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Posted on Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 5:59 a.m.

Book printers fighting to stay competitive as industry changes

By Lizzy Alfs


Edwards Brothers Malloy plans to cease manufacturing operations at 2500 S. State St. and sell the property.

Courtney Sacco |

Edwards Brothers Malloy’s consolidation announcement last week contained a message: In order to stay competitive, the book manufacturing company needs to invest in its digital printing operation.

The 120-year-old Ann Arbor company is selling the 185,000-square-foot offset printing facility it developed on South State Street in 1954, and consolidating operations with its Jackson Road facility. The company’s owners said the move will help Edwards Brothers Malloy adapt to a changing industry.

“Like most book printers, we’ve seen a decline in longer run offset business,” said Edwards Brothers Malloy CEO John Edwards. “At the same time, our digital operation is growing at a 20 percent clip, so that is where we need to be investing for the future.

"Having two large offset facilities this close together that are not fully utilized just doesn’t make sense, and we need to redirect resources to the side of the business that is growing.”

Digital printing allows a manufacturer to print a single copy of a book and quickly deliver it back to the consumer, as opposed to long-run offset printing presses, which can print hundreds of thousands of books over a longer period of time.

Edwards Brothers Malloy isn’t alone in these business adjustments; nationwide, book printers have been forced to adapt to changing technology and the rise of electronic books.

The annual BookStats study reports 457 million e-books were sold in 2012, compared to 10 million in 2008. Although e-book growth is slowing, digital books now account for about 20 percent of all book sales reported by publishers.

For many U.S. book printers, the recession and changes in the publishing world mean layoffs or closures as revenues drop.

In the Washtenaw County region, book manufacturers such as Edwards Brothers Malloy, Thomson-Shore and Sheridan Books are fighting to stay viable with strategic moves like mergers and technology upgrades.

Kevin Spall, CEO of Dexter-based Thomson-Shore, said the company has invested more than $5 million in technology in the last three to five years to support the digital printing of books.

“We see digital as a very real need for the industry,” Spall said. “Our digital growth is 60 percent year-over-year for digitally produced books.”

In its consolidation announcement, Edwards Brothers Malloy said it plans to install a new inkjet press in the next six to eight weeks. The company also took over the operation of an in-house digital print center for a publishing client in New Jersey, and plans to incorporate those operations into its digital facilities by October.

Edwards Brothers merged with Scio Township-based Malloy Inc. in 2012, resulting in Edwards Brothers Malloy.


Sheridan Books prints hard copies of books and helps clients create e-books for other platforms.

Meanwhile, Chelsea-based Sheridan Books in 2012 invested more than $5.5 million in a new Hewlett Packard ink jet printing press, which allows the company to print orders as small as one or two books, and as large as 10,000.

“We have to re-equip ourselves with the right technology to be able to do the short run book production,” the company’s vice president of operations Tim Cotter Jr. told at the time.

Still, Spall said the demand for long-run offset books is “very healthy” and Thomson-Shore’s run counts and number of print jobs have increased.

“You really need to have a really broad range of offerings and be very customer focused, and you need to adapt quickly to be able to support what that market is looking for,” he explained. “It continues to be a challenge, but it certainly is an industry that is robust as it ever has been, in my opinion.”

Spall said that because people are printing single copies of books today, the company has to work harder to make the same amount of money. Two years ago, Thomson-Shore would process 400 to 500 jobs per month, and today it processes 1,000 to 1,500 jobs per month.

He said book printers are also facing pricing pressures — and that’s unlikely to change.

“The price we have to put out in the marketplace, without question, has gone done year-over-year and will continue,” he said.

Other updates Thomson-Shore has made since 2008 include adding new binding lines, installing another traditional offset printing process, adding capabilities for leather-bound book editions and buying stampers and embossers.

“In the last two years, there has been a tremendous shift back towards high quality covers and jackets with lots of decoration and lots of stamping and lots of textures to try and grab the readers attention,” Spall said.

It’s also investing in book segments that are growing, such as cookbooks, children’s books and art books.

"Our color press is busy for weeks," he said. "We need another one."

Lizzy Alfs is a business reporter for Reach her at 734-623-2584 or email her at Follow her on Twitter at



Mon, Aug 5, 2013 : 1:37 p.m.

In other news, buggy whip manufacturers remain confident that the "fad" of horseless carriages will soon be over and sales of buggy whips will rebound.


Mon, Aug 5, 2013 : 1:14 p.m.

