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Feeding the Long Tail: An interview with Lightning Source CEO J. Kirby Best

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By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: January 15, 2007

--- Digital Wordflow Feeding the Long Tail An interview with Lightning Source CEO J. Kirby Best By Carro Ford Weston January 15 , 2007 -- To understand today’s on demand book manufacturing market, it helps to talk to the company that helped write the book on print on demand book manufacturing. Lightning Source Inc. maintains a digital library of more than 400,000 titles from over 4,300 publishing partners. The company has printed more than 39 million books, and every day, thousands of people order more from leading book retailers, popular online sites and independent publishers for two-day or next-day delivery. Instead of shipping from a traditional warehoused inventory, LSI prints orders on-demand, often in run lengths of just one for shipment directly to the end user. To see how this all fits into the changing world of publishing and book manufacturing I talked with J. Kirby Best, president and CEO of Lightning Source Inc. to hear his views about this high-energy market. The “Long Tail” concept articulates and underpins in theory what we have been doing in practice for the past nine years at Lightning Source. ODJ: Lightning just ordered 15 Océ VarioStream 9210s, so you obviously see the book market as having a lot of potential. BEST: The on demand market has a lot of growth potential, and the new titles that come to market each year are increasing. Lightning Source prints over one million books per month, and we see that number increasing. Yet our average print run is 1.8 copies. ODJ: What other technologies are you investing in? BEST: New LSI technologies include four-color interior books and improved book binding. Lightning Source works with the Royal National Institute of the Blind (RNIB) in the UK to produce large print books for the visually impaired. We have over 6,000 large print titles in our database. ODJ: What areas of the book market are growing because of digital book manufacturing? BEST: All segments are growing! Professional technical reference, author services, religious, vanity, and trade. Multipurpose content is expanding, too. For example, the Large Print Program I mentioned with the RNIB. The number of new titles in the marketplace keeps increasing. International growth is steady, as we print in multiple markets and languages. On-demand printing pares the publishing supply chain down to the bare bones of “Sell Book, Print Book.” ODJ: What are the most significant trends driving the growth of the book market? Which ones have had the most affect on your success? BEST: Even when the market isn’t growing POD is a growth niche and continues to grow! POD keeps books alive and has fueled the emergence of new publishing models. Print on demand radically changes the book supply model, and thus the balance sheet is changing for a publisher. The “Long Tail” concept --maintaining availability of back list and low volume titles-- clearly articulates and underpins in theory what we have been doing in practice for the past nine years at Lightning Source. The basis of the philosophy is that the book industry depends on range, but that only print-on-demand can make the production of deep range titles profitable. Our model is allowing publishers and book printers to profitably print a wider range of titles and keep them on the market longer. The combination of Internet bookselling models and the “long tail” concept is fueling the growth of print-on-demand as publishers can tap into sales that were not previously attainable. It goes back to making books available, and they will sell. On-demand printing pares the publishing supply chain down to the bare bones of “Sell Book, Print Book.” ODJ: What does it take to be a successful digital book manufacturer in today’s on-demand digital market? BEST: To be a true one-off digital manufacturer, you need strong IT, solid business models and top-notch customer service. On-demand digital book manufacturers like LSI are gaining advantages from automated workflow and process flexibility. Other areas of the publishing “chain” are also learning greater efficiencies. Publishers are becoming more adept at managing digital workflows, especially files. Digital print engine providers like Océ are driving growth by improvements to products, especially in the area of half tones. Print on demand is giving a new lease on life to one of the oldest products on the planet--the printed book. ODJ: Where are we in the life cycle of on-demand digital book manufacturing? Where do you think the market is headed? BEST: We are still in the very early stages. Less than one percent of book volume in the US is printed digitally. Print runs will continue to shrink as publishers reduce capital tied up in inventory, which plays well into POD capabilities. ODJ: Do you think digital book manufacturing is having an affect on the number of books sold, or is it that the ones being sold are moving more efficiently? BEST: Both. Digital manufacturing allows more books to be sold and moved more efficiently. Print on demand is giving a new lease on life to one of the oldest products on the planet--the printed book. By keeping more books in print, there will be more sales. “Sell the Book, then Print the Book” is a formula for successful inventory management, and print on demand makes these scenarios possible. You can always reach Carro Ford Weston at her new email address: carrof@earthlink.net. See More Exclusive Articles

 

 

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