The Changing of Standards
The change has been subtle. It’s an unpopular trend with most book publishers, even those who’ve elected to do it. So far consumers/readers haven’t really noticed, and that’s the idea. But the educated guess is that someday they will. The trend I’m referring to is the encroachment of uncoated groundwood stocks into the pure realm of hardcover, case-bound books.
Unlike magazines, catalogs and newspapers, books are meant to have a long shelf life. Historically, they have been printed on uncoated freesheets, but lately the industry appears to be graduating to newer, brighter groundwood stocks that look and feel very similar to freesheets, but offer substantial savings in cost, usage and shipping. Some mills can offer groundwood alternatives at lighter basis weights that bulk more, don’t sacrifice opacity and can save 10 percent to 20 percent in usage.
Some book publishers, such as HarperCollins Publishers and Random House, are not using groundwood in their hardcover books. “The publishers at Random House are aware that other companies are using groundwood, and about the cost savings, etc., and have chosen not to go in that direction,” says Vincent Liguori, vice president of paper purchasing for Random House. An exception, notes Liguori, “is, on occasion, groundwood is used by our Value Publishing division, where lower price points may be the objective.”
But three of the largest book publishers are using significant amounts of it. Warner Books began putting some of its hardcover books on groundwood paper a number of years ago, and now a good number of its titles are on groundwoods. Simon & Schuster reportedly followed suit two years ago, switching to groundwoods for their hardcover fiction lines.
According to Tom Lysenko, vice president of business at Penguin Group (USA), a significant portion of Penguin’s hardcover books are now on groundwood alternatives. He is not fond of the trend. So why are they using so much groundwood now when just a few years ago they used very little? “Cost. Pure and simple,” he says. “I am being constantly challenged to look at our manufacturing process and find ways to reduce our cost base. We are constantly reviewing our internal processes to look for efficiencies, and we also work closely with our suppliers, pushing them to be innovative and cost efficient,” he explains.