In Search of Answers at PPN 2022: Paper, Labor, Schedules

by Laura


Publishers and industry peers gathered in person at The David Brower Center in Berkeley, CA and online to discuss The New Future of Publishing during the PPN Conference 2022 on April 29th.

PPN Conference 2022 session panel, The New Future of Printing and Manufacturing
L to R: David Van Ness, Michele Bisson Savoy, Mike Johnson, and Hugh Loveless

An engaged audience posed questions to three experts during a lively session on The New Future of Printing and Manufacturing: Trends, Challenges, and Solutions moderated by David Van Ness, PPN board member, and featuring Mike Johnson, sales representative at Sheridan; Michele Bisson Savoy, sales director at Qualibre; and Hugh Loveless, sales executive at BR Printers.

Not surprisingly, paper dominated much of the discussion along with the supply chain, labor trends, and print schedules.

Paper Availability – Domestic & Overseas

According to the panel, on the domestic front for offset paper, natural stocks tend to be more available that white stocks. With UPM coming off strike, there is hope that the availability of coated stocks will loosen up. However, with the consolidation of mills in recent years, and many converting from producing paper to other substrates such as corrugated, coupled with use of paper ballots required for the upcoming mid-term elections, the panel suspects inventory is likely to remain tight and prices high in the near term. When considering digital stocks, they are often made specifically for the press they run on, and white stock is available, though overall options for digital are usually limited.

For publishers printing internationally, paper availability isn’t as much of an issue and publishers are used to seeing longer lag times when working offshore. However, cream stocks are not as widely available and good recycled stock is difficult to come by offshore as the demand is not high enough to pay the premium price for it. If printing offshore, a stock similar to an 80# or 100# stock was hinted at being more readily available, with matte likely being more available than gloss.

Flexibility and acceptance of alternative stocks is critical in today’s paper market. “What customers required before [for stocks and materials] are now more suggestions for their orders,” remarked Loveless.

Labor Trends

The printing industry has an aging workforce and younger workers aren’t typically seeking careers in manufacturing. It’s important to be more efficient with the labor we have – cross training more than ever before – and to take advantage of automation to reduce touch points. There is an incredible concern with rising wages and prices and what impact they will have on book prices. Even in China, wages are up and there is pressure around that. As stated by Johnson, “The whole world is short staffed, so let’s be kind to those that showed up.”

Schedules – How Publishers can Proactively Plan

Prescheduling can be effective, provided you get your files to your printer when you say they will be there, and if (a big if right now) paper arrives on time. Talk with your printer to see if they offer prescheduling; communication with your printer is very important along with understanding where things are in the supply chain. Loveless suggests thinking creatively about how you can save time, “Maybe not on the press, but on the road.” For example, shipping books directly to the classroom or end destination rather than a warehouse. Ganging orders could be another time saver.

Ultimately, these issues are not going away soon but publishers and printers alike are adapting and learning to be flexible. As Bisson Savoy remarked, “This is the time to be aggressive; you’ve got to be bold.”