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Printing Books On Demand – The Future of Printing in SA

Hidden fees after printing can become rampant. Additional fees once the book is in distribution like storage, weak returns and shipping, will keep on harassing you. Then the nagging question – Will I sell enough printed inventory to make a profit or will I be left with a surplus of books? And this is where “Just in Time Printing/Inventory” and “Print on Demand” comes to the rescue.

Short-Run Book Printing (Just in Time)

A Just in Time Inventory, or as it’s colloquially referred to among printing professionals “The Short Run” or “Book-of-one”, provides publishers, book stores, authors and more with a quality product in the quantities they need without the hassle of overseas logistics. We are always on time and backed up by exceptional service at all times. This allows you to print small quantities quickly as needed. Your printer sets aside a small selection after printing that can be dispatched as soon as orders come through.

Let’s use an author and publisher example here. Say you have a book signing and you need to print enough books for the event. A large printing run with a large minimum order quantity (MOQ), which is often the case when printing overseas, won’t be feasible. Ideally, you can order books using the Just in Time Inventory (Short-run) model and still manage to order your books a day or two before.

The printer can hold on to a certain number of copies until they’re needed, instead of the publisher having to purchase and store a large number of copies at once. A well-oiled printing set-up like this makes life easier for everyone.

Print on Demand

The print on demand method allows publishers only to print their books when needed and just the required amount. This goes hand in hand with a Just in Time Inventory. The difference is that with print on demand, the books are not gathering dust in the printer’s warehouse; they are only printed when ordered.

Print-on-Demand (POD) Distribution means books are printed to order; there’s no physical inventory of your book(s). When someone purchases your book through Amazon or Takealot, the order is sent directly to your printer and then to the customer.

This works well for a business that has a changing demand and may need to make edits to the current copy before printing. If it changes monthly, keeping an excess quantity can end up as waste.

What’s The Difference between “Short-run” and “Print on Demand”

Honestly, there’s not a massive difference.

Print on demand will not keep any printed copies in stock and will only print products per order.

A just in time inventory will have a small quantity of the product available that can be dispatched as needed. But in principle, both methods will have the copies ready as and when required at the drop of a hat.

Depending on the nature of the customer’s needs, both methods can be used interchangeably. It’s essential that you consult with a print representative state your needs and they will advise you on then decide which of these print methods will best suit your needs.

Million-dollar questions?

Will your budget be able to handle unnecessary upfront printing expenses and storage fees? How fast do you need to get your book into bookstores? Can or should you pay the additional costs of traditional distribution? How much time do you have and what is the state of international logistics?

Reasons for Printing on Demand

No more unsold copies returned from booksellers to a distributor’s warehouse. No more printing of your book ahead of time and stored at a warehouse. No more up-front printing expenses and storage fees as a surprise later.

Remember, POD means books are printed to order; there’s no physical inventory of your book. When someone purchases your book through an online e-commerce platform such as Takealot, the order is sent to the POD printer, where your book is printed and sent to the customer directly, following a fulfilment based business model.

Printing & Globalization

Globalization has led to a tsunami of competition globally. But as we’re all too aware, the workmanship from certain countries doesn’t always provide the level of professionalism you might expect. Many of us fall into the lower-cost production trap, but the old adage “penny wise and pound foolish” is as relevant as ever.

Admittedly reduced costs are alluring, nobody can argue the point, but without proper due diligence and quality management, this can kill your business in the long run. Reprinting, for any reason, is costly, and managing legal issues across the span of the ocean are not financially feasible. Even if you have a trusted printer abroad and can reprint without taking a financial hit, you’ll still be stuck with delays in lead times.

A global financial crisis like we’ve seen with Covid-19 can flip the entire international supply chain on its head overnight. Situations like these result in a decreased business flow due to closed international borders which leads to products sitting in warehouses, shipping containers or even on ships for undisclosed amounts of time.

A prime example of this is when China decided to redirect all their cargo ships to the US to transport PPE. The dollar reward for silly amounts of products trumped The lead time for a shipment from China to South Africa increased from 30-40 days on the water to 8 Months, best case scenario. Warehouses must always use timely and accurate information to forecast demand correctly. And…there are no guarantees when times get hard.

Traditional distribution is a replica of conventional book distribution, where your book is printed ahead of time and stored at a warehouse. Orders are then filled out using your printed inventory.

Sure, a benefit of the traditional distribution is that a distributor can send copies of your book and its marketing information to the buyers like Barnes & Noble, Ingram, and Baker & Taylor, which increases your chances of getting placed in bookstores. Thus a better chance of being picked up by brick-and-mortar stores.

But at what cost?

Higher up-front expense. Where you need to print an inventory of books ahead of time to be used for orders, additional fees once your book is in distribution, and all this accompanied by a higher risk, where you may not sell the expected amount of the inventory you print. Leaving you high and dry with a “leftover” of books.

Customer Expectations Locally and Overseas

Customers in South Africa have learned to expect better and more than ever before, including shorter shipping times, perfect order accuracy, and top-notch customer service.

So make sure that the printer of your choice is an international player of note, backed up by state of the art equipment and cutting edge technology. Professional assistance in making sure that your inventory needs are accurate and delivered professionally can later prove to be worth its weight in gold..

Printing Schedule

What do South Africans need when it comes to printing? Quite simple actually: top quality at the best price, delivered on the expected time at the correct address. But managing this from overseas might be harder than you think. Printing Industry Exchange rounds up the issues of Far East printing quite neatly here:

“To put this in perspective, one of the US printers I’m considering can ship the job (a case-bound book) 15 to 20 days after proof approval. The books will then take about two days to deliver by truck.

In contrast, my client’s current Chinese vendor can produce the print book within two weeks (10 days) including the case binding work; however, the completed books will then need to travel from Asia to the East Coast of the US.

Another vendor who bid on my client’s print book is in Korea. In his emails to me, this book printer estimates a 25-day ship time from Korea to New York. In addition, this printer says it will take 5 to 7 days for US Customs clearance and ground delivery to my client. All of this is in addition to the print book production schedule in Korea.

So while the Chinese, Korean, and US production end of the schedule is an important aspect of case-bound book manufacturing, delivery of the finished books from the Far East to the US East Coast makes the overall turn-around time (manufacturing plus delivery) much longer than for most US vendors.”

Despite the occasional geopolitical spat and spiteful tariff hikes, the US/China trade route is a hundred times more accessible than a China/SA trade route. SA, unfortunately, is in the middle of nowhere since the Suez Canal opened.

However, that’s not where the Far East headache ends. Currency exchange also plays a massive role in the international book publishing scene, especially if you’re thinking in Rands, and there’s always a hidden fee somewhere. Complex shipping procedures, given the distances and the cross border pains. And the worst of them all cashflow problems can crop up since cross-border payments take much longer and rate negotiations need to be secured adequately. Cash sent out for advanced payments inevitably affect liquidity and working capital.

But the positive is that there is an international player in South Africa. Sure, shameless self-promotion, but hey you made it this far. POD has built an excellent reputation for quality, reliability and service. We have printed for clients both locally and internationally. Some of South Africa’s leading brands refuse to go elsewhere.