By Cassandra Balentine
Consumer electronics influence how the world ingests information. The book printing market continues to evolve, adapting to new demands.
Many drivers favor the adoption of digital print and finishing technologies into the publishing mix. This includes a move to shorter—sometimes as few as one—run lengths and variable data capabilities.
Consumer behavior also plays a role. “As consumers today, we can easily access technology to capture and manipulate high-resolution digital images, create sophisticated digital documents, and send them all into production through high-speed Internet connections in our homes, offices, coffee shops, or Internet cafés—anywhere in the world,” points out James Tressler, director of marketing and branch sales operations, C.P. Bourg. “People have never had access to this much technology. Because of it and the visionaries who saw it coming and seized the opportunity, virtually anyone, anywhere can access the most sophisticated digital printing and finishing technology to publish content economically—and in run lengths of as few as one.”
As printers and publishers look to keep up with the latest trends, print still plays an important role. With the latest advancements in digital printing and finishing technologies, these players evaluate and improve supply chain demands in nearly all publishing segments.
Dr. Douglas Sexton, director global business strategies, inkjet high-speed production solutions, Hewlett-Packard (HP), says HP estimates that there are currently about 100 billion digital pages in North America with about 60 percent of that produced by toner devices. “Inkjet is growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of about 30 percent, while toner growth rates have been flat and are anticipated to start declining with the increasing penetration of inkjet. Analog is decreasing at about two percent per year,” he states.
“Digital book manufacturing, which currently accounts for about seven percent of all printed books, will increase its share to 22 percent by 2017,” suggests Mike Herold, director, continuous-feed inkjet technologies, Ricoh. “The total volume of impressions printed on digital equipment for book production will grow from about 49 billion in 2012 to 117 billion in 2017,” he offers.
Tonya Powers, graphic arts segment marketing manager, production print solutions, Canon Solutions America, says growth is fueled by the interest of publishers to streamline supply chains and reduce manufacturing and distribution costs; the growth of self-publishing; the increased use of distribution on demand; the availability of more productive, larger format, and higher-quality inkjet presses capable of replacing conventional presses for longer runs; the increased install base of high-quality, B-size sheet-fed toner presses; and the availability of the full-color inkjet digital presses announced at drupa 2012.
“At the end of 2012 there were more than 25 book manufacturers in the U.S. collectively running more than 50 production inkjet printing systems. Some of those just installed a single production inkjet press; some early adopters are running more than five production inkjet systems, printing upwards of 250 million pages per month. Combined, I.T. Strategies estimates those units produced more than ten percent of all printed book pages in the U.S. in 2012,” adds Herold.
The Supply Chain
Nearly all segments of book publishing are in the midst change. While not eliminating the need for offset runs, there is a push for shorter runs, and therefore, an increased demand for digital technologies. These trends enforce the need for change in the book publishing and manufacturing supply chain model.
Publishers want to reduce lifecycle costs. Andrew Fetherman, director of digital solutions, Muller Martini, says that this includes less forecasting risk and lower obsolescence waste. Digital book manufacturing solutions provide a legitimate alternative to offset to accomplish this cost reduction.
Leading publishers optimize supply chains with cost-effective short runs and rapid turnaround times, delivered by high productivity inkjet and digital finishing solutions. “Exercising these new capabilities, some publishers are now moving to virtual inventory models with books being produced on demand. This eliminates warehousing and minimizes transportation costs by directly fulfilling orders from the print service provider (PSP). Others use automatic replenishment programs to support micro-inventory business models,” says Sexton.
Will Mansfield, director, worldwide sales and marketing, inkjet presses, Kodak, suggests that the drivers to digital differ across the entire value chain—from author to publisher, printer, distributor, and finally retailer. “Upstream, publishers need to manage what has become an increasingly complex lifecycle. The number of titles is exploding, with multiple formats required for each title, and delivery times are more compressed. In such a fluid business environment, publishers are under pressure to reduce costs and waste, and drive procurement efficiency and sustainability improvement. They also need to extract maximum value from their entire list of titles in order to maximize revenue.”
John Conley, VP, publishing and commercial print, Xerox Corporation, believes it is this inventory flexibility that is truly driving demand for digital, and in particular, inkjet. This is especially true in the trade and professional book segments, where there are generally two big demand peaks a year. With the ability to produce shorter runs, they are granted better risk management. “They don’t have to bet as long,” he explains.
