Printed books are back. Big time.

The book business is going gangbusters. Being responsible for hardcover finishing solutions at Muller Martini, of late I’ve seen unprecedented activity in both the hard and softcover book markets as printers and binderies reach out for new finishing solutions.

Some of this activity is the result of:

  • Migration from overseas. As print manufacturing costs (e.g., paper, labor) continue to rise in Asia and China, many publishers are turning once again to the United States for book production. The growing demand for faster and faster turnarounds has also contributed to this development.
  • Consolidations and closings. With some printers restructuring and others shutting their doors, there’s less suppliers, and, therefore, less capacity. Not only does this make it difficult to service existing needs, but future demands as well.

And what’s generating renewed excitement for the future? Undoubtedly, it’s the result of the erosion of the e-reader market. Enthusiasm for what was “the next best thing” has tempered as readers are starting to gravitate toward the medium that’s most comfortable for them. And, more and more are finding that the “touch and feel” aspect of traditional print on paper is their medium of choice.

The statistics confirm this. According to the Association of American Publishers (AAP), sales of hardback books increased by 6.9% in 2018, and paperbacks increased 1.1%. eBook revenue, however, declined 3.6% over the previous year. During the first nine months of 2018, hardback and paperback sales generated nearly $4 billion combined; eBooks generated $770.9 million.

What’s even more encouraging in terms of the growth of hardcover books is that it’s multigenerational. Although there were concerns that younger people weren’t reading as much, there’s growing evidence that they are being engaged by print. And, with state education budgets returning to normal levels, that means growth in the educational markets as well.

We’ve also seen companies continue to invest in digital print technology to supplement offset. Offset isn’t going away anytime soon, but digital is increasingly making inroads as a number of customers who had modest digital capability are now investing in higher speed inkjet presses so they can offer both text-only and color work.

Yes, printed books are back and so is market optimism. And, it’s important to note that much of the optimism is being generated by forward-thinking companies who are choosing to remain relevant and responsive to the changing needs of publishing, be it mass market or print on demand.

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