This is the future of book publishing: innovative and sustainable

Stephen O'Brien, Sales Manager - Book Printing, Ovato

It’s been a big few years for the Australian book publishing industry. Book sales are on the rise, increasing by 1.4 per cent in value and 1.3 per cent in volume last year. Nine out of ten Australians say they enjoy reading, and seven in ten wish they spent more time with books. True crime, local fiction and financial advice books have dominated our bookshelves, and millennials are confounding everyone’s expectations by devouring printed books.

But as sales increase, online shopping and changing delivery processes have also ramped up the pressure on publishers. Same-day delivery is quickly becoming the norm with Amazon’s arrival to our shores, and publishers need to meet this growing demand without sacrificing profit. They’re looking for shorter print runs and faster turnaround times, as success rests on the ability to react and pivot quickly. And to attract more readers, standing out in a crowded market is essential.

A surge in print-on-demand technology

To meet changing requirements, print-on-demand (POD) is on the rise. The POD model involves printing smaller, more frequent runs of books once an order is made. An industry-wide shift to this approach is being driven largely by Amazon’s entry into the Australian marketplace, as the platform hits publishers and booksellers with fines if they’re not able to satisfy orders on its site. It’s also a move to decrease ageing stock and reduce warehousing costs. At Ovato, we’re already making this change. Historically, our customers were asking for a few large print runs each year. These days, we receive weekly requests for runs within five days, or even less. The installation of new digital printing devices has allowed us to cut turnaround times in half, delivering as frequently as customers need.

Innovative, tactile book design

The changing market has also led to the widespread adoption of newer print innovations, as publishers scramble to make their books stand out. With attention spans declining, and competition now including e-books and other mobile entertainment, you need to give people a reason to turn to your offering. Savvy brands are looking at cost-effective specialty finishes and designs made possible by new print technology, like tactile, foiled, chalked, 3D or even scented covers.

These special finishes also create a sense of luxury, which is especially important for books given as gifts or kept as collectibles – think gold foiling or embossed text. An innovative approach also makes it easier to engage the younger mobile generation with new, out-of-the-box print formats. For example, earlier this year Penguin Random House issued young-adult novels in tiny editions the size of a mobile phone that can be read with one hand. Readers flip the pages upward like swiping a smartphone screen.

Eco-friendly print practices

At the same time as book sales are on the rise, the world’s attention is on the environment. Most businesses are looking for ways to be more environmentally responsible, and the publishing sector is no exception. The economic interests of printers, combined with customer demand for eco-friendly practices, have made print one of the most sustainable models worldwide. Printers have introduced everything from low-carbon automated technologies at print plants and 100 per cent renewable planted forests, to ISO certifications tracking the origins of every piece of paper.

In fact, paper of traceable origin is now an industry expectation. In Australia, this means almost all old growth forests are protected, so paper comes from forests where the cycle of planting, growing and harvesting is carefully controlled. And at Ovato, we’re proud to have the highest possible level of environmental accreditation attainable under the global ISO standard 14001:2004 Environmental Management Systems. We’re committed to ensuring excellence in sustainability and minimising impact on the world. Print-on-demand technology is contributing to this new, sustainable era of print as well. With the ability to only publish exactly what they need, publishers have eliminated stacks of books that would otherwise sit in a warehouse, only to go unused.

Looking to the future

Many have decried the death of print over the years. But our love of books is alive and well. With millennials more likely to visit a public library than any previous generation, it’s clearly a love that has endured the test of time. The challenge for publishers and printers is ensuring that customers are able to get the books they want in the quick, efficient timeframes they now expect, while minimising impact on the environment and maximising efficiency for the business. Ultimately, the future of print is tech-driven, sustainable and thriving.