Lightning Source Brings Thunder to E-Book Trade

As the print-on-demand and e-book market swells, Lightning Source is working to satisfy the need of publishers to convert traditional book titles into digital content.

The company yesterday reported surpassing the 1 million mark in print-on-demand books and forged a partnership this month to convert a veteran trade publisher's 12,000 backlist titles into digital format.

Simon & Schuster Inc. and Lightning Source struck a deal earlier this month that will allow the veteran publisher to expand the reach of its digital content.

Under the strategic alliance, Lightning Source will become the publisher's primary digital fulfillment company and help it to expand both the number of available titles and the reach of its existing digital content offerings, said Adam Rothberg, vice president of corporate communications at Simon & Schuster, New York.

The print-on-demand service will serve an immediate need while the conversion from real books to digital e-books will serve the publisher's long-term planning goals.

Lightning Source, La Vergne, TN, will provide the publisher with back-end services including, file conversion, delivery and print-on-demand orders to a vast group of retailers. The digital content company has already begun converting the publisher's backlist titles into digital files, Rothberg said.

Lightning Source, a subsidiary of Ingram Industries and also a former Ingram Book Group company, will make Simon & Schuster's print-on-demand backlist titles available to thousands of retailers through Ingram Industries Inc.

Company executives said Lightning Source has printed 900,000 books for more than 600 publishers to date. Its library now holds 9,000 titles and grows at an average of 250 titles per week, officials said.

Any retailer that deals with Ingram will be able to receive Lightning Source print-on-demand services, Lightning Source executives said.

“As early believers in the potential of e-books and print-on-demand, we embrace every opportunity to carry the concept quickly in to the mainstream, and are equally determined to include our longtime customers in the evolving electronic marketplace,” said John Romanos, president of Simon & Schuster.

Ed Marino, president of Lightning Source, said the partnership “helps meet the growing consumer thirst for digital content.”

Rothberg said Lightning Source is able to fulfill print-on-demand requests to any retailer interested in offering the service to its customers. “They're going to handle all the back-end digital functions from conversion of our backlist to making sure our books are formatted for all the different e-book platforms,” he said.

Print-on-demand will let retailers quickly furnish consumers with out-of-print or backlist titles, including rarely purchased books that aren't normally kept in stock.

As an example, “Say there's a book 15 years old that's selling at a slow rate. It's a conundrum for the publisher. You want to make it available, but you don't want to overprint,” said Rothberg.

Print-on-demand services let consumers order single copies of books from brick-and-mortar retailers or from online booksellers. Copies are often ready to be picked up from retailers or shipped from e-bookstores within 24 hours, he said.

“It [print-on-demand] will alleviate the problem of printing and warehousing books that sell in small quantities. 'Out of stock' and 'out of print' will become outdated terms,” Rothberg said.

The print-on-demand service will work best for text-heavy titles. Heavily illustrated books are not yet practical for market, Rothberg said.

Once the first line of pen-and-paper books are converted to digital e-books, Simon & Schuster will begin promoting the service throughout the industry.

Long-term planning is involved. “The e-book marketplace is still extremely small. Right now there are only a few places where people can buy an e-book. We're positioning ourselves for when reading on a [computer] screen becomes more popular,” Rothberg said.

Rothberg did not say e-books would ever replace real books, but he felt the market for them will continue to grow and that “eventually, there will be a generation of readers [that feel] more comfortable reading from a computer screen.”

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