Inside the Australian and New Zealand book industry

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Ingram’s David Taylor on POD

David Taylor is senior vice president at Ingram Content Group and has responsibility for Ingram’s print-on-demand (POD) activities outside Ingram’s US base. These include the Ingram-owned Lightning Source businesses in the UK and Australia, the two joint ventures in France, and, most recently, in Sharjah, UAE. His responsibilities also include Global Connect, the network of print-on-demand supply arrangements with distributors in 10 countries from Germany to South Korea. Taylor spoke to Books+Publishing about Ingram’s recent print-on-demand activity in Australia, trends in the publishing industry, and the future of the POD sector.

Can you tell us a little bit about the history of Ingram Content Group Australia—what did it look like when it began 12 years ago, and what does it look like now?

We made the decision to bring our Lightning Source POD service to Australia in response to high market demand from publishers that had a presence there that were already using our services in the United States and United Kingdom. Our ability to print a single copy of a book at speed and at high quality when a sale had occurred had proven to be enormously attractive for publishers, distributors, and booksellers that did not want to deal with the unknowns of printing for speculative inventory. That’s really the fundamental thing that the POD model delivers: it allows publishers, distributors, wholesalers and booksellers to sell a book first and then have it manufactured. In a market like Australia, it was clear that such an offer would have significant attractions for everyone involved in the book supply chain.

After a couple of market visits around 2009 (and a lot of PowerPoint presentations), we opened our first Lightning Source Australia plant in 2011 in Scoresby, Melbourne. The plant had to be either in Sydney or Melbourne, and we thought very carefully before we decided that Melbourne was the best option for us.

Someone once said to me that no business plan ever survives contact with reality, and we certainly learnt a good deal as we started up our operation! Our initial assumption that the service would be attractive to both large global publishers and local Australian publishers proved correct, and whilst it perhaps took us a little longer than we would have liked to build up the volume, the story since has been one of very strong growth.

We’re very proud that our Australia business is now an established and valued part of the Aussie book scene and has delivered real value to publishers, distributors, booksellers and authors. And let’s not forget readers, who have been able to get books faster than ever before because we are printing titles on demand in Australia that would previously have had to be shipped in from offshore with time, expense and carbon.

In an Australian context, can you provide an overview of who Ingram’s POD customers are? How has this market share shifted over recent years?

Our Australian customers fall into three main groups: publishers, booksellers and distributors. Globally, we work with over 30,000 publishers from large international groups to small independent publishers that are often using our service to meet all of their distribution and print requirements. In terms of the Australian market, we are working with all the major international publishers that have an Australian presence and a very large number of local Australian publishers that not only use us for domestic services but also to make their Australian titles available globally through the larger Ingram Content Group network. Additionally, our platform for self-publishing, Ingram Spark, has had great success in the Australian market.

For booksellers, our arrival in the Australian market opened up an onshore wholesale model of supply that simply did not exist before. Australian booksellers, from the very large to the independent, from the online to the offline, now have access to millions of titles from thousands of publishers. Orders in Australian dollars can be placed through our iPage platform or via EDI (Electronic Data Interface) and books are delivered typically within two to three days. In many ways, Ingram Content Group Australia has given the Australian trade a domestic wholesale service that it has never had before.

For Australian distributors, our service provided the option of offering a far wider range of titles without the need to carry physical inventory or have orders shipped in from overseas. In many ways, the indent status is being eradicated, again to the benefit of publishers and booksellers.

It’s hard to measure the shift in market share, but there is no doubt that the arrival of the Ingram POD model has delivered some major benefits to the Australian market.

Ingram opened a new printing plant in Melbourne in 2020. Can you outline the demand that led to the new plant opening and what any future plans for the facility are?

Our initial plant in Scoresby was a great entry point for our Australian venture, but we knew that the demand for our services would one day mean that we would run out of space. It’s one of the best problems to have! We were steadily growing our title base, adding more publishers, opening more wholesale channels—all of which contributed strongly to the growth of the business.

Based on our forecast models, we started planning for a larger facility in good time, and we were really pleased to secure a brand-new building in Dandenong South. Our local Australian team did an excellent job in relocating our business and keeping our service live for all of our customers. Our new facility provides us with more floor space to add more equipment, and we are well positioned for the additional growth that we are confident we will see in the Australian market. The facility represents a significant investment by Ingram Content Group and is an indication of our intent.

