Industry visit: Bell & Bain and Witherby

I thought I’d take a look back at our industry visit to Glasgow, for two publishing firms, printers Bell & Bain, and marine publishers Witherby. We took the coach over from Napier to Glasgow to Bell & Bain’s two factory sites in the city and visited Witherby, based in Livingston on the way back.

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The tour around Bell & Bain included a very in-depth talk from staff about the work that the company does, the context of printing in the wider publishing industry (and in relation to the larger commercial printing industry) and the various capabilities the company had at each site. We were guided around each of the sites, giving us a chance to see the smaller-scale digital printing operations in comparison more established methods being used for larger jobs – and by a neat coincidence, saw the hardback covers for the novelisation of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them coming off the assembly line, as well as some of the academic journals and books that are the company’s bread and butter.

The guides were open to being asked questions, though they seemed to be able to give us all the information we needed up front – I had trouble thinking of anything extra to ask – though I did want to find out how they maintained quality control throughout the line, and was told that pretty much everybody on site would participate in removing faulty stock from the line.

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Compared to last year’s exchange trip visit to the Rhineland, which included a tour of Heidelberg (above), the largest printers in the world, Bell& Bain were smaller and more compact. Due to the scale of the operation, there was far less automation, but many of the machines looked essentially the same. If anything, the big meaningful difference I could see was that Heidelberg had built an entire showroom floor just for showing off machines for printing niche products, whereas Bell & Bain there wasn’t space to spare).

Our second visit was to Witherby in Livingston, about an hour’s drive from Edinburgh. Here, it was interesting to see how a niche publishing company was thriving, and the particular way they worked to make the most of their market niche. Witherby’s staff seemed to pool talent and expertise for projects, but were also developing knowledge ‘silos’ by getting particular staff members to specialise in certain markets or disciplines – shipping law versus the oil industry, for instance. In particular the attention to the economic weather –the decline of the North Sea oil industry, the development of liquid gas transfer at Scottish ports, and new legislation around the world – was impressive. There was a slightly depressing note when a senior staff member said that the company could probably move to Singapore, where clients are actually based, were it not for current proximity to London/Westminster legislation and the attached law sector – but it was also a reminder that publishing companies, too, are global businesses. Witherby’s might have been hidden away on an industrial estate in Livingston, but the work they were doing there had an international impact.

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Author: sammbradley

Journalist and blogger.

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