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Matt Baehr, the accomplished Executive Director of the Book Manufacturers Institute (BMI), brings a wealth of experience and a diverse skill set to his role. With an MBA and a background in for-profit enterprises, Matt uniquely combines business acumen with a passion for association management. His approach reflects a commitment to running associations as ROI-driven enterprises, emphasizing the value proposition for members.

Drawing on lessons from his soccer background, Matt understands the power of teamwork and the importance of celebrating collective successes. His servant-leader mindset ensures that the needs and interests of BMI’s members take precedence, fostering a sense of community and shared accomplishment. Matt’s extensive toolkit, encompassing skills in finance, membership, IT, HR, and meetings, provides him with a 360-degree perspective, allowing him to identify and create value at every turn.

As the Chief Executive of the 90-year-old Book Manufacturers’ Institute, Matt has steered the association to new heights since November 2017. Under his leadership, the organization experienced a remarkable 46% net turnaround in event profitability within the first year. Matt successfully reversed a decade-long trend of declining membership numbers, achieving profitability for the first time in a decade. His innovative initiatives, including new conferences, educational programs, and market research endeavors, have not only diversified revenue streams but also positioned BMI for continued success in the evolving landscape of the next decade and beyond.

The Book Manufacturers’ Institute (BMI) stands as a unique association within the graphic arts sector, exclusively dedicated to the Book Manufacturing market. With a rich history spanning over 85 years, BMI’s member companies, ranging from full-service book manufacturers to digital print specialists, specialty binderies, component printers, packagers, equipment manufacturers, and material/service suppliers, benefit from the institute’s leadership and direction. Since its incorporation in 1933, BMI has been a cornerstone in the book manufacturing industry, fostering collaboration, standardizing procedures, and serving as a vital communications link among book manufacturers, publishers, suppliers, and governmental bodies.

Chris: I’m Chris Santomassimo from OGC Solutions. I’m really excited today to chat with Matt Baehr, who is the Executive Director of the Book Manufacturers Institute. Good morning Matt.

Matt: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

Chris: It’s a pleasure. So we’re a little bit focused maybe on one special part of the of the printing industry, which is book manufacturers. You know, what was interesting to me is not only what BMI does, your organization, but also what the market did for the book manufacturing business, especially during COVID. And I’d love to hear not only about BMI, but also what the market looks like in 2024 or 2025, because I think that also reflects what the overall market looks like, not only for printers, but maybe even for other consumer goods. So take it away. Tell us about BMI.

Matt: Yeah, thanks. Yeah. So we are the trade association that is focused purely on the printed book. So, you know, a lot of other related associations are a little bit more broader spectrum focus, whether it’s commercial wide format or whatever is out there. But our folks are really just focused on books. Now, I will say we do have members that, you know, also do commercial printing or also do other things, but a majority of their revenue is book related. So this past year we celebrated our 90th anniversary as an association. So we’ve been around a little bit and our membership is really split in half, half being the actual printer manufacturers, distributors of books, and then the other half would be their suppliers. So that includes the paper companies, the OEMs, anybody that’s kind of furnishing stuff to help make a book could also be in that category. So yeah, it’s been an interesting ride. You know, when you think about, let’s just say 15 years ago, right, oh eight, you had the crash in the Kindle both which really both disrupted the book industry quite a bit. And ever since then it’s really kind of been working its way back. And then you ended up with COVID. And the good news is everybody was home and wanted to read print books. They got tired of looking at screens.

Chris: It’s an amazing dynamic, isn’t it?

Matt: Yeah, yeah, it really was. But it also was tough because of all the supply chain issues, so people couldn’t get paper and there was kind of a backlog. And so I would say we’ve really been dealing with this whiplash effect. You know, demand spiked and then you had this delay in the ability to fulfill that demand. So, you know, once that demand got filled, publishers got worried that they wouldn’t have enough inventory to meet future demand. So they overall ordered during that time, our folks who couldn’t get paper, they were stockpiling paper because they didn’t know if something else would happen and they wouldn’t have it. So so then they over ordered it. And so you’ve had this trickle down effect of printers over ordering paper, then publishers over ordering books just to be on the safe side, because again, they were worried about being able to fulfill demand because, you know, you did have a decent amount of printing happening overseas. And at the time, you know, it could take four, five, six months for something to come come over on a boat. Well, it was too late. So people moved a lot of their print work back to the States so they’d have it locally, which was again great for our members. But now what we’re seeing is the second half of 23, the market really softened because publishers are sitting on lots of inventory. Right. And so their number of orders are down, but also because the shipping lanes are wide open and pricing from shipping is back down to where it was pre-COVID levels. For the most part, some folks are okay with moving network back over to Asia. And so it’s been an interesting ride for sure over the last few years. You know, I think a lot of industries, a lot of people love to use that phrase, the new normal post-COVID. But I don’t think the book industry has a normal yet a new normal yet. I think what we’ve said is looking forward to 24. The word is uncertainty.

Chris: I think it’s say that’s probably the word around a lot of industries, not just book printing for sure, right?

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