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Kent Larson of Bridgeport National Bindery on changes in the book publishing industry

Published on September 14, 2012

Kent Larson, VP of Bridgeport National Bindery, talks to Cary Sherburne about transitioning their business from a bindery to full book printing services and the changes he's seeing in the industry.

Cary Sherburne: Hi. I’m Cary Sherburne, Senior Editor at WhatTheyThink.com and I'm here with Kent Larson who’s Vice President at Bridgeport National Bindery in western Massachusetts. Welcome.

Kent Larson: Thank you, thank you.

Cary Sherburne: So you’ve migrated your business really from being a bindery, a case bindery, to now having full book printing services, and I wonder if you could just talk to us a little bit about the changes that you’re seeing in the book publishing industry and, you know, what are the publishers thinking. Is it still hard to drag them into this digital world?

Kent Larson: Yeah. Well, I think that the idea of getting in a publisher’s head right now is probably possible. But some of the trends that are happening clearly are shorter run links, getting into just in time delivery, and going if not short run just in time to pure, true on-demand. The marketplace is clearly becoming more of a B-spoke operation. It’s becoming much more of a I don’t want to warehouse anything situation. And as publishers are trying to manage their titles, manage their backlists, the idea of digitization is really kind of happening in two areas—one, digitization for e-books; but number two, digitization for files to manage your flow of sales.

So for instance, a publisher would be willing to say why would I ever want to start anything out of print again, capture that sale…

Cary Sherburne: Mhmm, monetize their backlist.

Kent Larson: Absolutely, ad infinitum. You know, the classic, long tail approach, which allows that to really, you know, keep money in their pockets forever. The key is how do you manage that workflow, how do you manage that ordering process, how do you manage that manufacturing process, and ultimately that time is currency. It’s how quickly can I get that product in the hands of my customer, because right now my customer can just click a couple of buttons and they can get a digital version…

Interview: On their Kindle Fire.

Kent Larson: On their Kindle, exactly, or on their NOOK or on their iPad. We believe pretty strongly that the printed word, the physical book, is not going to go anywhere. The physical book is going to be around; it’s just how it’s going to get to the consumer. That’s what really is mattering the most. And what we try to say at our operation is simply that the content matters, and the way that we package the content is in a physical book, and that’s what we try to do.

Cary Sherburne: And then your customers then are, your customers are who—the publishers and higher education?

Kent Larson: You know, yes. Our customers are really not higher education. We have not gone really into that space. Our customers are really the publishers who would want to really think differently about their warehousing and really think differently about going true print-on-demand and putting all their titles, honestly, on a server and then routing the digits to order that book. One book goes to the bookstore in California. Another book goes to the individual in Texas who bought it. It’s as simple as that. And we also do a lot of POD work for the author-driven—a lot of the startups, a lot of the innovative IT companies that are coming out, whether they’re photo book companies or whether they’re true publishing companies that are starting out on the Internet.

Cary Sherburne: You know, it’s kind of interesting because you came into it from the bindery perspective and added printing. Was that kind of a struggle? You know, people are always saying oh printing, you know, it’s all customized and you have to have all this craft. But you came in with digital printing, you know. How was that transition?

Kent Larson: You know, honestly, I think going from the perspective of being a bindery back up the production chain was not as difficult for us simply because the hardware, the presses that you put in are pretty solid. Obviously, we were a blank slate and really didn’t know too much about printing anyway, so we didn’t have some of the preconceived problems. But we basically put these boxes in and started printing and obviously, we developed an MIS system that really assisted us. But I think it’s honestly easier. I don’t say that in a bad way, but I think in some ways knowing the binding part is really almost more difficult, particularly on a hard cover binding perspective, which is really what we specialize in.

Cary Sherburne: Yeah, a lot of high touch.

Kent Larson: Yeah, yeah. And there’s a lot more touch points with a case binding operation that takes a lot of money and you’ve got to be very careful with your workflow. Whereas, automating the print side of things seems to be a little bit easier, right?

Cary Sherburne: Yeah.

Kent Larson: The physical book, once it gets printed, is a little bit more difficult and that’s the part that we kind of had understood.

Cary Sherburne: Well, I wish you well in helping the publishers’ transition to this new are of business. I’ve been polling this market for a long time as a lot of our viewers will know, and it just seems like, you know, we were talking about books-on-demand in 1994, I remember when I worked for another company. But it’s taken a long time, you know, for that message to get through even though there’s such huge waste in the supply chain. It’s just kind of interesting.

Kent Larson: Yeah. It takes a long time to turn an industry around. But the tipping point is we’re in the middle of it and the idea is simply to manage what you’ve got, the publishers have assets of content, and manufacturers have the ability to innovate. And you marry those two things together and you’ve got a pretty dynamic strategy for a long term business.

Cary Sherburne: Well, good luck to you.

Kent Larson: Thanks, appreciate it.

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