What is the future of illustrated publishing?

charles catton

Digital printing technology has the potential to transform the illustrated book industry.

The classic model for illustrated book publishing established by Paul Hamlyn and others several decades ago saw high overall pre-press and print costs for illustrated titles offset by large print runs, traditionally including one or more coeditions with foreign-language publishers.

Today, most – but certainly not all – illustrated publishing is still large-print run litho printing, produced mainly – but not exclusively – in the Far East as the costs are lower than local UK and European printers.

Over recent years print run quantities have been falling in line with reduced demand from retailers, and, although colour digital printing has become a mature technology, it is still expensive compared to traditional litho methods.

But what will illustrated publishing be like in five, ten or fifteen years?

Short-run digital printing has the potential to transform the business – smaller initial print runs would require less investment up front on new titles and much less costly warehouse space.

If printers could make the cost of colour digital print competitive enough with litho prices to bring illustrated book printing back from the Far East, publishers would be able to cut a month’s shipping time from the schedule.

Some publishers are already innovating using digital print technology  – Lost My Name is one prime example.  But will the model scale up for all illustrated publishers, or are large print runs here to stay in some genres, such as celebrity food and drink titles for the Christmas market?

Join us for a discussion on the future of illustrated publishing at the London Book Fair on Wednesday 15th March at 2.30 in the Olympia Room, Grand Hall, with an expert panel featuring Rebecca Smart, MD, Ebury Publishing, James Carey, Director of Publishing Operations, UK, The Quarto Group, Nick Marsh, Vice President of Product, Lost My Name, and Sharon Williams, Sales Manager, Short Run Press Ltd.

Charles is Publishing Manager at Amber Books Ltd, an independent London-based publisher and book packager that specialises in creating illustrated non-fiction titles in print and digital formats for adults and children. Recent and forthcoming titles include Abandoned Places, Haiku, Best-Selling Albums, Camouflage at War, Fantastic Fearsome Beasts and the Bloody History of London. Charles is responsible for all things concerning editorial, design, marketing and digital at Amber. 

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