What does the future hold for Mid-Sized Book Manufacturers?

The US book business continues to struggle in these challenging economic times.  Margins are under increasing pressure, competition is increasingly global, and consequently there is a strong reluctance to reinvest in the business – who knows what will happen over the coming year?  While these concerns are certainly justified, the decision to put off investments may not be.  Looking at our industry as a whole, there is a significant trend which has been developing over the past few decades– the biggest firms continue to grow and acquire smaller ones.  They enjoy economies of scale in sales, purchasing, and distribution.  There are fewer and fewer small printers overall, but they still make up most of the industry in terms of numbers of companies.  In just a few years we will experience what has already happened to drugstores, large retail chains, and lumber yards – only a few will survive, but they will grow and thrive because they have a better customer-centric solution than their competition.  The mid-sized players are the ones feeling the greatest pressure, and in my view, the most vulnerable to not taking investment action right now.    As the overall book market continues to shrink, these firms must find ways to maintain their current customer base while reinventing themselves to offer new products and services to attract others.  The strategies that enabled these companies to grow over the past few decades are longer relevant.  Taking a page from the success stories in other industries may be a good starting point.  What were the critical factors that set them apart from the pack?  How are they viewed as “different” by their customers?  Answering these questions may be the start of real change. . . . . .  let me know if you have a success story you want to share . . . . .

Digital Finishing – In-line Efficiencies While Maintaining Near-Line Flexibility – You Can Have It All

When facing the decision to purchase digital finishing equipment (usually after you spend too much time on just the digital print engine decision – see my last blog entry on this revelation), one of the key considerations is whether to configure the equipment in a near-line (fancy name for off-line) or in-line workflow. Why should you agonize over this issue, when you can have it all? Digital finishing solutions (like the SigmaLine technology from Muller Martini – shameless plug) have the ability to be installed in an in-line configuration, while still possessing the ability to be fed manually by the operator. This flexibility is the result of clever engineering that provides intelligence at the component level as well as an overall line control functionality. So how does this help you better utilize your large digital investment? Well, if all of the components of your in-line system are running well, you will take full advantage of the power of in-line collation inherent with digital printing (i.e., produce books with as little labor and waste as possible). However, even if one aspect of the line isn’t performing, you can still utilize the individual modules of the line. For example, when maintenance has to be done on your print engine technology (something you will get used to), you can still hand-feed book blocks into the measuring station of an in-line SigmaBinder. So make sure that you invest in digital finishing technology that possesses both near-line and in-line configuration flexibility, otherwise you will never fully utilize your large digital investment. Thank you for reading my blog. I look forward to your feedback. Until next time…   Andy Fetherman

Digital Print is Only Valuable After It’s “Finished”

Welcome to the inaugural entry to my new blog for Muller Martini’s Digital Solutions. For those who don’t know me, I have been with Muller Martini for over 16 years and have spent the last 10 managing our scalable solutions for the exciting world of digital finishing. During this time I have witnessed an obvious and understandable fixation in the graphic arts industry on digital print engines (originally toner and now moreso inkjet) and how the evolution of this technology will affect a print operation.

While working on various projects, I have seen many operation and production managers spend countless hours combing through print engine specifications and running samples after samples on various competitive technologies. At the end they proudly choose the printer that rises to the top as a result of their analysis. However, this sense of achievement is short-lived, when they realize that they ignored the most important aspect of a digitally printed product – how will they finish it! That’s when I usually get a call for help.

The above short story is very true and has been repeated too many times. Most printers don’t realize the obvious during their intense digital print engine research that a roll of printed paper is basically worthless, until it is finished. Upon this realization, they begin the mad dash to understand the various finishing options available to make their products sellable. Unfortunately, time is usually of the essence at this point, so everyone feels extra pressure to make the right decision in a relatively short period of time. Pressure that could have been minimized by focusing on the complete solution right from the beginning.

What makes it worse is that the digital finishing solution analysis can be rather complex. There are many steps in this process that begins with an analysis of their job mix to see what basic type of finishing is required. In most cases they aren’t sure if a near-line or in-line workflow is better for their new digital initiative, so we must analyze both near-line and in-line configurations in order to ensure that they have a certain level of investment protection for future growth. This flexibility is important due to the somewhat uncertain nature of the evolution of this paradigm shift to digital. This discovery usually continues on for many weeks or even months, before we find the right solution to meet their needs.

So don’t forget the moral of this story – digital print is only valuable after it’s “finished.” Therefore, remember to include finishing solutions in your analysis from day one.

Thank you for reading my blog. I look forward to your feedback and responses. Until next time…