Key challenges in book production


When we pick up a book at a bookstore, we often judge it by its cover. The production quality of the books speaks for itself. Here, AABP met a cross-section of production personnel at top production houses to know what goes in producing a book – an art in itself. Book production is an art – every time a new title is produced, it is a blend of many a creative minds – right from the author to the designer to the printer and last but not the least – the binder. Amongst all this, production personnel of a publishing house play an important role. It is he/she who decides the overall production aspects, finds the best printer and binder to suit his/her requirements and sometimes even supervises the whole production process.

We, at AABP, met a cross-section of top production personnel is some of the reputed publishing houses to know more about them and how they manage to achieve a masterpiece every time. Excerpts.

The diminishing print runs…

The industry is facing the problem of short-runs. Digital printing, which was once considered an unviable option for book printing, is making deep inroads in the industry. “As the world is getting flat, the competition is increasing. Technology took the front seat and becoming game changer. Pressure on cost has increased multi-fold hence the need to improve efficacy,” told Subhasis of Pearsons.

“The biggest change I have found is that people are gradually less interested in reading books due to their busy lives. But, if we think of education books, the demand has not decreased. But for the big publishers, the print runs are reducing because smaller publishers offer books at very low prices, which fulfill the students’ requirements. Bigger publishers cannot offer books at low prices because their administrative expenses are high,” told Sumit of Jaico Publishing House.

While, Surendra of Pratham feels that the current print runs have become very low due to development of electronic media.

But, Manish of Sage sees this as an opportunity. “Publishing business is very exciting in current times. Exposure to a global marketplace and accessibility of content from multiple platforms is probably the biggest opportunity for Indian publishers. In the past, the content was offered only via one single platform i.e. print. Today, a publisher can market the content across multiple platforms, in various formats, and with a global reach. Therefore, the print run units may seem diminishing, but the publisher’s revenue line is not suffering, as the business operates on a multiple market / format. Publishers today do not want to stock their warehouses, and technologies viz. Print on Demand have facilitated this requirement. Costs should not go rising while all these methods are implemented,” he shared.

The printers’ selection…

All the publishers, it seems, opt for a printer with one-stop solution and ofcourse the timely delivery. As Subhasis puts it, “There is a robust process to choose our vendors. We believe in consolidation and long term relationship. We would like to treat our vendors as our partners. It is a continuous process and we invest heavily on relationship management. So, both need to be honest and serious about this relationship. Our printing needs are 15 percent Hardbound and 85 percent Paperbacks in Trade. However, in Education sector, majority is in Paper backs. Since binding is an integral part of that process, we entrust end to end process to the printer.”

Similar views were shared by Sumit of Jaico Publishing House, “Since timely supply of books is very important in our trade after we procure an order, our printing needs are always urgent, i.e. we need book on a short turnaround time. So, we always opt for a printer with good infrastructure and new technology, who can supply the books as per our requirement. Also, we look for a printer with in-house binding section. We have almost 7-8 printers on our panel.”

While, Manish of Sage told, “The most important factor while selecting a print vendor depends on his capability to deliver in the shortest TAT. This implies that the print vendor should possess the offset mechanisation and POD technology, together. The print vendor should be able to supply the publisher with small print runs in real time and also be able to be cost-effective in large print runs. I prefer to work with 4-5 middle level printers, as that suits my current workload.” He further added that printers who do not have a complete binding setup in-house are a strict no-no for me.” However, I would definitely prefer to go to a independent binder in case of a special requirement, where the print vendor may not be able to have the specialisation / mechanisation which limits his capability to translate our design values into manufacturing,” he added.

“There are mainly three things we look for in a printer – quality, cost & timely delivery. We are working with top printers like EIH, Rave India, Nutech, Excel, Vinayak, Sandeep & J.K. Offset,” shared Surendra.

Challenges faced…

As per Sumit, “The challenges we are facing include competition in the trade, availability of required paper, quality of work and the availability of modern and up-to-date printing machines, besides the labour availability which sometimes become a major issue. To overcome all these challenges, we plan well in advance for our schedule of productions.”

