By Melissa Donovan
The digital book publishing industry continues to transition as new print and electronic advancements affect the traditional model. Based on research by INTERQUEST, at the conclusion of 2010, at least seven of the top 20 book printers in North America produce books on inkjet systems. This number is growing, delivering continued positivity for the digital movement.
According to Muller Martini Corp., digital adoption depends on the type of book manufacturer. A large percentage of its customers utilize inkjet. However, James Kaeli, division manager, book and publication binding, Muller Martini, cites some holdouts that struggle to make economic sense of the process. He says many large trade book manufacturers have invested in the technology, but trade binders are slow to make the move.
Vendors look to educate print providers on the benefits of digital book printing. Advantages include less inventory and waste, shorter turnaround times, better color, and higher quality for shorter runs.
Book printers already prospering in the digital space stand to further improve processes with an automated workflow—a hands-off, lights-out approach. This automation—from digital presses to inline or near-line finishing—is powered by robust solutions that enable unconceivable levels of efficiency.
Those already experiencing the benefits of digital print look to invest in the next big thing. For many, this is automation. Keeping at a steady pace with innovation, print providers must stay a step ahead of the competition. By instituting a nearly hands-free workflow, companies experience quicker turnaround times and the ability to take on more jobs.
"Many publishers are exploring automation technologies. Some are beginning to understand the importance of workflow and tying systems together, including ordering, supply management, and distribution systems. Properly managing this process has a significant impact on improving the bottom line," explains Rob Malkin, business development executive for commercial opportunities, InfoPrint Solutions, a Ricoh company.
BFC produces everything from commercial and digital print to warehousing, kitting and fulfillment, direct mail, and Web application development. The Batavia, IL-based company employs a staff of 120 at its 120,000 square foot facility, where they create catalogs, training manuals, and short-run publishing.
The company considers description text booklets as its bread and butter in the book publishing space. "These are plan descriptions for new enrollees in specific programs," explains Keith A. Kanak, prepress manager, BFC. Clients include non-profit to Fortune 500 companies with run lengths ranging from one offs to several thousand.
BFC employs Canon U.S.A., Inc. and Xerox Corporation digital equipment. Its Canon portfolio includes two imagePRESS C7000VPs, three imagePRESS 1125Ps, one imageRUNNER PRO 7138VP, one imagePRESS C6000VP, and a CLC5100. Rounding out the shop’s equipment list are a DocuTech 6135, DocuTech 4100, and a Nuvera 100 from Xerox.
Workflow is an important consideration to any print shop. As the benefits of a fully automated, lights-out production cycle are realized, shops lean toward sophisticated products from high-end vendors. BFC works with Agfa Graphics’ :Apogee workflow software. The shop is able to drive all of its digital presses through the solution.
:Apogee is a PDF-based prepress system that includes preflight, color management, automated layout preparation, and integrated proofing. The Digital Print Link feature allows certain parts of one file to be directed to a digital or an offset computer to plate device. Additionally, if a digital press includes inline finishing—which BFC’s do—this too can be set up in :Apogee with finished books coming off of the press without operator intervention.
"Now that digital printing is more prevalent and order volumes on the devices are skyrocketing, customers look for powerful workflow solutions that allow for smooth work transfer in a blended production environment with maximum automation and zero touch points," shares Chandni Dighe, worldwide marketing manager, publishing, Eastman Kodak Company.
BFC’s imposition, stock, finishing, and device choices are all applied through its workflow software. "We have a better understanding of how jobs are handled by our digital operators, allowing us to control and adjust color and image quality more efficiently and precisely," explains Kanak. Many runs are automated with the help of :Apogee. No human hands touch the files until they enter the digital department, with impositions and job specifications applied on the fly through monitored hot folders. The result is a three-person, single-shift prepress department.
In addition to workflow, a number of digital print developments influence the book publishing space. For example, print width is an attractive proposition for many buyers. The ability to output two runs simultaneously, or output one run in dual mode provides heightened levels of throughput for shops producing large quantities of digital books.
Hewlett-Packard’s (HP) 42-inch wide HP T400 Color Inkjet Web Press features an expanded width, providing book printers with much of the same finishing used to handle full 16-page signatures in conventional printing. Book printers that have already invested in 20-inch wide digital finishing systems can slit printed webs and output dual 20-inch finishing workflows.
Paper development is also important. As printing technologies advance, capabilities for handling multiple weights and coatings introduce new opportunities for print buyers.
Tom Leibrandt, print on demand, product manager, Screen (USA), explains that increased interest in inkjet prompted major paper mills to develop compatible papers. With these competing products, cost per page is driven down and the need for expensive pre-treatments is eliminated.
"It is substrate variability that drives the most pages to inkjet. Many of the commercial markets are waiting for the ability to print on glossy coated stocks to open up their products to this technology," agrees Andrew Fetherman, division manager, digital solutions, Muller Martini.
Finishing components tied into a production process—whether inline or near line—are becoming more attractive with workflow advancements. The ability to utilize either finishing process provides flexibility to the end user.
"Workflow may be the next frontier to help realize a true web-to-finish model that scrubs touch points and cost from the book production process. We have very efficient islands of automation today, but without a lot of bridges in between," adds Mark Hunt, director of marketing, Standard Finishing Systems.
Personalization as a Driver
In a recent INTERQUEST survey, Digital Book Printing: Market Analysis & Forecast (2010-2015), manufacturers using digital equipment to produce books estimate that jobs with variable content represent two percent or less of total print volume from their digital equipment.
Compared to other prominent inkjet applications—such as direct mail and TransPromo, personalization is not as big of a driver in book publishing. However, there are signs of it in higher education course packs, photobooks, yearbooks, and children’s books.
