Springer Goes On-Demand Through Amazon’s CreateSpace

Dec 11, 2009

One of the world's biggest publishers wants to get rid of its inventory. That doesn't mean global scientific publisher Springer Science + Business Media is going out of the business-in fact, it's hoping to add even more science, technology, and medical titles to its lineup. It's just saving shelf space by making its paperback lineup ready to roll off the presses within 24 hours of a customer order through Amazon.com's digital on-demand content publishing platform.

On November 30, Springer announced that it would team up with Amazon subsidiary CreateSpace to make its entire paperback book catalogue and all new softbound titles available via print-on-demand in the U.S., about 11,00 titles so far. Additionally, it said it would be converting a large number of hardcover titles into paperback for inclusion and would make new large-print paperback solutions available as POD volumes.

Springer President of STM Sales Americas Syed Hasan said the company saw the inventory-free POD distribution model as the future of book publishing. Every book will remain consistently available, and the shift in strategy will also help reduce inventory and shipping costs stemming from retail deliveries.

Springer has been aggressive in implementing POD over the last few years, and the benefits of partnering with Amazon through CreateSpace, which makes on-demand content delivery solutions, were also significant, said Matt Conmy, vice-president of trade sales at Springer.

"The benefit to Springer customers is availability and speed of delivery," Conmy said. "For example, the order turnaround time is much shorter if a customer orders from Amazon.com and they are able to print the title at CreateSpace to ship within the 24-hour period." Customers can also use Amazon.com perks like preferred customer programs and Search Inside the Book functionality.

Conmy noted that the CreateSpace deal is not exclusive, freeing up Springer to continue existing POD vendor relationships and explore new publication deals for its titles. The company currently offers an estimated 80% of new titles via POD or print-to-order services, and it hopes to make all new titles available through these new technologies in the new year, Conmy said.

POD technology has been around for more than 10 years, but in the last few, the quality has risen significantly, Conmy said. Except for hot- versus cold-glue issues on POD hardcover bindings, most consumers wouldn't typically be able to discern the difference between POD and traditional offset printing methods, he added, making it a smart economic choice for commercial and trade publishers alike.

It may not be the best way to deliver the latest Tom Clancy blockbuster yet, but many publishers and retailers have started eying ways that digital prints and on-demand publishing can cut operational costs. "The advance of people's acceptance of eBooks is a significant part of it as well," said Jim Hamilton, a group director with digital research and consulting firm InfoTrends. "Publishers who were very skeptical about on-demand and eBooks in general have opened up and become more accepting. Not that Kindle drives on-demand print capability, but it's a symptom of a bigger trend-finding other ways of distributing."

On Dec. 3, Amazon said it would merge its print-on-demand unit, BookSurge, with CreateSpace, which runs Amazon's self-publishing platform for books, DVDs, CDs, MP3s and videos. It currently has agreements with many major university and consumer publishers to make certain titles, including those out of print, available through POD. Some publishing partners, especially smaller ones, chafed at Amazon's requirement that all POD titles sold through its site be made available via in-company units like BookSurge, and now CreateSpace, but the Springer deal reinforces Amazon's stature in the on-demand retail space, Hamilton said.

Self-publishing platforms like pioneer Lulu.com, which was founded in 2002 by Red Hat co-founder Bob Young, have also become more mainstream in the last few years, Hamilton added. The site offers authors an 80-20 revenue cut in its online shop, where authors sell digital copies and on-demand prints in partnership with ColorCentric Corp. for a variety of content. More than 1.1 million titles - including over 700,000 paperback titles - have been added to the site since its inception, with an additional 200,000 rolled out in November from authors like Malcolm Gladwell and Dan Brown.

While Springer's full lineup isn't ready to go at the click of a button quite yet-technical limitations like page count keep a portion of books bound to more traditional methods-Conmy said it's clear the on-demand model is the future of publishing. "There may be a time when all Springer titles could be produced via print-on-demand," Conmy said.

(www.createspace.com, www.amazon.com, www.springer-sbm.com)