He breaks down the numbers to illustrate a hypothetical situation. “Let’s say I have a title that I plan to sell 2,000 copies of throughout the year. However, in fact I only sell 1,000, so I printed a two-year supply. If you break it out by turn levels, the bulk of those titles have more than a year’s worth of inventory, allowing them to get the economics of 2,000 on an offset press at $1 per unit. Therefore, you need to get to that $1 with digital. With production inkjet, it is $1 at 1,500, 1,000, and 500. So, I’m not going to print two years, I’m going to print one month’s worth and that is only costing $1. It is a huge change. All of those lower quantities take work off the press and that’s what’s driving this move to digital,” says Conley.
Sexton suggests that publishers must also modify their organizational metrics to measure the total cost to sell a book, not simply the cost to produce a book.
He offers an example, if it costs 15 percent less to manufacture a book via offset, but you only sell 80 percent of the stock you have built, warehoused, and transported, you would have saved money in digital production. “Many organizations still measure the effectiveness of procurement on the cost of the books made, not the costs of the books sold,” says Sexton.
Mansfield explains that the need to reduce cost and waste trickles down the supply chain. “Book manufacturers must find ways to maximize efficiency and cost effectiveness for both long and short runs, as well as improve response times and enhance publisher relationships. As publishers try to reduce inventories and overproduction as a means of cutting costs, book distributors are faced with the need to control inventory even more tightly. Expanding their role within the supply chain to include short run and print on demand capabilities is one way for value chain stakeholders to capture more revenue.”
With these economics, the average run length has evolved, meaning book printers need to look to digital alternatives to remain profitable on lower run orders. “Printing types of orders on offset can be very costly and eat into profits,” says Herold. “The average run length of a book order used to be 2,000 to 5,000, now it’s one to 2,000. That cost savings for short-run printing, which is becoming more the norm, makes up for the initial investment. It’s simply not feasible or profitable on ultra-short runs and variable data publishing to use offset,” he points out.
However, it takes more than a production printer to be profitable. “The challenge for many book manufacturers is they don’t just need a digital press to be profitable, they need entire, end-to-end publishing solutions,” says Todd Blumsack, VP of sales and marketing, North America, Xeikon.
Don Dubuque, director of marketing, Standard Finishing Systems, say digital printing and finishing technology is at the point where book-of-one production is a reality and ultra-short runs are common. “The ability to personalize has also been a driver to digital—the capability to personalize has opened up new avenues for book manufacturers and their customers. On the inkjet side, the move to full color has also been a driver, where customers again have choices for full-color books, in small quantities, at a price point that is more affordable than they may have realized.”
Book manufacturers also want the ability to assist customers with entire workflow processes, such as integrating digital into current offset preparation processes, as well as determining the best finishing approach. “Addressing both the logical and physical workflow variance from offset is challenging, then providing a compelling return on investment (ROI) related to this transition adds complexity,” says Brad Simpson, director, inkjet sales, production print solutions, Canon Solutions America.
Continuous Production Presses
To serve the latest developments and demands in publishing, book manufacturers turn to digital printing and finishing equipment to serve shorter runs. Continuous solutions, which are generally inkjet, fill many requirements.
Continuous-feed production presses are well suited for print shops running mid-level, short-run, and ultra short-run jobs that require personalization, customization, versioning, or last-minute changes. Essentially, continuous-feed production presses are designed for variable data jobs—such as two-color brochures or course packets with images and B&W text—that are too costly to print on offset, explains Herold.
The ideal run for continuous feed production presses varies based on the type of job. For monochrome books, Herold estimates it is between 1,000 to 1,200 copies, for two-color journals, between 1,500 and 1,750 copies, and for four-color books, 200 to 2,500 copies. “Recent advances include improved color capabilities—close to the level of offset now, increased print per page speeds, increased ability to print on a variety of paper types, and improved ink efficiencies,” he offers.
“Continuous-feed production presses now dominate the digital production of publishing applications. The high-speed, low running cost and improved print quality have allowed them to fill the gap between where cutsheet digital leaves off—around 100, and traditional offset is more cost effective—a few thousand. These devices are ideal for publishing applications where production can be focused on a more limited set of papers than in general commercial print applications,” says Mansfield.
