Commentary & Analysis
On Demand Book Market Still Ripe for Picking
By Carro Ford Weston "
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: July 12, 2005
By Carro Ford Weston "95 percent of our communication occurs through email. There are some customers I have never talked to on the phone. July 12, 2005 -- Steve Talacka made a move this year that many people only fantasize about: he and partner Bob Kernag opened Green Button, Inc. (http://www.Greenbuttoninc.com/), a business specializing in short run book printing. "We had been in the printing and book industry a long time, so we had a lot of connections, and many of them were thrilled when we went on our own," he explains. "We had started this same type of business for our previous employer, and it did well. Then we decided we could do this on our own, and go back to doing what we enjoy most -- interacting with customers." Things didn't take long. "I'm a firm believer in fate," Talacka admits. "It was like the stars fell in alignment. We found the perfect space, and we knew of another company that did four-color work on a DocuColor. So instead of us making an investment in color covers, we are able to use each other's services." Green Button printed their first book for a first-time customer at the end of January, just four weeks into the new business. "There were hurdles trying to get it all put together, and the fact that we did it in four weeks was amazing," he declares. "Much of it had to do with working with vendors who know us. The biggest hurdle was just getting started, and the big unknown was getting customers. Now they come back time and time again, and some are already going through the reprint cycle." Green Button holds both original and imposed files for customers. "What amazes me is the communication," exclaims Talacka. "95 percent of our communication occurs through email. There are some customers I have never talked to on the phone. We keep clients informed about everything via email, and that helps keep prices down, because there is no service overhead." Talacka handles customer service, while his partner is the technical guru, and an operator rounds out the crew. "You have to have that mix," Talacka says. He is president, and Bob is EVP – this year. In 2006, they plan to switch titles. Building the Business Anybody can print short runs, but with books, you do have to have a background in what constitutes a good looking book." To grow the business, they do a lot of emailing and fax campaigns. "There are some good publishers lists out there," he notes, adding the rest is word of mouth. Green Button has built up a base of customers all over the US and even some in Canada and Ireland. "Some publishers outside of the US want to print here and distribute from here, too, and we can do that." Their target is small- and medium-range publishers doing from one to 20 titles a year, with a typical run length of 100 to 500 books. "This is the niche we know the best, and we understand the requirements," he says. "The biggest problem customers face is how to get small quantities of books printed. If they have to print larger runs, they have to put up more cash and then worry if they will be able to sell the larger quantities. They want to manage inventory, and we can give them the option of printing just 100-200 books. With today's digital technology, they can deliver a quality product almost indistinguishable from offset. The unit cost is higher, but if a book doesn't take off, the customer hasn't lost all that money." Opportunities Still Out There "We saw seven or eight years ago that this was an underserved market, but competition has picked up in short run digital work. The difference is anybody can print short runs, but with books, you do have to have a background in what constitutes a good looking book." In general, the market for this niche will continue to grow, Talacka predicts. Other opportunities he sees include getting involved with publishers doing other types of products and services like customized books, both promotional and informational. Another big pie just waiting is the entire backlist market. "Large publishers have not embraced backlists, even though they remain largely untapped and don't cost much because royalties are low. They can print 200 copies a year and still be profitable, and many are starting to do this." Well Equipped "Besides capital, the most important things to have when getting started are equipment and customers," Talacka advises. Green Button currently is successful with their cut-sheet printer, but Talacka says advances in web-fed technology on the black-and-white side are leading to more opportunities in the market. "This has pushed breakeven points for quantities higher," he says. "Before, offset was a better deal, because with cut-sheet, certain quantities were not always worthwhile. Now web-fed presses are getting more affordable, but big issues are still click charges and maintenance fees." Talacka calls this the "click tax" and believes if this becomes manageable, or if better training is offered for customers who can do their own maintenance, "Costs would go down, and it would mean more profit and business for us." Another looming issue is web color printing. "We get requests every day for four-color books, but they only need a few hundred copies, and right now the cost of color prevents this. If we can get four-color digital web technology out there, you'll see the market open for four-color book printing and hard cover printing, too." Try It Yourself One other area that Green Button offers is somewhat unique, but it's not a big revenue generator yet. "We offer consulting services for people who want to get involved in this market, including topics like workflow and training." If the Green Button story is tempting your inner entrepreneur, now there's no excuse not to learn more for yourself. Talacka advises that if you are going to do it, that is, go off and launch a company, "Make sure you understand the business. It sounds simple, but it's tough enough knowing the business and getting people started. You have to have a business model and do your home work about costs and positioning in the market."