By Kim Crowley
The popularity of digital book publishing is credited to digital print technology’s ability to produce cost-effective, short run books without the need for warehousing. Customers span from camera-toting moms and aspiring authors to professional photographers, corporations, and large publishing houses.
With digital on demand printing, customers don’t need to sacrifice quality or commit to large print runs. The result is a long lasting book with a professional appearance. Advanced finishing processes are necessary to maintain a high-quality standard.
The volume of books printed digitally is still low compared to offset, however, this is expected to change. “Only two to three percent of books published are digitally produced, the remaining percentage is still printed in offset,” notes Brian Moroney, manager, print on demand (POD) strategy and market development, InfoPrint Solutions Company.
Digital print and finishing technologies introduce savings throughout the entire lifecycle of a book. “Savvy managers know that it’s the total cost over a title’s lifecycle that counts—not just the initial printing cost of the book. Digital technology improves margins by reducing all lifecycle costs in distribution, warehousing, and reprints,” says Guy Broadhurst, VP of new technology, production printing systems, OcŽ North America.
It used to be that only back-list titles and short run vanity books were produced digitally, notes Mark Hunt, director of marketing, Standard Finishing Systems. However, digital books are gaining traction in every segment of the publishing market. “Today the crossover line between digital and offset is much higher, making more projects eligible for digital production. Digital book production is no longer a niche, it is mainstream,” he adds.
Standard serves the on demand book market with a complete line of highly automated perfect binders and three-knife trimmers including the Standard Horizon HT-30 three-knife trimmer, the Standard Hunkeler Fly-folder, and the new Standard Horizon BQ-270C perfect binder. Standard also plans to introduce a next-generation automated hardcover book binding system aimed at the finishing of ultra-short run hardcover books.
“Up until recently digital book manufacturing was considered complementary, making up a very small percentage of the books in circulation,” says Andrew J. Fetherman, manager, OnDemand Solutions Division, Muller Martini Corp. He notes that as printing technology becomes wider and faster, book manufacturers will have the ability to digitally produce larger lot sizes, further penetrating the offset production model. Muller Martini’s SigmaLine includes a comprehensive range of equipment, designed to work independently from one another or together as a coordinated system. Components include the SigmaFolder, SigmaCollator, SigmaBinder, SigmaTower, and SigmaTrimmer.
Photo books and textbooks represent part of the strongest growth area for digital book publishing, notes Paula Balik, director, worldwide marketing communications, Eastman Kodak Company. “Academic publishers of college and university textbooks want high-quality printing at very low quantities, which are based on class enrollment sizes. Additionally, universities publish student books using Web-to-print to facilitate easy access.”
Bob Elliott, future products manager, professional lamination equipment, GBC, agrees. “The educational market is expanding into digital printing due to the cost of producing an entire book when the student will only need a few chapters for the course.” GBC manufactures, sells, and services a wide variety of equipment that encompasses lamination, punching, and binding. Elliott says GBC plans to launch several new products in 2009 to serve this market.
Reasons for Growth
“The range of books printed digitally increases daily. Any book production requiring short runs—typically runs under 1,000—is suitable for digital print,” says Heberto Pachon, president, Nipson America, Inc.
Digital printing provides inventory and storage savings. “Thanks to digital printing, a growing number of publishers now work without inventory,” says Peter Wolff, VP, graphic arts, OcŽ North America. The entire workflow is largely automated, resulting in a value chain that unites the book production and wholesale stages, eliminating inventory and its associated risk and cost.
Response to a struggling economy also drives the use of low-inventory digital printing. Pachon says economic downturn forces publishers to focus more on how they manage inventory levels. “The flexibility digital printing offers in run lengths is a great production tool to support this type of focus,” he adds.
Si Nguyen, director of marketing and technical operations, Duplo, points to the Internet and advanced design tools as factors in the growing popularity of digital printed books. “The overall availability of resources—such as the ability to buy an affordable computer—enables consumers to be writers,” says Nguyen. Duplo produces two perfect binders for this market, the DB-280 and the DPB-500. The DB-280 is an entry level, single-clamp perfect binder that produces both soft and hardcover books. The fully automatic DPB-500 is a mid-range, single-clamp perfect binder that produces softcover books with a maximum of 520 cycles per hour.
