Digital Print Commodity?
Kodak says one reason for the growth in digital printing is profit margin: 20 to 40 percent compared with one to four percent for offset. Large inventories of unsold books no longer are viable. Worldwide, more than 25 percent of all books produced are never sold, reports HP; they are returned to publishers for pulping. Book publishers face some daunting challenges, including economic mandates to prevent excessively large runs, reduce forecasting risks and better manage inventories. Many are complementing their traditional offset operations with high-speed, digital capabilities because it is more efficient to print shorter runs, more repeatedly, than one initial long run. And high-speed inkjet web printing and corresponding finishing technologies make this a production reality today.
The size, speed and resolution combination of the T300, for instance, is capable of creating 500 200-page books per hour with image quality that meets or exceeds book trade standards. For printers, the challenge of reducing costs of short-run book products can be met by adopting a highly efficient, digital manufacturing platform including workflow, printing and finishing components. HP’s color inkjet web presses offers attractive capital acquisition and operating costs, including the ability to purchase consumables as needed without click charges.
For example, book manufacturer Webcom says inventory, distribution and production costs all are reduced with its Book FWD program. Mike Collinge, CEO of the Toronto-based firm, is banking that its proprietary model will curb flat to declining sales by helping to transform the way its publishing customers print and manage distribution. In 2010, Collinge invested $12 million in workflow enhancements, digital print additions including the first HP T300 inkjet web press in Canada, and state-of-the-art digital finishing technologies. “We need to become an efficient [print] survivor” for publisher/customers in the educational, reference, higher ed and trade book market segments, Collinge recently told Graphic Monthly (Canada) magazine. Webcom exports one-third of its print/bind work across the US border. “Of the billions of book pages printed annually in North America,” said Collinge, “less than six percent are printed digitally,” leaving plenty of room for growth. In the US, only about 130 billion pages are printed annually on production color digital presses. As inkjet costs drop, the number of pages printed digitally worldwide could approach five trillion by 2015, Kodak projects. The global printed book market has a total print value of about $24.5 trillion, according to HP, yet only one percent is digitally printed.
But the US digital book market already is showing signs of maturation. Like many early adopters of inkjet web technology, Consolidated Graphics’ initial interest was in the publishing industry. It created a new division, called CGX Publishing Solutions, and has an impressive client list that includes Pearson. “You need to have the volume to justify these presses,” Wilson of CGX says, which can yield up to 70 million single-sided images per month. “The upside is that the tonnage is there.”
The downside: Wilson says pricing pressures already are mounting. “It seems like every new [inkjet web] installation is going after publishing,” he observes. To date, HP has more than 20 worldwide installations of full-color inkjet webs (a total of 42 engines), including beta sites, such as the T200 and T350 at O’Neil Data Systems in Los Angeles, and from Pitney Bowes, which resells HP inkjet web presses as part of its IntelliJet solution for the high-volume transaction market. A total of 13 installations were designed for book printing, including the pair of presses now at Courier Corp., while most of the remainder involve direct mail applications, such as the one installed mid-2010 at Tabs Direct outside of Dallas. The production volume of these devices amounted to one billion pages in 2010, reports InfoTrends.