Fetherman adds that continuous-feed devices are essential to keep up with the projected CAGR in book manufacturing. “One can replace several cutsheet devices with a single inkjet web press, instantly increasing production capabilities without proportionally increasing labor and floor space requirements. While some higher end applications may require the higher print quality of a cutsheet device, current inkjet print quality meets the needs of many book segments,” he says.
In terms of limitations, continuous-feed presses generally require a larger installation footprint than cutsheet counterparts, and also require a different approach to proofing and quality control throughout the run, suggests Mansfield.
Finishing is essential. Bruce Richardson, national sales manager, web presses, KBA North America, says web-based engines tend to be faster and more productive compared to cutsheet, depending on the finishing system used. “Web presses can run into sheeter equipment, if finishing offline or nearline,” he adds.
“Multi-cut and variable-length sheeters enable greater automation and lower manufacturing costs for personalized booklets that have become commonplace in the healthcare industry during enrollment periods,” says Mansfield.
To maximize the uptime of high-speed continuous-feed digital presses, Scott Peterson, product marketing manager, Tecnau, suggests that it often makes the most sense to operate them roll-to-roll and cut the web into pages offline. “After that, though, the story for finishing output from continuous digital presses merges with the story for cutsheet printers—the user needs the ability to quickly transition from producing one book to another without makeready or operator intervention,” he adds.
Manrico Caglioni, president, Book Automation, Inc., agrees, suggesting that the market needs inline finishing solutions that are able to match the high speed of the web presses and can rapidly switch from one job to the next.
Fetherman says that the challenges of processing the high-speed output of a continuous-feed device makes inline finishing solutions much more attractive. “In the digital book world, running the web into a finishing solution like the SigmaLine digital book production system maximizes press speeds, providing the highest level of productivity. The output is a pre-glued, pre-stacked, book block that can keep up with the full speed of the inkjet press, while providing an effective way to pile down from the press line and subsequently hand-feed stable, pre-glued book blocks into the binder.”
Lance Martin, director of sales, MBO America, notes the importance of finishing variability—such as the ability to combine signatures. Continued advancements, like MBO’s Selective Folding Book Block Finishing solution, combine variable cutting at the sheeter, selective folding at the folding units, and a delivery system capable of creative variable page-count book blocks. “The ability to combine signatures presents a significant advantage because book blocks built with 12-page signatures and up can be sewn and crafted using higher quality binding methods than single sheets or signatures with less than 12 pages,” he explains.
“In order to be useful in today’s book publishing environment, finishing solutions for continuous-feed print engines need to be able to efficiently process short and ultra-short book runs—this means fully automated solutions with quick changeover and even variable book-of-one capabilities that can keep pace with today’s faster inkjet presses,” says Dubuque.
Finishing solutions must work hand-in-hand with print engines—whether they are inline or nearline—to provide efficiency and uptime, particularly in today’s short-run publishing world, so book manufacturers can optimize profitability. “This is why close working relationships with book, press, and feeding and finishing manufacturers are so important,” adds Dubuque.
While high-speed continuous-feed printers are well suited for many book runs, cutsheet solutions are ideal for short and ultra-short runs.
Tressler notes that book manufacturers today can be segmented into book runs of one, few, and many. “Cutsheet, on demand printing and finishing is not intended for the declining high-speed long-run-length market. However, cutsheet printing and finishing are exceptionally well suited to the burgeoning market for quality short and ultra-short-run book production.”
Richardson says cutsheet engines are good for short run and higher caliper paper stocks, for applications such as covers and cards.
Guy Broadhurst, VP, technology and client sources, production print solutions, Canon Solutions America, points to the advantages of cutsheet production printers, including a smaller footprint and price of entry versus continuous-feed, and the fact that form changes for run length is immaterial.
Aron Allenson, sales support specialist, Screen USA, says cutsheet is limited to unique sizes and very short runs. “Run length will be based on book length, but will play a role in runs where the total number or leaves is under 5,000,” he says.
Simpson adds that cutsheet offerings are more common than continuous, due to the cost of entry, and the fact that equipment providers have been more aggressive in maintenance offerings for over-sized sheets, enabling service providers to print in multiple-up formats.
Herold suggests cutsheet printers can take the place of offset when it comes to producing shorter run or ultra-short-run print jobs. “Keep in mind that with cutsheet engines, a significant advantage is in the ability to integrate a variety of papers in a collated set, so there could be cover stock pulled from one draw while the text paper is pulled from another,” he says.