Someone please look further into Sheridan. They had the money to invest in new equipment, while cutting workers pay 5%, consolidating jobs (meaning more work for the employee at less pay). The employee morale is at an all time low in that company. I am not saying it should be shared sacrifice, I am wondering how much was shared, I do not work for them either!


Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 6:17 p.m.

I hope these businesses do well. Years ago I played on their sponsored adult hockey teams. Great folks all around.


Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 2:47 p.m.

For those tree lovers it's almost hypocritical that we consume so much in buying books knowing that we create a destruction of living trees to satisfy our needs and on the other hand ebooks make more sense. I prefer real books over ebooks myself but feel guilty when I do purchase them, next best thing is to buy used ones.

Big Bad John

Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 4:16 p.m.

W-101 there is absolutely NO reason to feel guilty when buying a book. Books are made in the USA and supply jobs for people..start to finish. The paper comes from trees that are partially harvested from company replenished forests and from recycled materials, no virgin fibers. The AA plant (Edwards Brothers Malloy-Jackson Road) that manufactures books is a 0 landfill certified company. We recycle everything! Books can be shared. Books can be recycled. books don't need to be recharged, books can endure for decades! An ebook device is like a giant cell phone and is made in ___ (fill in 3rd world country of cheap, exploited labor force). they say they recycle edevice but they end up in a landfill in ___(fill 3rd world country with very lax environmental laws)...and it takes practically no one, due to full on automation, to create and distribute and ebook file. Still feeling guilty??

Dog Guy

Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 2:34 p.m.

"Digital printing allows a manufacturer to print a single copy of a book." I shall order a copy of The Odyssey with "Odysseus" digitally replaced throughout with "Dog Guy".


Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 1:56 p.m.

Rather hard to stay profitable as book sales drop but costs increase due to the need to produce high quality covers or jackets. The binding process is costly enough, this just makes it a deal killer. Cutting your way to profitability does not work. Malloy and Edwards merged several years ago because they had to. Now they are already in trouble and having apparent cash flow problems. Technology can be brutal and only those that can change quickly to meet market demand will succeed. Good Day


Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 1:20 p.m.

Good luck with the downsizing. It's tough, but it keeps the rest of the business going. You never know what the next technology style will be and, maybe, you'll be able to get there first.


Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 11:50 a.m.

"The price we have to put out in the marketplace, without question, has gone done year-over-year and will continue," he said. I believe you mean DOWN, not DONE, and in an article about printing too! Auto-correct strikes again!


Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 10:58 a.m.

I love my Kindle Paper White and have many books on it. It is light weight and easily fits into my purse to take along with me. I still get some new editions from the library from favorite authors but not all that often any more. The library has a catalog for digital books and it is awesome! They are getting a good selection of books.


Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 10:15 a.m.

I probably should get a tablet and buy ebooks. Unfortunately traditional books take up space and if you have a decent sized library, it gets rather cumbersome to move lots of books from one place to another. Then again, I've always liked having lots of books on the shelves; it makes for nicer living room.

Ann English

Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 7:50 p.m.

I liked Brooke Adams' artistic book covers; he's from Northville and was at the Art Fairs. His leatherwork was better than an artist's who came from Syracuse, New York. You don't usually need any kind of electricity in order to read physical books.


Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 12:50 p.m.

I am probably one of the public library's greatest patrons. They are great about ordering in new books, and I confine my book buying to titles I know they won't order.


Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 12:02 p.m.

A home without books is simply a house.


Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 10:10 a.m.

I still prefer real books. And now there are so many digital books, I don't know what to get or which one will open what type. Besides, the digital just doesn't...smell or feel right. I hope we never loose books.


Mon, Aug 5, 2013 : 7:01 a.m.

I guess the only good thing would be more space on my shelves. I have boxes of books with no where to put them.. :( But I have the books, and some are old and out of print. How much would it cost to digitize them? And unless these suckers can hold a Tetra-byte or more of harddrive/ram, what good is it? I mean, I have hundreds of books. I'm not going to want to pay to get the digital version of it.


Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 5:32 p.m.

"I'm still surprised at how easily converted I was." I know many former die hard paper book readers that were practically converted overnight that now dread having to use two hands to turn a page.

Red Barber

Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 3:18 p.m.

I used to think that I'd forever be a diehard champion for real books — then, about nine months ago, I received a Kindle. I'm still surprised at how easily converted I was.


Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 3 p.m.

me too. i'll never give up my real paper books. i was always taught, a measure of a man (or woman) is the quality of their library!


Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 12:01 p.m.

Me too!


Sun, Aug 4, 2013 : 10:15 a.m.

I was thinking the exact same thing.