Digital print technologies make publishing accessible to virtually every author. “Today people can find anything they want on the Internet, no matter how obscure. Self-publishers have made great strides and will continue to do so,” says Eric S. Olesh, technical marketing analyst, Canon U.S.A., Inc.
“A few years ago, most hopeful authors relied on large publishing houses. Today, they are published overnight and in any quantity they wish. To them, the finished book is priceless,” says Elliott.
Environmentalism also draws attention to digital. “The ‘green’ movement makes digital printing attractive due to its environmentally friendly processes and reduced start-up and run waste characteristics,” says Fetherman.
Ed Wong, manager, color products, Ricoh Americas Corporation agrees. “Digital book printing allows for a distribute then print capability, which reduces transportation cost and the carbon footprint.”
Wong predicts more production locations will open and contribute to the growth of digitally printed books. “I would not be surprised to see brick and mortar stores installing printing kiosks to create books on demand. There are many places on the Web that offer the service. It is only a matter of time before we see digital books offered at bookstores, shopping malls, or even in airports.”
Emphasis on Finishing
“Finishing provides print suppliers and service bureaus with the key link in the overall printing workflow, permitting them to effectively fulfill tight production schedules, maintain high-quality finished products, and stay competitive by keeping rising costs of paper, consumables, and postage under control,” states Luca Bortoletto, international product manager, CEM Spa. “CEM offers a wide range of book finishing solutions—for cut-sheet as well as continuous stationery—designed for the manufacturing of check books, meal voucher books, travel voucher books, and coupon books.”
Finishing is important for creating a professional, polished book. Nipson’s Pachon notes that publishers do not want to sacrifice consistency and quality for digitally printed books.
Olesh agrees. “A cover sells books, and finishing is equally important. If the book is not trimmed properly it conveys a negative connotation to the reader.”
Finishing also adds to the longevity of a book. “Customers want to ensure their purchases will last. If it’s not laminated, it’s not protected,” explains Elliott.
Inline systems help streamline the finishing process. “To complement the improved efficiencies and greater productivity of the latest digital print technologies, inline finishing is increasingly important,” says Fetherman. “It is not a question of if inline finishing is needed but rather when it will be required.”
Finishing is more cost-effective if used in-house. “Customer demands—such as tighter turnaround times—make print service providers (PSPs) realize the benefits of binding in-house. In the past, commercial printers would often outsource perfect binding to binderies. Today’s customers want faster turnaround and high-quality books with sharp, square spines,” says Standard’s Hunt.
Adding Opportunity and Revenue
Finishing services add revenue for digital book printers and other print providers. Ray Sevin, president, BookMasters, Inc., says finishing services equate to over half of the job cost on the books his company produces. BookMasters services thousands of digital book customers each year by producing trade books, histories, journals, novels, and how-tos. The company utilizes Konica Minolta and OcŽ digital printers; C.P. Bourg, Muller Martini, and Standard Horizon perfect binders; Muller Martini and On Demand Machinery case binding equipment; Duplo UV coating; and GBC laminating machines to provide books in quantities between 25 to 1,000.
“Typically, the PSP can see profits up to four times their cost to finish a book. In some cases the profits can be as high as ten times their cost,” says Elliott.
“Most printers have figured out how to drive the labor cost from prepress and press workflows,” says Hunt. “Few have mastered how to lower their labor on the post-press steps, but those that do have a clear opportunity to gain added revenue and profit. One way to manage finishing costs is introduce intelligent control with JDF compliance,” he adds. Standard Horizon i2i Bindery Control System has the ability to interface with an MIS for seamless JDF/JMF interoperability. Users enter job parameters which are called up by any Horizon finisher on the network. It enables fully automated setup, job tracking, productivity, error reports, and more.
Unique challenges—from longevity of toner and ink to paper compatibility—occur with digital book finishing. Many finishing equipment manufacturers address these issues with specific products.
