Dead Tree Edition, mainly focussed on the magazine and catalog business it’s true, brings us this report from a year ago on the difficulties facing R. R. Donnelley and Quad/Graphics. Perhaps recent developments concerning Courier Corporation, initially acquired by Quad, but then, hold on a minute, finally bought by Donnelley, point to the same kinds of problem. Such acquisitions bring access to new market segments, but also, more ominously, allow for capacity rationalization (job losses and fewer presses competing for the available work). Consolidation in the face of declining demand can stave off the darkest day, but it cannot go on for ever.

Nobody wants to stop printing books, but economic forces may hasten the moment when this becomes exactly what we have to do. The book publishing business is based upon the existence of a sizable and efficient book manufacturing industry, standing ready and eager to print every book we can put out. As volume declines — not so much numbers of titles perhaps, as units printed per title — the risk of there being excess capacity in the book manufacturing industry grows. As presses get decommissioned, too much tipping of the scales in favor of the e-book could get us to a point where there are not enough presses out there to keep up with our reduced demand. Book manufacturing is a capital-intensive business, and this requires full utilization of equipment. A tipping point is exactly that — the point at which conditions change abruptly.

The sorts of de luxe books which many have called for, and lots of publishers are already producing, require a different kind of support: smaller suppliers doing less “efficient” things, and of course charging more.

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