On one, the cover began to peel and on the second book, the first page fell out when I was four pages in! This lead me to think about how these books were made, and what were the processes. Were these books created cheaply?

Binding and finishing a book are an important part of creating the final product, and in the UK, the market is hoping to take back its share in book printing.

Britain was once regarded as the hub of manufacutring and publishing—where the industrial revolution began. At its height, the country was regarded as the most commercial nation in the world and many of the technological advances were of British origin. However, over the last two centuries production has become cheaper in the Far East, and that includes book printing. With this in mind, how can British book printing prosper in this climate?

Once bustling industries in the United Kingdom, such as car manufacturing and textiles have fallen by the wayside.

Of course, there are still textiles companies in the UK, but the business is not as strong as it once was. Production lines for cars are still present in Britain, but these are manufacturers from other countries, and with Brexit on the horizon, companies such as BMW are questioning staying in the UK if the deal reached does not suit them. Book printing is much the same – there are printers that still produce books, but they are up against cheaper operations in the Far East.

The Price

Steve Giddins, operations partner at Perfect Bindery Solutions (PBS), says that some publishers only consider the price when commissioning production of publications. He explains: “Publishers have never been so naïve as to regard price the sole consideration when commissioning the production of their publications. Obviously, cost savings offered by the Far East manufacturers can be very persuasive despite the considerable lead times.

“This means shorter runs and those required more immediately, are best fulfilled locally – even production in Eastern Europe is not fast enough in some cases. Disaster recovery should also be considered – when one of our customers received a container loaded with books damaged by heat and humidity in the container he had to resort to local sources to replace the damaged consignment. This is quite a common occurrence due to the adhesives used experiencing extreme conditions.”

The Smyth DX-70 folding and sewing system with automatic feeding

Giddins says that while the ability to provide shorter runs quickly is an advantage for British printers, the variation in binding is also necessary to think about. He continues: “This illustrates the key advantage for British book printers, or those commercial printers aspiring to enter this market; there is usually no shortage of press capacity, whether litho or digital, since, if there is pressure in the short term, then changes to shift patterns will often suffice.

This illustrates the key advantage for British book printers, or those commercial printers aspiring to enter this market; there is usually no shortage of press capacity

“But the bindery is a different matter,” says Giddens, adding: “When it comes to books, with so many variations in the nature of the finished product, there are countless permutations of skills and equipment involved in the conventional finishing processes. Fortunately, our equipment manufacturers have addressed these issues by developing ever more automated, versatile and modular solutions which enable newcomers to the sector, and established specialists who are upgrading their binderies, to react more quickly and competitively when the opportunities arise.”

The UK can boast shorter lead times and smaller runs for book printing

There are a number of binding machines available, but Giddens discusses the One-Line from Italian manufacturer Risetec, which can bind for soft cover books, endpaper and back-line hard cover books. Giddens says: “No single system demonstrates this better than the One-Line which is designed and engineered in Italy by  manufacturer Risetec. This innovative solution is totally flexible; at its heart is a fully automated single, four, seven or 12 clamp perfect binder which can operate in-line to digital printers, collators, gatherers and/or sewing machines upstream, and downstream to an integrated and automated three-knife trimmer and round cornering device.”

The Ristec One-Line with perfect binding, end papering and backlining with a three-knife-trimming system

Giddins continues: “Uniquely, it has the capability to perfect bind for soft cover books, or endpaper and back-line for hard cover book blocks. We are also able to include options such as de-stacking of individual book blocks at the in-feed (received from Hunkeler handling system for example), pre-trimming and scoring of covers and round-cornering of finished books into the closed loop solutions and include barcode or mark reading for assure product integrity.”

Book sales

It is also a great time for British printers and publishers to get back into book printing, as the Publishers Association recently announced that book sales are on the up. It may be small, but there was a one percent increase in sales compared to the year before, and there was also a two percent increase of eight percent in exports. With the current economic climate, it may be hard to believe that the book market could be growing, but it seems that to get away from the hardships, people are picking up their paperbacks once more.

The saturation of the electronic book (e-book) market has also contributed to the return to ink and paper. Other devices that the public read books on, including mobile phones, laptops and tablets have also levelled off. What is even more encouraging is that hardback books are doing even better – something that will be hailed by the book finishing and binding specialists out there.

O Factoid: Before books, the first way of communicating in the ‘written form’ was on clay tablets in the 3rd millennium BC. O

Authors, the Publishers Association and printers are finding that the initial run of new work in hardback form is doing increasingly well. This is because that first run is usually snapped up by fans of the author or the series.

Stephen Lotinga, chief executive of the Publishers Association, explains: “The weakened pound obviously played a part, but it’s certainly not the sole explanation for such success as UK publishers’ books continue to be held in immense regard all around the world – demonstrated by consumer appetite for them.”

Imaging Solutions fastBook automatic layflat binding machine 

Well there you have it, the British public and fans around the world have an appetite for books, sales are growing, and hardback sales are glowing. So, how else can British publishers and printers bring back book printing to the UK?

Runs in every area of print are changing, and it is the same for book printing. They are becoming shorter. Printondemand–Worldwide (POD) based in Peterborough, print everything from self-published stories through to mainstream academic books.

The company has recently invested in a Screen Trepress Jet 520HD, as part of a continued £1m boost. Chief executive officer, Andy Cork, has said that printers need to be producing books as customers want them, not creating warehouses full of potentially unread pages. He says: “Customers want books on-demand, they don’t want to wait. The ‘book of one’ is about producing books as they’re needed, instead of having warehouses, full of stock which may or may not be bought, whilst incurring cost and tying up much-needed cash.”

The Screen Truepress Jet520HD was installed in just three weeks at POD

Offering this service can be a benefit to British printers, who are hoping to offer a more desirable deal than having the product printed in the Far East, and POD is putting itself in the best position, as highlighted by Screen’s senior vice president of sales, Bui Burke: “Printondemand-Worldwide is forging a new path when it comes to streamlined book production. We know screen technology and workflow can support that vision, so we’re delighted to see where they take it.”

Andy Cork, managing director of Printondemand-Worldwide

POD keeps its costs down for publishers because it acts to keep the cost of colour printing low, and not having stock in its warehouse also keeps the cost down for authors and publishers. Cork adds: “We are now doing affordable colour. Shareholders are trying to reduce their cost, so why have stock? It’s now a case of ‘we say no to stock, you have your book when you want it’.

“I specialised 25 years ago, I did a Master’s in manufacturing, all around how the car industry worked, and that’s how we’ve tried to change this business, the same as producing a car. Henry Ford, going back, would say ‘you can have anything you like as long as it was black.’ However, today, it’s about having what you want, when you need it. In mono, colour, cased and perfect bound.

“So, over the last 18 months, we have made some huge changes in the way we work, as the way the culture is and more importantly the way our technology is.”

So, while the Far East may offer a job at a cheaper rate, the benefits of going through a British printer include the ability to receive a job quickly, compared to lead times further afield. Many British printers, such as Printondemand–Worldwide, can offer customers short runs that results in less wasted books in warehouses. While companies abroad may also be able to offer cheaper rates for volume production, British printers can still offer that quality, as showcased by Perfect Bindery Systems and Printondemand-Worldwide.

The two books that I read on my trip were very enjoyable, and I would recommend one of them to a friend. The other one, not so much, but this might be because the first page fell out on my lap and the story was too predictable!

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