Today we visit with Keith Anthony, President of K2 PrintMedia, LLC, and long-time Little Pickle Press team member. Keith handles all aspects of the manufacturing process of LPP books including estimating, project management, scheduling, pre-press, press checks, bindery checks, and shipping manifests. Because LPP is a bit (well, okay, a lot) different from many traditional publishers in that they publish in an environmentally-sound manner, we thought we’d quiz Keith about what that exactly means.
Dani: Welcome to the blog, Keith. So, one of the things that impressed me most about LPP before I began working for them is their environmental consciousness, especially since publishing is a fairly toxic industry. LPP prints in North America, using recycled papers (or even tree-free paper), with soy inks. Can you compare for us the cost of a 10,000-book print run. How much per book printed conventionally off-shore, how much conventionally in North America, and how much using the LPP model? Give us some rough estimates and comparisons between the three options.
Keith: Thanks, Dani. There has been a lot written on the comparisons, so I will try to be as brief as possible. When talking about “off-shore”, we are essentially referring to China, as they own the bulk of world market-share in publishing. To a lesser degree, Indonesia, India, and Mexico have respectable market-share. Compared to North America, generally speaking, you can produce books – hard or soft cover – about 40-60% less expensively off-shore. When comparing high-quality books with high recycled paper content, like the LPP model, the cost disparity can be even higher. Depending on the type and percentage of recycled content, it can bring a premium of 10-30%.
Cost benefits for printing off-shore are obvious. What is not obvious to many is the trade-off you get for the dollar savings. There are enormous human and environmental costs associated with off-shore print manufacturing. It is no secret that off-shore paper mills clear-cut vast areas of pristine forests to feed the appetite of over 90,000 printing plants, with approximately three million employees in China alone. Since there is no regulating authority to monitor use and disposal of toxic petroleum-based inks and other press and paper mill chemicals, it is widely assumed these toxins are dumped in land-fills or waterways. The human cost is discussed in terms of “living wage” and "accommodations". A press operator in North America earns approximately $60,000/year, as contrasted with a press operator in China who earns about $1,000/year (per Harvard economist, Andy Mukherjee). Most large Chinese printers house employees in dormitory-style housing which is cramped and overcrowded. Occasionally we hear reports that China is cleaning up these facilities, but again, there is no regulating authority with the means to mandate compliance.
As an industry, we have come a long way in a relatively short time to clean up the ugly and toxic side of the business, but we have much further to go, especially off-shore. Demand is what drives the engine and as long as customers expect and demand the greening of the industry, it will oblige.
Dani: One of the things I’ve noticed about the recycled papers used in LPP books is they seem very expensive and lush, more like art paper really. It’s kind of the opposite of what we’d expect from recycled paper. Can you tell us a bit about the quality of recycled papers, why it’s good to use them, and how you choose them for picture books?
Keith: Twenty years ago, there were few viable options for recycled paper, especially post consumer waste (PCW). Those papers looked recycled with dull finishes and were very expensive compared to virgin pulp paper. Today there is a plethora of recycled papers that perform fantastically, at competitive prices. To achieve the desired look and feel of LPP books, we typically use the highest grade of recycled paper available. The key to recycled content is specifying PCW which would otherwise have added millions of metric tons of material trucked to land-fills each year.
Dani: The LPP books are printed using soy inks. What are those exactly, and why are they better for the environment? How is it important for a children’s product?
Keith: Most modern North American printing plants have converted from petroleum-based inks to soy or vegetable-based inks. Petroleum-based inks are loaded with volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are harmful to the environment, whereas vegetable-based inks have little or no VOCs, and perform just as well as petroleum inks.
Unquestionably the largest push for soy inks centered on health issues regarding small children – babies and toddlers who, as everyone has witnessed, chew and suck on book covers. Blood tests showed elevated and sometimes dangerous levels of lead poisoning with young children. Lead based inks were domestically phased out in the 1970s, and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was instrumental in outlawing the practice in 1986, and limited the amount of lead in inks used in imported children’s books. Further restrictions were signed into law with the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act of 2008, which prohibits even minute levels of lead in any product intended primarily for children 12 years of age or younger.
Dani: So the production cost (not including any writing, editing, illustration, etc.) of an LPP book is roughly 2-3 times per book more than a large traditional publisher might pay?
Keith: Yes. For LPP’s model, this is due primarily to the recycled paper we require, and to manufacturing processes that produce our stunning works of art. A book that would cost less than a dollar to print in China would cost LPP $3.75 - $4.75. We take a great deal of pride in these books and are meticulous in the manufacturing process.
Dani: There’s an environmental impact statement in each of the LPP books. Who provides that for inclusion in the book?
Keith: That is information I receive from paper mills, corrugated box suppliers, printers, and ink suppliers, as either raw data or converted data, to reflect environmental savings. I take that information and plug it into the Environmental Defense Fund paper calculator, and a private third-party environmental calculator, and average the results.
Dani: Here’s a copy of one so everyone can see. Thanks for sharing your expertise with us, Keith! Readers, if you have a question for Keith Anthony, please leave it in the comments.
Also, don’t forget our Earth Day Special continues until the last day of April. Receive FREE SHIPPING and 25% off your entire order with the purchase of Sofia's Dream. Just enter LPPSofia12 at checkout. Click here to order.