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The on-demand difference.

Advances in printing technology are changing the face of publishing.

Several years ago, the Special Libraries Association, Washington, D.C., published a new book and placed it on the market. This year, the book will be taken out of print, even though three fourths of the original print run remain on the shelves.

Today, thanks to SLA's use of a new technology known as on-demand printing, the futuristic and sometimes costly guesswork common to publishing ventures is being eliminated whenever possible.

Technological advances now make it possible to print relatively few copies of a new book to determine at the outset how well it will sell. Additional print runs can be ordered without having to pay costs associated with more traditional printing methods.

The on-demand concept is essentially one of short notice, quick-turnaround printing designed to reduce or eliminate inventory.

How does on-demand publishing work? A more complete description of the process appears later in this article, but generally you or your publishing director supply a printer with a preformatted disk or camera-ready materials and specify how many copies of the publication you will need for a short period of time. No longer do you have to worry about calculating your association's inventory needs far into the future. The printer produces your publication directly from your disk or camera-ready pages and delivers by your deadline.

This process varies slightly from publisher to publisher. For example, some jobs simply take more time if part of the job, such as the cover, must be run on a traditional web or sheet-fed press.

Understanding the concept

Since most printers can guarantee a five-day turnaround, it's not uncommon for clients to deliver projects at the last minute, knowing a deadline will be met. A few months down the road, however, you may encounter one of the following problems:

* You've run out of copies of a publication for which there is still demand.

* Material has become outdated.

* Orders for a particular publication have come to an abrupt halt.

In each of these situations, you usually have only one option. In the first case, you swallow the cost to print more copies and hope you can sell them to cover the additional cost. In the second situation, you pay to have the entire publication printed over again after updating it. In the third case, you dump the excess inventory. Whatever the case, the association is likely to lose money.

On-demand printing can help you avoid these costly predicaments. The equipment used in on-demand printing is less complicated and requires less skill to operate than that used in traditional offset printing. Most on-demand printers use either the Docutech (Xerox Corporation) machine--which can print directly from your disk or hard copies--or an on-demand electronic printer, which has the same capability.

With offset printing, you're not only paying for the plates, inks, and other materials but also for the high cost of the paid-by-the-hour press operator. It takes a great amount of skill and concentration to operate a traditional web or sheet-fed press.

As with any technology, however, on-demand printing has certain drawbacks. The equipment that is used, for example, lacks the capability to reproduce type and halftones in as high a resolution as is possible with offset printing. Halftones especially do not reproduce well, even when run on the highest-quality, most technologically advanced scanner copier.

Although a scanner copier can reproduce halftones clearly enough for general use, offset printing can achieve up to a 2,500-dots-per-inch effect. Usually, the Docutech and other scanner copiers used for on-demand work will reflect an output of only 600 dots per inch.

Cost factors to consider

A second difference with on-demand printing is that it allows you to avoid costly excess inventory by helping you get more from your printing dollars--and more doesn't mean volume.

Most printers encourage association publishers to order a larger volume of a publication than is necessary because they can offer you a cost break on larger print runs. Such a bargain, however, often turns into costly excess inventory.

On-demand printing allows associations to operate with a minimal inventory. Additional orders can be placed as needed. You pay the same cost per unit each time, no matter how many copies are printed. Most printers can guarantee a per-unit price that will be valid for up to a year. This is generally more cost effective than reprinting with the offset method, because you avoid the fees the printer charges to prepare plates and inks and arrange for press time each time you reprint.

Keep in mind, however, that on-demand printing is most cost effective for publishers who need less than 350 copies for each printing. Investigate both offset and on-demand printing so that you can compare your options.

Testing your market

A third factor that distinguishes on-demand printing is that it requires minimal initial investment, which allows you to test your market. This can be a valuable economic safety net, especially for niche publishers, whose products focus on a specific market, usually professionals or special-interest groups.

Publishing on demand generally involves one major risk area--the cost involved in printing an overage of covers. SLA's book covers feature two to three colors; are printed on a 10-point, coated, one-side stock; and usually have film lamination. Since these covers must be run on a sheet-fed press, SLA simply prints an excess amount of covers, which are used to bind future orders.

This is a one-time cost, and it is usually a good investment. However, because it is difficult to predict the exact amount of book covers needed, it is best to overestimate so that the covers will never have to be printed again. After printing and binding a small number of finished books, the printer stores the excess covers until the next order.

If for some reason SLA determines it needs only the small number of copies printed initially, it forfeits only the cost of the extra book covers. The risk under traditional offset printing would be the cost of a full inventory of complete books.

The on-demand method is especially suitable for a series of time-sensitive publications. You can develop a generic cover and print a ready supply. Update the text as often as you wish and use the same cover each time.

