By Cassandra Balentine
Digital print trends involve more frequent, shorter runs, which increases the complexity and lowers the profit margin on print work. To remain profitable, print providers look to efficient workflows and automation to better plan and manage the production environment.
This week, we discuss how book manufacturers are adapting their workflows for digital and hybrid capabilities.
James Tressler, director of marketing and branch sales operations, C.P. Bourg, notes that for years, book manufacturers have been abandoning high-throughput, high-waste workflows for a move to high-value, on demand book production.
Automation is essential. “Manual book manufacturing processes drive up labor costs,” suggests Mike Herold, director, continuous feed inkjet technologies, Ricoh. “And that takes a big bite out of profits.”
Aron Allenson, sales support specialist, Screen USA, says first time adopters of digital printing equipment essentially consider high-speed inkjet another form of production, which is more geared towards shorter run work. “As they understand the power and flexibility of the all-digital machines, they learn to develop fresh ways of finding efficiencies, on boarding new customers, and making money.”
The objective for most digital and hybrid environments, on both the printing and finishing fronts, is to minimize the number of touch points within a process and to simplify the process overall. “The objective is to perform multiple functions, if possible, from the time the job is received to the time it is out the door,” says Anthony Gandara, product manager, Duplo USA Corp.
Dr. Douglas Sexton, director global business strategies, inkjet high-speed production solutions, Hewlett-Packard (HP), notes that in the previous era of long runs, high-touch ordering, preflighting, job tracking, and invoicing processes could be accommodated, but as run lengths plummet, these processes must be automated. “New digital workflows enable Web-based ordering or direct integration into publisher enterprise resource planning systems that monitor inventory levels and automatically place stock replenishment orders when minimum bin levels are reached. Files are automatically preflighted, corrected, and placed in production queues according to product ganging rules established by factory management,” he adds.
Production management workflow solutions help track product streams to provide the production visibility, status reporting, and capacity forecasting that is necessary to such operations.
“Low touch is key to an effective workflow,” says Will Mansfield, director, worldwide sales and marketing, inkjet presses, Kodak. As run lengths drop and the number of titles grows, printers are tasked with eliminating any non value added and manual steps for their workflow. “This goes for prepress and post press,” he adds.
“Some print service providers (PSPs) are investing considerable money and time in sophisticated front-end workflows to handle the much larger number of files being processed every day in a digital book manufacturing environment,” says Andrew Fetherman, director of digital solutions, Muller Martini. However, he points out that solutions, such as the SigmaLine technology, handle many critical workflow steps automatically, like in the Connext workflow system. “This system enables hybrid environments to seamlessly integrate digital book production systems into their existing workflow systems with minimal investment on their front end infrastructure,” he says.
Don Dubuque, director of marketing, Standard Finishing Systems, points to JDF as an important consideration when it comes to a book manufacturing workflow. “Book manufacturers are adapting their workflows by migrating towards JDF workflow integration. Fully integrated JDF-driven workflows from creation to finishing can deliver real cost savings. This requires increased partnering with manufacturers of different products in the production process, so their solutions can communicate effectively. The end result is greater efficiency and profitability,” he adds.
Brad Simpson, director, inkjet sales, production print solutions, Canon Solutions America, admits that adapting workflow is a key issue. “This is a key challenge—maintaining separate logical workflows is not desirable; yet, migrating to a uniform platform, when much of what exists is customized, is challenging. This tasks digital equipment/software providers with the opportunity to adapt digital processes within the realm of existing legacy infrastructure. This is where digital equipment providers have opportunity to differentiate.”
Another consideration is ebooks. Sexton suggests PSPs are well placed to provide additional services to publishers, including the delivery of ebooks. “Workflow solutions can be used to generate PDF, HTML5, ePub, or other formats directly from pre-flighted book repository, and can use the same automated order placement and invoicing function previously discussed,” he offers.
Tonya Powers, graphic arts segment manager, production print solutions, Canon Solutions America, suggests book manufacturers should be aware of driving consumer demands. “They expect to be able to order any book and receive either instantly or within a day or two. The emphasis is on increased access to a variety of books and speed of order fulfillment. Consumer expectations like these can only be served through digital platforms and on demand printing,” she says.
Mansfield says book manufacturers that wish to offer one-stop shopping to their clients must also offer services to make ebooks in both fixed-layout formats—such as Apple iPad only; and reflowable—for Apple iPad and Kindle devices. “This would also allow them to bundle print on demand or short-count runs along with an ebook for the rapidly growing self-publishing market. However, there are many ebook services available already, so for some book manufacturers specialization in print may be the right strategy.”
Herold adds that the book industry has undergone tremendous change in the last ten years, particularly in the last five, with the increased popularity of ebooks. “As such, according to an I.T. Strategies study Ricoh commissioned in 2013, more than 90 percent of medium-to-large sized publishers—which includes 20 or more titles published annually—offered their titles in both printed and ebook format. That said, while the ebook marketing is growing, the same study shows that 70 percent of revenues continue to stem from printed books.”
Dubuque recalls a recent anecdote by Joel Quadracci, CEO. Quad/Graphics, that puts the ebook phenomenon in terms that really resonated with him. “‘Customers today consume information ambidextrously—hardcopy and digital—so we think that it makes sense that some PSPs will want to repurpose print content into digital formats.’ He went on to state that print is foundational, and we fully agree. It’s been widely reported that ebook sales have flattened out, and countless studies speak to the crucial role physical interaction with a printed book plays in helping readers understand and retain information,” adds Dubuque.
“Ebooks are becoming more prevalent,” says Allenson. “Book manufacturers will have to find a way to make money in this market or risk losing titles.”
Considerations for book publishing encompass a variety of factors. To ensure efficiency, book manufacturers need to improve efficiencies in their workflow and understand how to take advantage of legacy equipment to exceed with a hybrid digital/offset environment. dps