News on Newspapers at the World Publishing Expo 2013

The World Publishing Expo, the largest global trade fair for the newspaper and news publishing industry was held in Berlin, Germany, from the 7th to the 9th of October. It was the 43rd annual exhibition and conference and featured 267 exhibitors from 35 countries, including printing press manufacturers, editorial and advertising system providers, new media providers and other suppliers to the industry.

About 8,500 visitors from 90 countries attended. The 8,500 visitors were an increase from 7,000 who attended the 2012 Expo, which was held in Frankfurt, Germany. It is nevertheless a far cry from the heydays of the newspaper industry when publishers ordered presses by the dozen, invested in dedicated editorial systems, and newspaper publishers routinely had a return on revenue in the 20% range. These cases are pretty rare nowadays as newspapers are on one of the most embattled print segments. Not only is there a massive shift of readership from printed copies to electronic displays, additionally the base business model of publisher is under threat: charging for news content in the light of free electronic news sources. As a result, circulation is dropping across the industrialized countries. According to WAN-IFRA, newspaper circulation dropped by about 25% in Europe in the last four years, with North American circulation dropping by 12% in the same timeframe. There are bright spots however with noticeable gains in Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. Still with an average daily circulation of over 522 million newspaper copies worldwide in 2012, printed newspapers is a very sizeable market. Newspaper publishers know that they need to shift their business model from traditional mass print production to different forms of publishing however. Accordingly the annual worldwide investments in new newspaper presses, typically coldset web offset presses, dropped below the €300 million mark this year from more than the €1.2 billion spent 10 years ago. And even this number is down from 1990s, when publishers massively invested in enlarging capacity and bringing color to newspapers. There is much less need today to invest in conventional offset presses as circulation drops and most newspaper presses are equipped to print full color now. Instead the business focus for investments in offset presses is moving towards retrofits and upgrades to existing lines. The benefits of retrofitting include equipment availability and production security, guaranteed spare parts and support for 10 years, and modern control components comparable to a new newspaper offset press. Another trend is to make the printed newspaper more individualized and immediate by using either digital imprinting on traditional presses or dedicated continuous feed inkjet printers. This year Kodak installed 22 Prosper S30 imprinting heads in the UK and another 33 heads in Germany to imprint unique codes, games, addresses, and other content. Also, standalone digital presses are gaining some traction with now about 20 printer lines dedicated to newspaper production worldwide.

Accordingly several vendors, including Canon/Océ, Fujifilm, KBA, Kodak, and Wifag, presented their digital newspaper printing solutions at the Expo. There was much to see, of course, on a range of topics such as finishing and logistics solutions, newsroom and editorial tools, e-publishing solutions, and pressroom components. Three developments, however, were particularly noteworthy.

Springer is the first large scale national publisher to invest in a continuous feed inkjet color press. Among other titles Springer publishes the “Bild Zeitung” – the German newspaper with the highest circulation. Springer also had a large order recently for Kodak Prosper imprinting heads to add unique codes or gaming applications into their offset printed newspaper. The target for the inkjet press is less clear cut and no details on concepts have been published yet. Clearly Springer sees opportunities in very short run newspaper printing and customization/personalization applications beyond what can be done in monochrome imprinting. Overall it is encouraging to see that a major publisher is taking on full digital printing to enlarge the scope of the printed newspaper.

A little bit out of the expected range of vendors was the display of Peecho – a start-up company set to shake up web-to-print ordering. Peecho lets any image content provider add a “print order” button to any image or publishable piece and promises to do all the rest. The button triggers a web order, with Peecho handling all payment, file formatting, shipping, printing, and tracking tasks. Peecho has contracts with a range of print service providers to handle the printing portion. The price for a print (product) is negotiated with the content owner in advance, with Peecho supplying a base price that covers printing, shipping, and internal costs and allowing the content user to choose a mark-up on that cost. The beauty of the approach is the simplicity for the both the end user and content owner to order print. Peecho has already enlisted several publishers as well as some museums and marketing sites and is now trying to add newspaper publishers as content owners to the roster. This is rightfully assuming that newspaper publisher have loads of electronic content to publish, ranking from back issues to press photographers to single articles and other content. Peecho offers a wide range of finished products from small size to posters and from single sheet to bound products.

It was no surprise to see Wifag at a newspaper Expo, being one of the few dedicated offset newspaper press manufacturers. Wifag is part of Wifag/Polytype holdings, which includes activities in UV-large format printers. Wifag made a bold statement back at drupa 2004 claiming that one day all newspapers would be printed digitally.

This day has yet to come and so far Wifag has done little to propel the market in that direction. However at the 2013 World Publishing Expo Wifag gave some more details on their digital print strategy. In recent years Wifag/Polytype bundled their inkjet knowledge base with their digital print competence center. Wifag took a step-by-step approach and developed an inkjet base module first. The module can drive heads from several vendors and can be used in a number of configurations. The first devices have been shipped into direct-to-container printing (plastic cups/tubs or aluminium tubes). More recently the first lines for printing on webs followed. So far the focus is on specialty substrates such as metal foil or papers for decorative laminates. The base print engine is called digicube and is flexible in terms of types of media and print width. The speed is set at 300 meters per minute. Wifag feels confident that it will be able to supply full colour print modules for newspaper print as well as widths up to a maximum of 2.25 meters (7.4 feet), but has no customers yet. Wifag feels that print cost in inkjet is still too high and is focusing on packaging applications instead. All of its packaging applications so far are custom integrations with dedicated unwind or loading, printing, drying and unloading, depending on the application. Also inks are custom developed and tested by Wifag depending on the application.

The day on which all newspapers are printed digitally will likely never come. Instead there are many digital newspapers today, but they are not printed. Nevertheless digital printing is taking on an ever growing role in newspaper printing, although from a very small base. InfoTrends is currently compiling a report on colour continuous feed inkjet printing for newspapers and possible approaches that would allow it to break out of the niches where it is found today. A more encompassing analysis on inkjet production printing has been published in the InfoTrends report “The Production Color Inkjet Market 2013: Progress in Continuous-feed and Cut-sheet Document Printing Systems” recently.