King Turns a New Page
July 9, 2004
- The Sun Lowell, By Dan O'Brien (Sun Staff)
Lowell book maker makes mark in competitive
- As King Printing Company Inc. surpassed its 20th year
in business during the late 1990's, executives of the
high-tech book manufacturer saw a storm on the horizon.
"We could see that tech was in for tough times,"
recalled Thomas Campbell, King's senior vice president
of sales. "Tech companies were either being gobbled
up, or going out of business. We needed to look for
another way to generate revenue."
The company, which to that point had made its name by
publishing such items as annual reports and high-tech
textbooks and manuals, embarked on a new market: self-publishing.
This is the concept of working with an individual aspiring
writer who wishes to publish his or her own work.
"People can be surprised at what they can do,"
said campbell, who estimates King has worked with about
2,000 new authors over the past four years.
Indeed, the motto for King and ADI Books, the sister
operation that does the actual manufacturing, is "There's
a Book in You."
Campbell says that at King Printing, aspiring authors
can order as few as 100 books. A typical run is 2,500
and can take anywhere from two to 18 days.
"It could cost you as little as $300 total, just
put it on your credit card," Campbell said. "The
catch is, it's up to you to sell the books."
Some are better at that than others. Haverhill resident
Christopher J. Haraden published "Storm of the
Century," a memoir of the Blizzard of '78 that
sold some 10,000 copies. But Campbell says there are
others who insist on publishing several hundred copies
and find there simply isn't sufficient demand for them.
The result is a pile of unread books in their respective
"Some people can't bear the fact that their books
might not be interesting to a wide audience," Campbell
said. "But that doesn't mean they can't publish
on a smaller scale for self-enrichment."
Campbell says estimates of the size of of the so-called
"self-publishing" industry run anywhere from
$11 billion to $36 billion.
And where there is self-publishing, there is sure to
be "short-run" publishing. Short runs represent
as few as just a couple hundred copies of any given
title - exactly the market that King hopes to corner.
But it's competive. Jim Conway, CEO of Courier Courp.
in Chelmsford, estimates that the number of publishers
doubled, from 32,000 to 65,000, from 1990 to 2000. Similarly,
the number of titles being printed went from about 850,000
to almost 2 million. Thus, run lengths "have dropped
pretty markedly," Conway said.
"Publishers don't want to make the investment in
inventory," Conway explained, meaning they don't
want to be stuck printing more books than is in demand.
"But King, they're one of the small shops that
is better run. Whereas we would be considered short-
to medium-run, they're more like ultra-short."
Conway said publishing a book at Courier costs about
$1 to $1.50 a copy for a 300-page paperback, including
cover. He said it generally takes two to four weeks,
depending on the season. Right now, with publishers
getting ready for the fall academic season, non-shool
books may have to wait a bit longer.
Conway said short-run publishing makes up about 5 percent
of his company's annual revenues, which were $202 million
in the most recent fiscal year, and that topics "cover
Campbell says hot topics can change, but he has recently
noticed an interest in publishing self-help books. Religion
and travel-related topics have also been popular subjects
Privately held King doesn't disclose profits, although
Campbell said annual revenues are "not more than
15 million." But that's still way up from the $9
million cited in a Sun article on the company in 1995.
The company operates three shifts.
Campbell said King has lured prospective authors somewhat
by advertising at trade shows and magazines, but mostly
through "word of mouth."
"We offer end-to-end service here, from how many
books you should publish to what might make a good cover,"
Campbell said. "We do it quick and we offer a competitive
Because after all, he concluded, "Anybody can be
the next Jack Kerouac."
Dan O'Brien's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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