While, Manish feels that the biggest challenge for a publisher is inventory management. “Almost all the publishers in India, still primarily operate in the print business, and the decisions of what to print, how much and when, are the ones that always need to be dealt with. Effective supply chain management and ability to cut down on TAT, is the only solution to this problem. This again emphasizes the need for print vendors with capability to deliver on both, offset and POD modules,” he asserted.

Surendra of Pratham feels that the quality of paper, printing, binding & finishing are the challenges in this field. “The above problem can be overcome before the actual printing process starts. For example; we have to check paper quality before printing,” he added.

While, Subhasis feels that the main challenge is communication. “People do not recognize the strength of pro-active and good communication. A lot of problem could be resolved, if we work with transparency, take pride to our work and communicate in time. We also would like our partners to synchronize their workflow with ours. This could avoid quite a lot of uncertainty,” he added.

Quality at par with international standards…

It is a debatable issue that quality of Indian publication is at par with international standards or not. While, we can find very good quality books published in India, we can also find very poorly produced books as well. Quality comes at a price…and it can be maintained only if books are priced accordingly, But, the cut-throat competition in books sometimes brings the quality down.

“The quality of Indian publications cannot be compared with international standards because India is a price-sensitive market. We, at Jaico Publications, always try to maintain good quality of books at low prices,” told Sumit of Jaico Publications.

But, Subhasis has a different perspective. “It is all in mind. We have the same equipment as rest of the world. We use same substrate and same quality of raw materials. Then why can’t we produce the job in same quality and in same efficiency with the rest of the world? The time has come to ask this questions ourselves, have faith on our ability. We need to adopt the change management and start working with transparency and passion. We need to admit the usefulness of workflow and need to adopt it. We must communicate clearly and pro-actively,” he shared.

Surendra also feels that if we are careful about the material & printing quality, then we can very well match the international standards.

“The Indian market is highly price sensitive and that often has made the quality of our product suffer. Internationally, a lot of manufacturing inputs are environment friendly, and effective policies are laid down to incentivise or subsidise the cost of production. Today, most of the international publishers work with Indian printers just because Indian print vendors are able to give the international publishers high quality products at a very low price. There is no dearth of high quality materials in India, but Indian publishers are still not using these as the consumer is not looking to pay up the higher price this would result in. It’s the Indian consumer who has to be sensitised towards these factors, we are getting there slowly,” added Manish.

On a concluding note…

“We all face challenges every day. It could be challenging to reproduce a colour properly, or an innovative binding or a near impossible date line. But, the main challenge lies with our ability to change. We all are changing and it is very important to change ourselves with the time. Change Management could be today’s most challenging part of our job, concluded Subhasis of Pearsons.

(With inputs from Manoj Hatwal.)

–Varsha Verma

The personal profiles…

Subhasis Ganguli, vice president, production & content management, Pearsons, joined it in 2001. Prior to that, he worked with Oxford University Press for 13 years (five years in Kolkata and eight years in Delhi). In the beginning of his career, he worked in a leading printing press in Kolkata, after that in coordination, supply chain, sourcing and sales in various companies before joining OUP.

Manish Pahuja, senior production manager, SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd, completed his Masters in Computer Applications, and started working for Norwegian Embassy in 1996. His tryst with publishing began completely by chance after receiving a call from a head-hunter for a job at OUP in 1998 as a production co-ordinator. After working at OUP for 11 years, he moved on to LexisNexis to head their print production for three years, before joining SAGE.

Sumit Chowdhury, production manager of Jaico Publishing House is a graduate in Printing Technology from Pusa Institute. After running his own printing business for four years, he joined Jaico Publishing House in 1995 and has a rich experience of 18 years.

While, Surendra Kumar of Pratham Books is a diploma holder from NRIPT Allahabad and he has worked in Ajanta Offset, IPP, India Today & is currently working at Pratham for the last three years.

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