Standardise or be colonised

Why the key to building the future of book publishing is a common technology infrastructure

A woman talks at a meeting with five other colleagues around a desk

All change for print and publishing

The book publishing sector is living through a revolution. Outdated processes are being challenged, giving rise to new business models and creating fresh value propositions. In the past, books were printed and distributed in large volumes. Today individual production runs are shrinking as publishers look to control financial risk and adapt to changing book lifecycles. 

Readers and retailers demand choice and flexibility, which is at odds with high volume analogue production. In the future, content will be regularly refreshed, re-distributed for multi-platform publication and re-printed on demand. But while publishers try to innovate with new formats and products, they are still hampered by high production, warehousing, material and waste management costs.

Colleagues working on computers linked to printers

Printers and publishers on the same page

Most book publishers and their producers find themselves asking whether their current production and distribution models are fit for purpose and exploring new ways of working. For many publishers and printers this started with some level of investment in short-run digital production, tackling the poor economics of offset book printing for smaller volumes with short turnaround times.

Short-run digital printing as a complement to offset print production is just the first step in a transition to true demand-led business models – book lifecycle management (BLM) and on-demand production. These more advanced business models rely on a deeper re-think if they are to deliver maximum impact in terms of supply chain efficiency, cost reduction and shorter time to market.

As publishers and printers implement these progressive business models, two truths become clear. Firstly, process optimisation requires deeper collaboration between the two parties. Secondly, a more integrated technology infrastructure is key to success.

The short-run model is comparatively straightforward, requiring some workflow automation and standardisation, for example around paper types. By contrast, the demand-led models – book lifecycle management (BLM) and on-demand production – involve a closer partnership, with the prize of minimised commercial risk and increased sales.

The BLM model aligns orders and production to actual demand for individual titles, reducing the costly risks of over- and under-stocking. BLM requires tight technology integration between publisher and printer. For example an Automated Stock Replenishment system to trigger re-orders when warehouse and/or retailer data show that agreed minimum stock levels are reached.


-Michaela Philipzen, Ullstein Buchverlage

For the book producer, BLM implies a higher level of workflow automation, from order intake to pre-flighting, colour management, proofing, printing and finishing, even extending to shipping and invoicing. Efficient automation and a cost-effective model for publisher and printer hinge on a high degree of standardisation around stocks, formats and trim sizes.

At the order inflow stage, the interface is likely to be a web-to-print solution for online file submission. This points to the need for defined processes, standardised job tickets, common file formats and more. The printing operation is just one piece of a complex infrastructure, including the Automated Stock Replenishment system and possibly the publisher’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP).

The ‘first sell, then print’ on-demand model raises the bar further on the level of systems integration between publisher and printer. Unlike BLM, where minimum stock levels are held, on-demand means that the only ‘stock’ is the digital file of each title. The automation prerequisites of BLM remain, but the flow of data between publisher and printer must be seamless and robust.

For an industry steeped in tradition and defined more by creativity and passion for content than by a leaning to process optimisation, the commercial rewards from demand-led book production require a substantial step-change in thinking. Business optimisation starts with breaking down silos, streamlining the supply chain and encouraging full collaboration towards a common organisational goal.

Sven Fund presenting at Future Book Forum 2017

Born digital – new avenues, new business models

Of course it can take time and determination to introduce new ways of working. Michaela Philipzen, Head of Production at Ullstein Buchverlage in Germany, is a vocal advocate of process optimisation through standardisation who believes the sector cannot make the transition to multi-platform publishing without deeper integration.

“There is no point in discussing colour schemes or emotional engagement unless we have first figured out how to simplify the business processes, for example sending a print job from publisher to printing house. It’s about developing common language and standardised interfaces across companies, with a view to simplifying processes.”

Publishing technology consultant Dr. Sven Fund, speaking at Future Book Forum 2017, shared his belief that publishers need to be better at innovation management. “Right now, we’re not making full use of the technological features available in publishing. Too many are still ‘digitally illiterate’ – they have access to digital products, but they haven’t fully embraced the age of ‘digitality’.

What is meant by ‘digitality’, as distinct from ‘digitisation’? Fund defines it this way: “With digitisation, you have a business model that is still print-based, before moving already available content to a digital platform and simply re-selling it. In a ‘digitality’ environment, content is born digital, which opens up multiple avenues for completely new business models.

Marc Freitag, Livonia Print presenting at Future Book Forum 2017

Drive innovation upstream

But responsibility for supply chain optimisation does not only sit with the publisher. Book printers are well placed to drive innovation upstream, by helping their publishers to understand the process optimisation enabled by digital print technology, the role of big data, the importance of standards, and the need to refine the interface between the two businesses.

Marc Freitag of Latvian book producer Livonia agrees that there is equal onus on printers to drive change. “If we’re to maintain and improve our relationships with publishers, we need to think long term. Today we’re print suppliers. What role will we play down the line, as publishing becomes increasingly digitised?”

To thrive, all links in the chain need to start with a digital mindset, collaborate openly, and seek the right technical support to automate and integrate. To quote Dr Sven Fund: “There are two types of publisher: one that reinvents their business from within, and one that resists innovation until it is already a widely-adopted solution. It’s up to publishers to decide which they want to be.”

Автор Tino Wägelein, Business Development Manager, Canon Europe

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