Printers working flat out as longer books add to autumn challenge

Printers working flat out as longer books add to autumn challenge

Printing firms say the number of lengthy autumn books this year is adding to the challenge of dealing with those pushed back by the coronavirus pandemic.

With around 230 trade titles released on 3rd September alone, and hundreds more to follow in the weeks after, CPI and Clays both told The Bookseller they were working flat out, but had planned ahead to cope with the challenging autumn schedule.

The busy time of year has been exacerbated by the number of doorstopper books out this autumn, which include Ken Follett’s 832-page epic The Evening and the Morning (Pan Macmillan) and Brandon Sanderson's 1,248-page fantasy Rhythm of War (Gollancz).

At CPI, divisional m.d. for trade books Tanya Dunbar said the length of some of the books her firm was printing had come as a surprise.

She said: “Interestingly, one of the most challenging aspects has been the high paginations we are seeing this year. Our average extent is 500pp, whereas usually it is nearer 360pp—so a big increase.”

Clays c.e.o. Paul Hulley said his firm also seemed to have more high extent books than usual, though he said the sheer number of titles being published meant that was inevitable.

As with every autumn, Dunbar said her firm's staff would be working overtime when necessary to increase capacity. Her team has also had weekly calls since April with customers to keep ahead of significant releases and plan capacity.

She said: “As always the challenge is about when the titles fall. If books were ordered in a smooth pattern, we would have no problem with capacity. In that sense, this year is no different than any other: we have our peaks, and to manage the work going through it becomes necessary to open up more capacity, which is generally done by working overtime.”

Hulley said July had been busier than usual because of all of the 3rd September releases. “The autumn peak, which usually gets going in August, well and truly got going in July, and we expect to be full-on now until the October publications are all in the market,” he said. “After that it's all about re-prints. We’re coping well, working very tight to our customers to ensure we understand their priorities, and they with us, to help us make sure those priorities are met day to day.”

Hulley said careful planning had ensured Clays anticipated the extra demand, recruiting and training enough people to make the book crush manageable. He said: “The greater predominance of online sales has had a reducing effect on run length but we have invested heavily in digital printing and binding capacity, so we can deal with that.”

The firm has also invested in new varnishing technology to ensure demand can be met in the busiest weeks.

Hulley said: “These are not just Covid-related plans, these are plans for ongoing investment to maximise our capacity and agility in the busiest weeks of any year. Covid has accentuated some of the patterns we have seen developing in the market in recent years, but it hasn’t done much that’s new. Books are a strong and investable market for a printer and so it is not just decisions and actions this year which are supporting us now, but also things we have been doing consistently over time to make us more agile.”

Clays staff are coping with limitations imposed by socially distanced working, Hulley added. He commented: “There is no doubt that we are all in for some more challenging weeks ahead but, with everybody involved playing their part, we will carry on winning.”