Binding: To in-house or not to in-house - The Noel D'cunha Sunday Column

To in-house or not to in-house? That’s the question that most book print firms are contemplating when it comes to their binding requirements. Historically, it’s a conundrum that few book print firms would consider. The capital outlay needed to purchase a new piece of finishing kit was prohibitive in the days of Muller Martini and Wohlenberg. The alternative: hire an army of book folders, collators, sorters, gluers. But this could prove costly both in terms of time and money (and erro

04 Jul 2014 | By Noel D'Cunha

But over the last decade or so the cost and footprint of binding has reduced significantly due to Indian players like Welbound, which has expertise required to install and service the machines. As a result, printers are no longer considering only the top-end  players like Muller Martini, Kolbus and Wohlenberg, some accepting complicated tasks like perfect binding and case binding through the manufacturers like Pramod Engineering, Printools, Fortec, Electromec, Megabound, Memory Repro, Macrobond and Redlands among others.

According to our available data, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh have seen a rise in installations of bookbinding kit in the last two years thanks to the soaring book printing market in the state.

There are many reasons for this. One of the factors which is driving the publishing industry is that the state education boards are shifting from mono-colour textbooks to multi-colour; this is contributing to the growth. The change in the syllabus adds to the business. And so, today, there are more than 250 book printing firms in Andhra Pradesh, which on an average produce more than one-crore books per month. Likewise, the numbers for Gujarat are 50-lakh books, excluding Navneet.  

The book publishing and printing value chain has witnessed a number of challenges, chief among which is the impact of a rise in paper prices. Higher competition in the K–12 segment, and the potential effect on international student editions after the 2013 US Supreme Court ruling in the Supap Kirtsaeng v/s John Wiley & Sons case are few other factors that have impacted the value chain.

However, the outlook for 2014–15 looks better, with stable paper prices, and more growth opportunities in the school education market, as well as more Indian titles being published for the higher education market. Yet, it is important to foresee new challenges, and to think about how stakeholders can add value in the future. For publishers, who are the print-buyers, it is important to discuss the issues of the value chain with their print partners, and to set priorities jointly. Now is the time that partnerships need to be forged and strengthened, so that every link in the chain benefits.

What are the important benefits of tackling binding in-house? Do book print firms prefer a specialist trade-finisher or having the services in houses?

Common themes 
For printers who have gone down the in-house route, the thinking behind their decision covers a vast gamut of different issues, but there are a number of common themes that crop up time and time again. ‘Control’ is a word frequently used by printers who have opted to bring one or more post-press processes in-house. Take Khushru Patel at Jak Printers in Mumbai. Jak has invested in an automated perfect-binding and stitching in-house. So when Jak brought in the Kolbus, there were speculations that it did not have the kind of volumes that would justify the investment.

“We do not have volumes even now. It is only quality based. When I went to a German bindery and showed them a book, he found faults at every single point. When I returned to Mumbai, I discussed it with my partner and in one year we invested in binding machines,” says Patel.

But what the investments have done is it has given greater control over the process. "The more control you have the better is your customer service," he explains. "We’re facing increasingly shorter lead times from customers, but by bringing finishing in-house we’ve got better control of how long things will take, so we can factor it in."

There are other advantages of the investment. “Every book is equally important whether flat-back or round-back. We have the equipment for all kinds of books across the spectrum. Unfortunately, the hard-case book costs more and becomes very prominent. Whether a hard-case, centre-pinned or any other kind of book, it is equally important. We have about 40 machines that comprise of our binding unit and even then we fall short of the equipment. Binding is a challenge.”

It’s a scenario that’s familiar to Minoo Davar of Mumbai-based Spenta. The group that produces 35 custom magazines, seven consumer titles and produces books on an Acoro A5 from Muller Martini, thanks to the increasing magazine demand for speedy turnarounds.

“The crux of our business is timely delivery. It takes more time to print, and thus we need a shorter period for binding,” says Davar. The Acoro has an average output of 3,500 to 4,00 copies per hour, hence Spenta can get closer to 84,000 to 90,000 copies every day.

"Print is getting faster and faster so we need to have the facility to finish jobs in-house," says Davar. "Previously we were printing jobs on one day, and then we had to send it out the next day for it to be finished. As a result, we always had to build a day or depending on the size of the job, several days into the equation. It’s much easier and quicker if you can do it in-house."

There are numerous other upsides as well. One of the most enticing is the potential return on investment. "Even though it’s a bit more of an investment for us, the life-span of the machine is much longer than the period in which you pay for it, so it’s a good return on our investment," says Patel. "Plus we make more money doing it in-house than outsourcing to a trade finisher. If you can do it in-house it's value for money, and financially it is a very viable area for us to be in."

A primary concern that’s commonplace among printers who are reluctant to go down the in-house route is how much time the machine will be inactive for. Many books printers like Vasant Goel of Gopsons admits that this was an issue that he studied long and hard before deciding to take the plunge on the unit in Sivakasi, which he accepts is quite an unusual investment for a company of his size. "On the majority of ancillary book binding equipment that we’ve put in, we don’t have 100% utilisation, so we had to weigh that up against the service aspect," he explains. But in the end, the decision was an easy one to make. The reason: In Sivakasi or Noida or Surat or Manipal, you have to be self-sufficient.  Not having a machine means you have to add three to four hours to a job," says Goel.

Benefits for manufacturers
While it’s provided a fillip for printers, it’s also helped equipment manufacturers, particularly during such sticky economic times. P Sajith at Welbound, says that sales to printers represent a growing part of his company’s market today.

“The benefits of bringing post-press in-house is better control on the workflow,  reduce wastage and improve turnaround times, all three of which are critical to book production. No publishers will give jobs to their vendors without an in-house bindery. The days of outsourcing binding are over,” says Sajith.

That said, there are some binders who get the job from publishers directly and here they outsource printing. “It's only commercial book print jobs - consisting of manuals, catalogues, souvenirs and so on that get outsourced to the trade binders. If you are a book printer, with significant amount of your sales coming in from trade or educational publishers, then you will need your own bindery,” says Sajith.

He adds that the biggest markets in terms of printers bringing post-press in-house, are perfect binding and folding. Automation is on every print firm's wish list. Plus these processes have become economical in recent years.

"In the past, a PUR perfect-binding kit would be a Rs two-crore investment like the ones with HT Burda and SFA, but now we can supply a system for about 20 lakhs, and that’s a machine that’s six feet long, not six metres in length. That brings this type of equipment into the shopfloor of a medium-sized  print firm," says Sajith.

Today, Welbound has a list of print firms like Pragati Offset, Jak Printers,  Parksons Graphics, Replika Press, Avantika, Archana Advertising, Sahaya Print, Art Printing House and so, on its roster. They offer solutions for single-clamp, twelve-clamp perfect binding as well as retrofits for existing book-binding lines.

As Sajith says, the basic principles of book binding lies in quality production, and these binding tools give printers the confidence that they are producing long lasting books that satisfy the demand of their clients.