Joe Deemer is Editor at Printing Industries Press, the publishing arm of Printing Industries of America, the world’s largest graphic arts trade association. In addition to his publishing duties, Joe provides editing and proofreading support to other PIA departments. He is the author of Sustainability Studies in Print and several one-act plays including “Alphabet Soup (or the Case for Plosives),” “Crossing Guards,” and “The Logistics of Heroism,” which have been performed around the country.
How do you explain your job to people?
When I explain my job to people, I lead off with my role in the development of educational books and resources for people in the graphic communications industry and explain that our audience can be anyone from students in an established curriculum to press and prepress operators learning on the job, to more white-collar workers who are interested in financial reports, trends, and HR practices. I’ll admit that some of the material can be dry—the next great American novel is never going to cross my desk. But for every report on the financial ratios of binderies in the United States, there’s usually something like a survey of visual effects and add-ons that can increase the value of the printed product. Personally, I find some of those things to be quite fascinating.
What value has this job brought to the way you think about book business and your own relationship to books?
Like most book publishers at this time, I’m feeling a little anxiety, curiosity, and anticipation about where we’re going from here. And, although I work for a trade association that serves the interest of “traditional” ink-on-paper printers, I’ll also confess that I really enjoy the experience of reading books on my iPad.
I think the potential applications of e-publication are incredibly exciting—especially from an educational standpoint. Yes, I work for an association that serves printers, none of them thrilled with the prospect of losing more ground to digital media. But part of our service to printers is education. One of our best-sellers is a textbook on how to operate a sheetfed lithographic press. People buy it all the time, and there’s a lot of value for students and press operators alike. But how much more value will it have if we offer it as an ebook that explains procedures verbally and complements that instruction with a video of the concepts in action?
Other potential applications (in EPUB 3 format) will allow for active footnotes and cross-referencing in books. That’s a really handy way to deliver lots of information in an extremely efficient fashion. And, on the bright side for publishers, it will involve plenty of work (albeit unexciting work). I already loathe indexing… can you imagine putting together an index and then hyperlinking each reference to the appropriate text? While I can see someone coming up with software to perform such a task, I can only see it being about as effective as spell check. That means we all have the prospect of some exceptionally tedious work to look forward to. But, hey, work is work, right?
Where do book printers—specifically US ones—fit into the future of book-business, in your mind?
I think a lot of book printers are already taking steps in the right direction in order to remain relevant and effective as we continue moving forward. Like many others, we’ve moved away from massive print runs and scaled back to more of an on-demand model. Sure, you’re going to have books you know are going to fly off the shelf, and a huge litho run will serve you well and save you money. But the best model in any manufacturing sector is always going to be to produce exactly the amount you need at exactly the time you need it. Pretty much for all printers, managing expectation, production, and delivery efficiently while reducing touch points and surplus storage is almost mandatory.
And then consider the ever-growing self-publishing market. Sure, you can go onto a site like iTunes and purchase the latest David Sedaris book for just about what the print version costs. But. Consider some humorous woman you’ve never heard of. She’s just as funny as David Sedaris but has the drive and self-confidence of Walt Whitman (I’m trying to be the first person to use David Sedaris and Walt Whitman in the same sentence). Whitman paid for the first printing of Leaves of Grass out of his own pocket. I’m not sure what he paid to print 800 books in the mid 19th century, but our young humorist (YH) could probably pay even less to have her material converted and then submit it to iTunes. Heck, if she understands the software, she can do it with zero overhead, or else sites like Lulu.com can do all the technical conversions and set her up with an ISBN. Now, to Sedaris’ $12.99, YH sells her book for as little as $3.99 on iTunes. You have two very similar books— only one costs 70% less. And to top it off, consider that Sedaris might be receiving something like a 20% royalty on every book sold, while YH receives the standard 70% royalty through Apple. At the end of the day, she’s making 20 cents more on every book sold ($2.80 vs. $2.60).
Back in Camp Paper, more and more printers are incorporating digital presses (often with in-line binding capabilities), making it more cost effective than ever before for people to self publish. Before, you had to be able to provide the necessary files to make plates and then commit to a litho run where something in the neighborhood of 1,000 copies is the minimum required to justify the time and effort on the printer’s part. Now all you need is a print-ready PDF or two (one for the interior and one for the cover) and most printers will be happy to do a short digital run of anywhere from 10 to 200 copies, perfect bound and everything. While it’s true that the self publisher pays significantly more per book compared to a litho run, the price per run will still be much, much less, and you won’t be left with 700 copies of your book sitting in boxes all over your apartment.
Long story short, in this economy, printers are always happy to have a job in their queue. But in my admittedly limited freelance experience, I’ve found authors who haven’t really considered this as an option. They were much more interested in using a vanity press (we have a large one that operates out of Pittsburgh), and they were stuck in that large-run mentality. I won’t claim that those two or three authors are representative of the self-publishing community as a whole, but if they are, then I worry they’re not doing their research, while the print community isn’t doing a good job of reaching out to them.