Ian Bradie, press distribution director of Cambridge University Press, outlined the press's use of ultra shortrun digital printing (USR), which differs slightly from POD in that POD is usually done to fulfill an order while USR is "more speculative, in anticipation of orders," as Bradie put it.
When the press began USR in 1998, it had some 13,500 academic titles. About 8,200 of them sold fewer than 100 copies a year, and 2,000 of those sold fewer than 10. The press published 1,500 new titles a year and discontinued about 1,300. Each year the press received orders worth $2 million for discontinued titles, "orders for books that were marketed and sold, but couldn't be filled."
Now, in the eighth year of USR, the press has some 22,000 titles in print, 7,000 of which are in the USR program. The press has "very few" discontinued titles; most books that used to be discontinued have become good candidates for USR. Cambridge adds about 1,700 titles a year to the program.
From 1998 to 2005, the press earned some $30 million in extra sales from the program; about 250,000 units with a sales value of $7.5 million were printed last year. By a 55-to-45 ratio, hardcovers outnumber paperbacks.
Books with 250-300 copies in annual sales are "eligible" for the program, Bradie said. Sometimes these titles are hardcovers for which a traditional paperback edition won't work or hardcovers whose sales don't financially justify a traditional reprinting. In other cases, in what Bradie called "the Lazarus approach," the press revives "an old paper ISBN." The press excludes books with color plates, extensive half-tones or with more than 700 pages from the USR program, but quality is "always improving" and "we're pushing boundaries." Prices are dictated by page length since the production cost is "solely a function of the number of pages," Bradie said. "We typically break even at seven copies." The process from an "editor's nomination" to "program-ready" usually takes three months.
Stock can be ordered, printed and shipped and received within seven days and is frequently much less than that. The program has a minimum reprint quantity of one.
Bradie emphasized that there are significant "operating challenges" that come with dealing with "hundreds of line items with just a few copies each" in a shipping carton rather than the usual "huge amounts of relatively few titles." Receiving titles is "a nightmare to deal with." The press has adapted to this in part by converting a returns line at its warehouse to receiving. In addition, the press has changed shelving. Books printed in the traditional way are still shelved horizontally in relatively large piles while USR titles are shelved vertically, which allows for more titles per shelf.
"We're still feeling our way," Bradie said. Nevertheless, "We've proven the viability of this. Very substantial new income can be mined at low cost with a healthy and durable bottom line profit. There are lower overheads, lower risk with minimal inventory held, but there are also integration challenges." Oh, and in other good news, returns are just about nonexistent.
From Shelf Awareness