“Toners and fusing systems in digital print engines create a greater need for creasing before folding,” says Chris Harrington, director of sales, Graphic Whizard. “Conventional methods of scoring cannot combat the cracking issues caused by this technology. Traditional scoring is performed with a rotary wheel system that may enhance the possibility of cracking, literally cutting open the fibers before folding.” Harrington says that creasing—or impact scoring—is done with male and female dies that meet with the substrate and stretch and compress the paper fibers. “This process eliminates cracking from any print engine with any grain of paper.” Graphic Whizard offers its CreaseMaster series of impact scoring systems to address scoring digitally produced jobs.
“For digital print to compete with offset, coating is necessary. Digital inks and toners are not as durable as offset ink on paper, and UV coating levels the playing field. Without coating the digital process is at a distinct disadvantage,” says Michael J. Barisonek, VP sales and marketing, Epic Products International Corp. Epic manufactures the CTi-635 inline coating system for the Xerox iGen line and the CT-660 offline system for UV and aqueous coating sheets up to 20 by 26 inches. Barisonek says Epic customers use these systems to coat digital book covers, as well as photobook covers and pages.
Paper is another consideration. “The digital print process causes paper to behave differently than when used in the traditional offset process,” notes Fetherman. “This creates finishing difficulties such as excessive static and potential waviness on toner-based systems to tension control issues with water-based inkjet systems. These challenges are minimized with re-moistening units and pull stations, but they create difficulties with various paper stocks.”
“More customers are looking to solve specialty application challenges by using different glues,” says Hunt. “We are working with a customer interested in polyurethane reactive (PUR) glue for heavily coated stock. New paper compositions and imaging technologies spurred adhesive development to ensure the final bound product has sufficient strength to pass stress and pull tests. Glue application systems are also important to permit use of multiple glues with the aim of enhancing bind quality.”
The Standard Horizon BQ-470 four-clamp binder features interchangeable EVA/PUR adhesive tanks. Operators can use the SI-470 digital caliper to measure book thickness and automatically transfer this data to the binder for automated setup. The new PM-470 pre-melt tank provides longer runs between adhesive replenishment for operator convenience and efficiency.
This year, Duplo USA plans to launch the DPB-500 PUR, which is recommended to bind gloss stocks or coated substrates. PUR offers a longer shelf life, flexibility for a lay-flat look, and a higher sheet pull test when compared to traditional EVA adhesives, notes Nguyen. Instead of using the open tank system on the DPB-500 PUR, Duplo partnered with Nordson to develop a concealed hot melt applicator system.
Nguyen says that while there are challenges in finishing digitally printed books, a lack of completed workflow is usually the bigger challenge. “If the finishing parameter of information—such as book size and creasing placement—is determined in a digital file before it’s printed and passed on to the Duplo product, it saves makeready and operator errors. If the information is transferred electronically through JDF or imposition software, makeready and changeover can be overcome. Though fully automated, the differences in creasing placement and size information still need to be entered. With this information, this step can be skipped and the operator would only have to select the job via the PC and the Duplo system would automatically change over to the specific job.”
“Finishing is a key ingredient to the efficiency of any digital book production workflow. All of the savings realized in POD will evaporate if the finishing is not equally efficient,” stresses Hunt. “The ability to quickly setup and changeover book binding lines is essential to the books-on-demand business model. Automation helps simplify the process of training, setup, and operation of a perfect binder—and this is important as the pool of skilled operators has declined in recent years,” he adds.
The Importance of Finishing
Books represent one of the most rapidly growing digital print applications. Kodak’s Balik notes the trend towards customization and personalization as a driver. “Book publishing accounts for 25 percent of all printed pages, and a small number of those are printed digitally. There is tremendous potential for growth in this application,” says Balik.
Finishing is key to digital book publishing’s continued growth, some say it is as critical as the press itself. “Inline finishing is just as important as the printing capability itself,” states Ricoh’s Wong. “How convenient and portable would a document be if it were not folded or bound?”
The final overall quality of a book is directly related to finishing. “Quality in the finishing department cannot be underestimated. Before anyone sees or reads any content in any book, the first impression is based on appearance,” says Graphic Whizard’s Harrington.
The efficiencies of digital print coupled with the quality of advanced digital finishing processes is essential to the credibility and durability of on demand book publishing and factor into its continued success.