Anthony Gandara, product manager, Duplo USA Corporation, says cutsheet production printers are still a relevant source for printing. “What has changed is the volume and length of the printing runs. The target and trends are now mid-range production presses and the full range of finishing devices to support them,” he adds.
Tressler notes that because cutsheet is particularly suited to the smaller runs, finishing solutions must minimize labor intensity and maximize efficiency to deliver the fastest possible ROI.
Broadhurst says in his opinion, there are two types of finishing options essential to cutsheet’s role in book publishing—online and nearline perfect binding. “Online has come a long way, but it has its limitations. Nearline is generally better,” he adds.
Simpson sees an opportunity for single book delivery with cutsheet/sheet-fed platforms, but notes that the solution has been slow to develop. “Often discussed, but market demand hasn’t driven it as expected; although, one could argue that if a viable cut/stack solution were available and affordable, the solution would excel.”
While the role of digital print is obvious in the evolving publishing model, there are still hindrances to acceptance and broader adoption.
For one, business models based on component price negations are no longer competitive. “Book manufacturers today must adapt their processes to accommodate much higher numbers of far fewer titles,” says Tressler. He says this is why technologies such as barcode-driven cover changeovers and sophisticated cover-to-content matching solutions that enable highly efficient printing and finishing workflows are needed to address the trend towards short-run manufacturing.
Mansfield points out that the challenges to digital adoption differ by segment. For mass market trade books, he says there are no technical issues. “The quality of digital production is largely up to the task. And the speed and cost of production allow for runs to be produced—economically—up to around 2,000 copies. Suitable papers are available in most parts of the world, or digital print vendors can offer precoating solutions,” he offers. “So, the primary barrier to digital adoption in the mass market trade book segment is the behavioral change required to move to a short count/edition run supply chain, rather than a traditional long run and warehouse approach.”
For the education segment, Mansfield says digital has also made inroads. “Inkjet presses are generally considered a fit for B&W and color books with simple image content when printed on uncoated, inkjet-treated paper.”
Herold adds that previously, adopting digital meant a tradeoff for color quality and coverage, and limited paper options. “However, in the last couple of years, especially with the current generation of solutions, those concerns have mostly dissolved,” he attests.
For some, it can be challenging to understand that installing digital equipment is just part of the process, and having an efficient workflow solution in place is essential.
To address this, Fetherman points to end-to-end workflow solutions that provide a streamlined workflow to handle the complex file processing functions inherent with digital book manufacturing.
Herold says another challenge, which can be seen with commercial printers, is figuring out how to use digital technology to provide the quality customers demand, combined with maximizing the flexible capabilities of digital. “This is particularly true with small print shops that need to be more nimble as they grow and respond to the rapidly changing demands from their customers,” says Herold.
Dubuque says book manufacturers need to have high volumes to justify the investment in inkjet technology. “Book manufacturers overcome this possible challenge by educating customers and sales as to the new capabilities, applications, and efficiencies inkjet printing and finishing technology can offer,” he says.
Substrates are another challenge, which affects printing, feeding, and finishing. “Close cooperation between printer and feeding and finishing manufacturers is important, particularly now with the number of inkjet presses recently introduced. Feeding and finishing equipment manufacturers need to comprehend and engineer for the many unique requirements of high-speed inkjet presses to ensure non-stop operation and efficient production—for instance web width, web speed, paper used, and percent coverage,” adds Dubuque.
Allenson says that for every manufacturer, there is a breakeven point when comparing the method of production of a given book. “Depending on where that breakeven point falls within the scope of the universe of orders, a book manufacturer is a driver for determining where focus, attention, and investment are spent. Additionally, separate pre/post software and hardware need to be considered. In essence, without good planning and processes, a manufacturer would effectively have an additional press. With those good business practices in place, they have a piece of equipment that expands their addressable market.”
Book Manufacturing Evolves
The way information is distributed and consumed influences change in many industries. Publishing is a prime example.
“Digital technology—specifically inkjet technology—has rapidly transformed and improved over the past few years and both book printers and publishers are reaping the benefits. Inkjet technology has improved in speed, quality of the print, and format,” says Powers. “A wider variety of paper and finishing options are also associated with most high performance inkjet printers—creating customizable, end-to-end solutions for the book market. High-speed inkjet and electrophotographic technologies enable the economical production of books in small quantities, with high quality, allowing publishers to follow the demand curve more closely and print with on demand models without sacrificing quality,” she concludes. dps