Individualized course packs are an intriguing application. "Customized sections of a book for specific universities or professional groups, custom textbooks for a specific class with content culled from various sources, and promotional variations of books driven by specific markets and events are all examples," explains Mark Gallucci, manager, technology marketing, commercial software, Agfa Graphics.
John Conley, VP of publishing, Xerox Corporation, takes it a step further, explaining that this type of custom publishing is now done at university level. Professors create their own, individualized content using proprietary software. Course packs as a whole were once a very manual process, they are now automated with the help of inkjet.
High-end color presents opportunities for eye-catching children’s books. For example, Tikatok LLC, a Barnes & Noble Company, allows users to build a story with variable text and images from scratch or by utilizing a pre-made template. The creation of a digital one off is more cost-effective when compared to an offset print. Companies such as Tikatok are instrumental in the digital movement.
"Personalized children’s books have been around for some time, but a generation ago they consisted of offset-printed pages imprinted with personalized text. The combination of Web-to-print creation platforms bring more compelling, personalized children’s books that include variable text and images," shares Mark Levin, publishing segment business manager, Indigo and inkjet press solutions, HP.
Tablets, eReaders, and eBooks are integrating into the book publishing cycle. They complement print and are viewed as an emerging delivery channel. Technology drives users to purchase printed copies of their favorite titles. Additionally, because so many out-of-date books are re-released digitally, download demand can influence print. Since producing short run books is now feasible, the cost equation works.
Levin comments that eReaders drive digital book printing because they take away from offset. "For any given title, sales of electronic copies of books drive down the quantity of physical books that publishers order. As those print run quantities decrease, more titles are printed on digital presses instead of offset equipment."
Forrest Leighton, director, product marketing, Canon U.S.A., Inc., agrees. "eReaders and tablets reduce the need for many books to be printed in huge quantities, giving publishers the flexibility to determine which titles can transition from offset to digital, when increasing their ability to manage capital costs."
Publishers in Transition
Book publishers are influential in the move to digital. Some print providers educate their publishing clients on the benefits of digital. However, publishers often understand the advantages as it equates to their bottom line. To drive down costs and continue to maintain a presence in the market, they look to inkjet.
"Of publishers that don’t already have inkjet presses, it’s been cited that 91 percent have begun to explore the area," shares Malkin.
Publishers are key drivers in the migration to digital book manufacturing, comments Fetherman. "They push harder for their book manufacturing suppliers to invest in digital print technologies—especially inkjet—to provide them with advantages."
Self-publishing sites are an attractive alternative for writers looking for small book quantities. "Self-publishing houses are doing well as evident by the exponential growth of book titles over the last year. It could also be seen as complementary to the big traditional houses in discovering authors," explains Dighe.
For example, self-published eBook author Amanda Hocking reportedly sold over a million units of her paranormal romances in 2010. As a result, she was offered a $2 million book deal from St. Martin’s Press. The publisher provides Hocking elements of protection a self-publishing site cannot; including editorial, marketing, legal, and distribution.
"Publishers see the advantage for certain work, such as sample and marketing copies early in the lifecycle of a book, then typically—but not always—followed by a conventional run, then for the more difficult to forecast mid to late stage of the books, titles move back to shorter digital runs," explains Jac Garner, president/CEO, Webcrafters, Inc.
Webcrafters, with facilities in both Madison and Westport, WI, has worked in the digital space since 2011. The company utilizes Kodak Prosper and NexPress presses. Educational titles are a mainstay on the digital devices. Garner predicts that the majority of its inkjet work will be educational in the future; with run lengths totalling between 300 and 1,000.
Both Kodak machines are a cost-effective addition for Webcrafters. They bridge the gap between long and short run orders. Since installation, Garner notices considerable interest in digital production and expertise for managing inventories with frequent, shorter runs; versus fewer, longer runs.
"High-speed inkjet presses leverage digital production from several scores up to approximately a thousand copies or more. It’s really an industry game changer," he adds.
In the End
Inkjet is an evolving print vehicle that has influenced digital book publishing and continues to do so.
"Forward-thinking publishers and printers are embracing digital technologies, not necessarily to replace conventional print, but to develop new products and forms of distribution. For very short runs, inkjet is often more cost effective than electrophotography (EP), and can print brighter, more saturated color on a wider variety of substrates because of the range of available ink types," shares Agfa’s Gallucci.
In only a few years, digital book manufacturing has transformed the face of publishing. "Publishers recognize that digital plays a key role in the future of books, and the ROI just can’t be ignored," explains Francis McMahon, VP of marketing, Production Printing Systems division, Océ North America, a Canon Group Company.
The continued transfer of offset printed pages to digital fuels growth in this segment, making it an exception to the flat or declining page volumes found in other sectors of the digital B&W print market, notes Canon’s Leighton. "This transition revolutionizes the business model and increases publisher flexibility and consumer choice," he adds.
"Inkjet, as EP did years ago, provides customers with another platform to utilize their needs and requirements. The beauty of this industry is that it continues to change and inkjet is definitely one of the key players in today’s environment," adds John Fulena, director of professional services and solutions marketing, Ricoh Company, Ltd.
"Print is a vehicle and the entire supply chain is changing; from the way books are produced to how they are distributed. Inkjet initially adds capacity to a centralized platform and creates flexibility by printing at the same number of dollars as offset, but with better inventory control. Waste is improved by 30 percent; this includes press and bindery waste," explains Xerox’s Conley.
A New Delivery Model
Digital book publishing is powered by inkjet. Thanks to new delivery platforms and automation, this technology is carving out a niche. As advancements in equipment, substrates, and workflow continue, print providers flock to the space. The push comes from publishers, who recognize the benefit of a low-cost, small inventory model. The proof is in the numbers, as INTERQUEST predicts that by 2015, inkjet and EP systems combined will be used to produce 15 percent of all books