Think Inside the Cover
Books and booklets have profitable tales to tell
July 2008 By Maggie DeWitt
True story: Even in this day and age, people still enjoy going to the library. Why? They love books. With the ubiquitous Barnes & Noble and Borders bookstores, it could be the strong coffee and sugary treats or perhaps the off chance of meeting Ms. or Mr. Right drawing the crowds. But at libraries, it's purely book lure. Better yet, check out the way yard sale and flea market browsers immerse themselves in orphaned tomes stacked on tables or packed in boxes. They'll caress leather bindings, gently turn yellowing pages and almost always leave with a dusty volume or two. That's why bound publications are so effective at presenting information. Their intrinsic design somehow entices us to look inside to discover what lies shielded from view between the front and back covers.
Of course, industry professionals who produce and sell the products are well aware of this fact. Distributors who have limited to no experience at all providing books and booklets should read between the lines—these are widely used items that can generate decent profits. Just ask Richard Lindemann , president of Total Printing Systems.
In 1997, the company was one of the first book manufacturers to utilize CTP technology, and Total Printing Systems is the first book manufacturer in the world to install the new Scitex VersaMark digital web press.
Today, bound publications from art books and auto parts catalogs to manuals and directories generate the bulk of the revenue. "We produce just about any type of bound product," noted Lindemann. A variety of finishing options are available, including adhesive case binding, saddlestitching, mechanical binding and perfect binding. "The type of products [we] run most often are educational books and materials, parts books, trade publications and religious books," he continued. "Digital color is growing substantially, and we've added two Kodak NexPresses in the past 18 months."
Lindemann said Total Printing Systems will produce as few as 10 books in a job, but feels 100 or more is the best value. Because quality expectations on bound books are typically quite high, end-users will request hard proofs for their approval; electronic proofs are only used in approximately 6 percent of the jobs—a factor distributors need to consider when discussing turnaround times with customers.
The company's equipment mix includes both traditional offset and digital presses, but Lindemann reported it is the digital presses currently getting the most play. "We are a bit unique, the bulk of our business is produced using VersaMark digital inkjet presses—you can see one of them running on YouTube at www.youtube.com/watch?v=oWDaUu0alNU. We produce 30 to 40 million pages per month. Our equipment allows us to compete with toner-based machinery on the ultra short run and offset on the longer run, and our average print run is about 900 copies."
Lindemann said determining the best workflow for a particular project depends on several factors, such as customer request, required timeline of the project and cost. "Run length does have some bearing on determining [how] jobs [are produced]; we feel about 3,000 is the cutoff from digital to offset," he added.
When it comes to specifying the stock for a book project, the decision is most often made by the distributor and ultimately the customer, although Total Printing Systems will make recommendations on stock and binding if it can improve the overall project. The burgeoning green movement is also driving some decision-making with regard to paper choices.
"We are being asked more for chain-of-custody information from paper companies," explained Lindemann. "We are in the process of [obtaining] certification, and hope to have FSC certification by the end of the year. In the meantime, our house sheet is a 30 percent recycled sheet, and we are currently printing the vast majority of our books on one of the most eco-friendly presses in the world. The VersaMark uses a dye-based ink that is about 97 percent water. There are no drums, belts or waste toner to dispose of, and any waste inks are not hazardous."
What are the most common types of problems to arise when producing book products, and how can distributors help avoid them? "I would have to say that file prep is still a problem in a lot of cases. I also think there needs to be more education on the distributor side of things with understanding the limitations of digital and offset technologies, and certain binding requirements, [such as] understanding the difference between adhesive case binding, Smyth sewing and side sewing," contended Lindemann.
For instance, offset printing requires more time for production due to factors like collating and platemaking. Typically, jobs are ganged on certain days of the week by trim size for best pricing and the least amount of bindery changeover. Also, tabletop books and very high-end books still look best when produced on offset presses, although digital quality has improved dramatically.
As for binding styles, side sewn case binding involves stitching the signatures from the side, close to the spine, before attaching to the case. Side sewn case binding is frequently used for thinner products such as brochures, catalogs and readers. Smyth sewing uses threads woven between all signatures in the book block, which is then married to the case. "Although this offers unparalleled strength and durability, Smyth sewing production involves a few more steps than other case binding styles," Lindemann observed. "Smyth sewing is used for books that require heavy usage for an extended period of time, such as text books, coffee table books and library books."
Adhesive case bound books can be a more economical alternative to side sewn binding, depending on page count and signature configuration. "The text and end sheets are collated and bound on the perfect binder, then attached to the case. While this method is not as strong as a sewn book, it still provides an attractive, durable product," he noted. "Most digital printers use adhesive case binding since it is more suited to handle sheets assembled in book blocks. Sewn case products typically require folded signatures for binding."
Asked to recall one of the more challenging or interesting book projects Total Printing Systems has produced, Lindemann responded it was a special edition book for which the customer was requesting a deckled edge. "After sourcing paper with a deckled edge and presenting the cost which was extremely high, the customer was pretty shocked, as most deckled edge papers are handmade," he shared. "Well, we went to work on the project and engineered a way to do an artificial deckle inline on the digital web press for the customer. They were thrilled, and we have used this process on some religious titles since."
The moral of the story is, partnering with an experienced manufacturer on book projects can mean a happy ending for everyone in the supply chain.