It’s not time to turn the page on hardcover book manufacturing.

Traditional and emerging markets are providing robust and lucrative opportunities for printers and binderies.

By Jim Kaeli, Business Development, Hardcover Systems, Muller Martini North America

It’s hard to avoid the constant chatter of pundits and prognosticators who proclaim that the “end is near” when it comes to hardcover book manufacturing. But that’s simply not the landscape we’re seeing. The hardcover book business is experiencing a resurgence of growth, both in traditional as well as innovative, new markets. As a matter of fact, In 2012 Muller Martini experienced a record year in hardcover equipment installations within North America.

What’s fueling the continued investment in hardcover press and finishing technology?

One reason customers continue to purchase new equipment is to better enable a skill-set transition that’s been evolving for years on the press floor. As workers retire, the limited craft skills of new operators have led to the need for highly automated equipment that allows them to do their jobs effectively and efficiently.

Muller Martini has helped facilitate this transition through a design philosophy that lessens the need for technical know-how. Our intent has never been to remove these skills, but instead reduce them through automated equipment that is not just easier to learn and operate, but also shortens setup times, increases productivity, and delivers a high-quality product.

Many traditional hardcover markets remain strong, while emerging segments show exciting potential for longevity—and profitability. Last year, we witnessed healthy hardcover investments in a wide variety of traditional markets, including

  • Adult trade and religious (i.e., Bibles) publishing. As runs and cycle times get shorter, demand for faster delivery continues to increase, so larger book manufacturers require high-speed, high quality, automated machines. These book segments have made continued investments in machines and workflow systems that improved quality while reducing changeover time.
  • Returning markets. Some traditional hardcover products that were outsourced overseas are starting to return to our shores, a result of market pressures impacting wages, regulatory issues, lead times, etc. One such returning segment is juvenile books, which for years were manufactured in China.
  • Emerging markets. Photobooks (also known as memory products or keepsakes) continue their rapid growth. This market has a highly defined target and season. Buyers are predominately well-educated females with impressive household incomes. To date, “like-size, one-off” photobook manufacturers are realizing the bulk of their volume within the fourth quarter. Better still, they are claiming annual growth rates of 20-30%.

When it comes to hardcover book manufacturing, the story is far from over. There’s a distinct optimism surrounding hardcover book production. That’s one of the main reasons why Muller Martini continues to support traditional segments while accelerating product development solutions for emerging markets. We are bringing new technology to market more quickly than ever before in order to accommodate the rate of change that new opportunities demand.

And the book manufacturing spectrum will continue to evolve. As the graphic arts industry looks to complement its traditional offset longer runs with short run digital book production, there’s a distinct need for the technology that provides the performance, workflow and flexibility to do so. Muller Martini is spearheading this effort, not just through highly innovative equipment, but with scalable solutions that can be implemented when the time is right for each and every customer.

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