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Digital Printing: Poised For Growth

A look at the trends behind the market’s significant expansion.

September 2011 By Gilles Biscos
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During the past 18 months, digital printing has dramatically increased its penetration of the book market. The recession has in some cases provided a boost to digital book manufacturing, as publishers take a harder look at their processes and cut back on inventory and waste. This growth in digital-printing adoption also has been fueled by the boom of self-publishing and the proliferation of high-speed inkjet presses, which are competitive with offset presses for much longer runs than ever before. Digital printing and publishing market and technology research and consulting firm INTERQUEST recently interviewed 10 of the largest North American book publishers. Almost all of these publishers—nine out of 10—have some of their titles printed on digital printing equipment. They all say that they are seriously integrating digital printing into their supply chains—as opposed to using it on an experimental or occasional basis—and half say it has fundamentally changed their business. Another recent survey conducted by INTERQUEST among leading North American book printers places "the move to shorter runs" as the No. 1 trend in the book market cited by respondents. The next most prevalent trends noted by respondents are the growth of e-books and publishers' efforts toward better inventory management.

Self-publishing continues to grow in leaps and bounds. According to Bowker, about 2.8 million self-published and micro-niche titles were produced in 2010, up 169 percent from 1 million titles the year before–—and this does not take into consideration the myriad of titles produced that are not issued ISBNs. During the same period, the production of conventional titles increased by 5 percent, from 302,000 to 316,000 titles.

Inkjet technology has made significant strides in the book-printing market over the past year. Almost 30 different high-speed inkjet presses are now producing books in North America. While, in the past, monochrome digital printing using electrophotographic technology was competitive with offset for runs of up to 1,000 to 1,500 copies, inkjet has pushed this limit to 2,500 to 3,000 copies. The color print quality produced by inkjet presses has significantly improved, and educational, professional, practical guides and how-to color books are now produced on these presses.

Distribute-and-print is another growing trend in digital book manufacturing. Distribute-and-print has become very appealing to international publishers striving to reduce delivery time and cost. Companies such as Lulu and Blurb—two leading suppliers of self-publishing solutions—have been expanding into Europe and Asia, and now have books produced in these regions. Amazon now prints books in Europe on digital printing equipment. Within the past 18 months, print-on-demand leaders Lightning Source (part of the Ingram Content Group) and ColorCentric have beefed up their distribute-and-print resources. Lightning Source set up print facilities in France and Australia, while ColorCentric added partners in Canada, Brazil and New Zealand, with the plan to add more in France, Asia and Russia this year. Bridgeport National Bindery and Edwards Brothers also have been active in distribute-and-print.

 
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