What trends have emerged in POD since the pandemic?

As we saw in many other markets around the world, the pandemic accelerated trends in POD that had been present in the book market for many years: the shift to online purchases, the attractiveness of printing a book as close to the end customer as possible, being able to guarantee swift supply, allowing a publisher to never miss a sale because they have run out of stock or the book is not actually physically present in the market, not putting titles out of print, allowing the long tail of demand to be fulfilled, etc. POD as a business model was already well positioned to respond to those trends, but we did see a surge in titles being placed into an on-demand program as publishers scrambled to deal with the shocks to the global supply chain that the pandemic delivered. For booksellers, the online supply model became a critical service to be able to offer their customers, and the ability of a POD model to have a book printed and shipped directly to a customer grew in importance.

In many ways, the pandemic acted as an accelerator for trends that had been present in the global book supply chain for many years.  

Sustainability is increasingly an area of focus for the book industry, here in Australia and overseas. What role can POD play in minimising the industry’s environmental footprint?

POD has a huge role to play in helping the industry reduce its environmental footprint, and this is especially true in the Australian market. The idea that a book does not need to be printed until a sale is made transforms the publishing model from a ‘print and sell from an inventory’ model to one where there is no need for inventory, or the need for inventory is reduced. POD allows a book to be manufactured in a market when there is a sale rather than printed and shipped from inventory held in an offshore warehouse, allowing a huge reduction in transportation costs and associated carbon. By reducing the amount of inventory that has been printed speculatively, inroads can be made into the enormous amounts of books that end up being pulped. Even if they are recycled, it still represents a large amount of carbon that has been expended in manufacturing to make them in the first place.

In a market like Australia, POD has already played a major role in helping the industry to reduce its environmental footprint by removing the need to ship books in from overseas, by allowing booksellers the option of buying the book on shore, and by helping to reduce the waste that still bedevils the printed book supply chain.

What are some of the other issues that publishers are facing that POD can help to solve?

I think I have touched on quite a few in my previous answers, but overall, POD has allowed publishers to address a lot of problems they have faced since publishing first started up. POD has provided solutions by keeping books alive and always available so that a sale is never lost because the book is out of stock; allowing books to be kept in print so that sales can be realised without needing to hold inventory; taking cost and carbon out of the supply chain by not over printing; reducing the cost of write-offs for obsolete stock; cutting transportation costs and carbon; and allowing a better use of cash rather than having it tied up in excess inventory.

One benefit that has also been realised, and this is very true for Australian publishers, is that Ingram’s global POD service has allowed Australian titles to be made available to booksellers in other markets without the need to either sell the rights or ship stock and have it held speculatively in a warehouse. We link our POD service to wholesale points of distribution so that, for example, a bookseller in London or New York can order a title and receive it within a couple of days. Ingram makes the sale to the bookseller as a wholesaler at the price set by the publisher, manufactures the book on demand, deducts the cost of printing the book and pays the publisher the balance. This model is used very widely around the world. For Australian publishers, it has opened up significant export revenues without the usual costs and challenges, and they have the option of keeping global rights.

What do you see as the role of POD in publishing going forward?

It probably won’t surprise anyone reading this that I think it has a huge role to play! Ingram’s POD service has been around since the end of the 1990s, and it’s quite well established as a key tool for publishers to use. As digital printing and finishing technologies have improved and the range of products that POD can support has grown, it has allowed an increasing number of titles to be considered for POD. I expect that trend to continue. However, POD is really not about printing; it’s about distribution, and that’s where its real benefit lies for both publishers and booksellers.

Will it supplant the function of big printers and large print-runs? The short answer is no: there will always be a need for the bestsellers to be printed in large runs because their speed and scale of sale dictates it, but there are still a relatively small number of titles that fall into that category, and even with these, POD has a role to play as a backup in case demand suddenly spikes and stock is suddenly exhausted. The vast number of titles that are published (and there are more than ever) sell in relatively small numbers. With all the benefits that flow from the POD model, there is little doubt that an increasingly large number of these titles will be printed on demand. It really has been a wonderful development in so many ways for publishers, booksellers, authors, and readers.