The State of the Printing Industry

From Publishers Weekly:

Questions surrounding the future of book printing drew a capacity crowd of 155 publishing professionals to the BMI (Book Manufacturers Institute) Book Manufacturing Mastered conference, held September 14 at Penguin Random House’s New York City headquarters. And though the book manufacturing sector was booming during the pandemic, economic conditions have softened and costs for most materials are continuing to go up. Still, speakers at the conference said book printers are generally in a good place, albeit with a host of challenges ahead of them.

In addition to rising costs, topics discussed at the daylong conference included the renewed postpandemic threat of work moving off-shore, sustainability concerns, the shift from offset to digital printing, and labor shortages.

“We’re basically where we were back in 2014,” said Marco Boer, v-p of IT Strategies, in the opening presentation. “We haven’t lost all that printed book volume that people were worried about when e-books came in, and so we all say this is okay. People are continuing to read and print, and that’s great.”

But a deeper look at the numbers and trends reveals some challenges to be addressed, Boer continued, noting that, after some strong years during the pandemic, the printing market is not stable. “Yes, we’ve had a great 2022. But it’s getting a little bit more complicated as we go forward.” He pointed to logistical challenges, uncertainty over how Amazon will impact the market, and rising paper costs, citing a projected annual 3% decline in supply.

In addition, Boer pointed to another key factor that portends change: the end of the megabestseller. He attributed that trend in part to increased competition from other sources of entertainment, pointing out that the Harry Potter series (whose final volume was published in 2007) were the last to sell tens of millions of copies. “Last year, the bestselling titles were by Colleen Hoover, and she sold 2.75 million books.”

Still, Boer said that unit sales in 2022 were stronger than they were in 2019. “So again, things are not bad,” he noted. “But [the instability] means you have to get more efficient.”

On two follow-up panels—one featuring printers and the other publishers—speakers noted that pressure from publishers and consumers for printers to become more environmentally responsible will also add to pricing pressures. For one thing, they said, the cost for postconsumer wastepaper needed for making recycled paper is the highest it’s been in years. But the printers agreed that the book manufacturing sector needs to invest in an environmentally sustainable future. Todd Roth of Thomas Reuters’s core publishing solutions business (which prints about 30 million books per year) said his company’s goal is to reduce its carbon footprint by 50% by 2030. Linnea Knollmueller of Penguin Random House said her company has pledged to be carbon neutral by 2030 and continues to up its use of certified paper (as of 2021, 96% of PRH’s paper came from certified mills).

Roth was one of several panelists who agreed that labor costs for book manufacturers will continue to rise, noting that his company is paying premiums for people to work on second and third shifts as a way to try to attract new talent. The company is also using younger employees to recruit much-needed workers.

While the consensus from the printers’ panel was that prices will have to rise as costs do, the panelists were cognizant that too many increases would negate some of the gains achieved during the pandemic in bringing back work from overseas, particularly from printers in China. David Hetherington of Business International said printers need to work together to convince publishers to support domestic book manufacturing.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

It’s like an instant replay that you’ve seen over and over. It’s way more expensive to ship dead trees than it is electrons over the internet. It’s way more expensive to get physical space in warehouses for dead trees than it is to have some organized bits of information sitting on a big hard drive or collection of big hard drives.

Hard-copy books are inherently more expensive to create, distribute and sell than ebooks are and publishers (or self-publishers) earn far higher profit margins with ebooks than they do with any sort of printed book.

PG is not predicting the imminent collapse of the market for printed books, but printing books is a business that’s going to get smaller and smaller over time. Eventually, printed books will become another category of collectibles.