Book Business Extra Q&A: Muller Martini’s Andy Fetherman on Why 2007 Will Be a Transitional Year for Digital Printing
Muller Martini’s manager of the company’s on-demand solution division, Andy Fetherman, says things are lining up to make this the year that publishers and printers alike finally fully embrace the benefits of digital book printing and manufacturing.
As Fetherman spoke with Book Business Extra about the transitional year that he expects will occur for the industry. Muller Martini prepares for the open house it will hold on March 7, with Nipson America, to demonstrate the latest technologies.
What signs are pointing to this year being the year that the industry will fully accept on-demand digital printing?
Fetherman: The market forces are creating an environment where publishers are pushing harder and harder for shorter runs and longer print cycles for books, so they keep the ownership of the title longer. This is what’s been driving book manufacturers for years, but this year, book publishers are really pushing for it. For example, we have an initiative with one publisher—which we really haven’t gone public with yet—but they have the digital book manufacturing line in their warehouse to produce books for their inventory. … Publishers are saying, “Hey, if you’re not going to do it, we’re going to do it.”
Do you see this as a trend that publishers are going to take digital printing into their own hands?
Fetherman: Trend is a strong word. I think there will be isolated pockets of it. This one instance was because of the frustration they had with their book manufacturer. They said, “If you’re not going to do it, we’ll do it. … Most [book manufacturers] are saying ‘we have to do this’ already. The realization is going to limit the migration of book publishers doing [their own digital printing]. It’s not their thing. They don’t want to do it.
I think in the case of a book manufacturer, the binding part is fine. They’ll be able to get that no problem. It’s the printing part. Digital printing is a different animal. Some people are still afraid of it. … What’s happening now is they have to accept new technology and a new model, a new business model. The more they use it, the more they pay. So there’s so many things to digest.
Digital printers are starting to develop different models to help it fit more into a traditional book [manufacturing model]. They just have to do it. The ability to print 500 at a time—100 lots of 500 vs. one lot of 50,000. They’re getting pressure from publishers to do that. The technology is ready right now.
What did it take to convince printers and publishers that this is a viable option for them?
Fetherman: Technology is getting better and better on a monthly basis, mainly print technology. That’s the one thing that’s been holding down this migration. Even half-tones on some of these print engines are pretty damn good. They’re not offset-quality yet, let’s be realistic. They’re good enough. The benefits you’re gaining are outweighing the slight degradation in quality—the key word there is slight …
Publishers have said it’s not 100 percent, but it’s close enough.
What are the latest book printing technologies you’ll have on display at your March 7 open house with Nipson America that are unlike anything else on the market?
Fetherman: You’re starting with a roll of paper and finish with a trim book at speeds of up to 1,000 books an hour. That’s the exciting part of it. Inline has made a lot of inroads with people. High speed used to mean lower quality. That’s not the case now. With the SigmaBinder for example, we have a measuring station at the in feet of the binder. That measuring station is the brains of the whole operation for finishing. It measures the book with lasers, measures the length and width of the book—it captures that information digitally. There’s no make ready in the binder. Say the printer is down for maintenance. … You can hand-feed those books because the binder is nondiscriminatory. … That’s what we’re really going to tout.
When did the company fully accept the fact digital was going to become a way of life?
Fetherman: Back in ‘98 before I knew anything about it, the Muller Martini brain trust in Switzerland said, “You know what, this digital thing is pretty interesting.”
It was basically a lot of table-top devices. There was no high-quality finishing solution. We said, ‘We need to step up because we see a migration that is going to happen in the future.’
“… It had some growing pains in the beginning. It certainly did. We didn’t quite know the digital market. We didn’t know what they needed. Like cover mats and things like that, which we didn’t have at the time. We went back to the drawing board.
At Graph Expo ‘04, we introduced our SimgaBinder, the brother of the Amigo Digital, but we renamed it because it’s a new platform that took in everything we learned in three years in the digital market—the need for cover mats, the need for one off setup, the need for the measuring system to measure. All these things have come together. We’re ready for the push in ‘07.