If you plan ahead, you can alter preprinted covers for each updated edition. For instance, you can print the cover on several different colors of stock, or--if the cover can be run through a copier--you can add a number 1, number 2, and number 3 to make distinct editions.

How it works

Here's a closer look at how the on-demand process actually works. First, you supply the printer with a disk or hard copy (preferably output at 600 dots per inch or higher). If you have desktop equipment or other in-house capabilities that allow you to produce these materials, then you are already one step ahead. If you do not, you'll need to find a reputable agency or free-lancer specializing in prepress preparation.

Make your selection based on the company's reputation for quality and dependability. Many printers who offer the on-demand process also offer desktop services and will often give you a price break for giving them the entire job from start to finish. Not only is this convenient for you, but the printer can often get the job done more quickly with full control over each phase.

Once you've supplied your printer with the disk or pages, calculate an estimated print run of the number of copies you need immediately and for a short period of time. For instance, if you are publishing a time-sensitive document or a periodical, you may only need a month's inventory for fulfillment purposes. If you're publishing material that will be more permanent or something that will have a longer life, such as a 200-page book or directory, you may want to maintain a few months' inventory.

At the end of that time, make an assessment of your inventory. If inventory is low and the publication is still in demand, determine the number you need for another limited time period and place another on-demand order. This process will continue for the life of the publication.

Analyzing your needs

The size of your staff or association has nothing to do with determining whether on-demand printing can work for you. When you or your publishing staff analyze whether any of your publications might be suited for the on-demand process, consider such crucial factors in your publishing process as your production schedule, budget, and inventory needs.

Time is a critical factor in any publisher's production schedule. Do you work a tight production schedule? If quick turnaround (from the time it goes to the printer to the time it is delivered) is an absolute must, it only makes sense to take advantage of the quick turnaround most on-demand printers offer.

Take a look at your income (from the sale of your publications) versus your investment (all printing, editing, art, desktop, salaries, and so forth involved in production). As is the case at SLA, the cost invested in the production of a publication must be recovered through the income from the sale of the publication. After the initial investment is recovered, most additional income goes right back into the program.

When a publication stops selling, the result can be disastrous, especially if production costs were not recovered. As any publisher can verify, some products simply sell better than others, often for reasons unknown. When a product either stops selling or doesn't sell from the beginning, the leftover inventory can cause problems. Not only can the drop-off in sales cause financial damage, but the money tied up in inventory is also lost. If you need strict control over your investment versus your income, on-demand publishing may be right for you.

Another aspect to consider in deciding to use on-demand publishing is your storage facility. Especially in a small or midsize association, storage can be extremely limited.

In an average production year, SLA has to make room for 10-15 new books in storage. Shelves used to keep order fulfillment stock are already close to capacity, and the floor space used to store inventory is dwindling. Using the on-demand method for 20-25 percent of SLA's publications helps keep inventory at a manageable level.

Storage options

If your inventory has already reached uncontrollable proportions, you may want to consider the option of printer storage and fulfillment that many on-demand printers offer.

Of course, you have to determine if the printers can guarantee the same or better quality of service to your customers. Will your orders be carefully handled during processing and delivery, and be securely packaged? Investigate all other points of quality service that make mail order convenient for your customer.

On-demand printing offers associations greater flexibility in planning and managing publishing projects. In a time when every penny counts, it makes sense to investigate whether this new technology can work for you.

Locating a Printer

More and more printers are beginning to offer on-demand services. If you deal with vendors on a daily basis, you may have already heard from sales representatives of printing companies that offer on demand. Take time to talk to colleagues about their experiences with on-demand printing to get their recommendations. As a general rule, look for a printer who uses the Docutech (Xerox Corporation) machine, or other high quality scanner copier.

On-demand printing services, readily available within the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, include the following:

* Automated Graphics Systems, 188 DeMarr Rd., White Plains, MD; (301) 843-1800.

* TechniGraphix, 12345-A Sunrise Valley Dr., Reston, VA 22091; (703) 648-3851.

* Bookcrafters, One Skyline Place, 5205 Leesburg Pike, Ste. 809, Falls Church, VA 22041; (703) 379-3922.

Pros and Cons

In weighing the pros and cons of on-demand printing, consider the following factors:


* Control inventory.

* Minimize risk.

* Update publications.

* Achieve quick turnaround.


* On-demand printing lacks high-resolution capability.

* Size of print run affects the cost effectiveness of the process.

Jane Taylor is manager of nonserial publications for the Special Libraries Association, Washington, D.C.
COPYRIGHT 1993 American Society of Association Executives
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes related articles; on-demand printing technology
Author:Uttley, Alison
Publication:Association Management
Date:Apr 1, 1993
Previous Article:Special report on sponsored insurance programs.
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