Digital Printing: Poised For Growth
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.
In the realm of distributed point-of-sale printing, On Demand Books is aggressively expanding its placements of the Espresso Book Machine, and has tapped Lightning Source and Google to expand its library of offerings to more than 3 million titles. Xerox is now directly selling and supporting the Espresso system, which uses its 4112 printer for producing monochrome book blocks. Hewlett-Packard also has developed a short-run, print-on-demand (POD) solution for retail and college bookstores, which it has been testing with a pilot program at select universities.
During the past two years, a number of technology developments for both electrophoto–graphic and inkjet printing systems (monochrome and color), finishing and binding equipment, and consumables (toner, ink and substrates) have helped fuel the growth of digital book printing. On the printing side, most recent developments include the launch of the Xerox iGen4 EXP press and the Kodak NexPress SX platform, which provides 14-inch by 26-inch output—expanding their capability to produce dust jackets for books. Last year, Océ launched its ColorStream 10000 Flex digital web press, a high-quality toner-based system that can print up to 1,515 images per minute (ipm) in monochrome mode and 172 ipm in full color. This new press is helping Océ better penetrate color book printing applications—particularly the professional and education segments. Earlier this year, Hewlett-Packard announced its T400 Color Inkjet Web Press, a 42-inch-wide web press, which prints at 400 or 600 feet per minute.
A number of developments have taken place in pre- and post-processing and finishing, as vendors continue to maximize the productivity and efficiency of their systems. Recent developments from Muller Martini are aimed at allowing customers to plan work and make easy job changeovers. Polyurethane Reactive (PUR) binding also has gained momentum in the digital printing market. In addition, a number of post-processing solutions have been announced for 30-inch-wide inkjet presses by companies such as Hunkeler, MBO and Magnum Digital Solutions.
Industry Trends and Growth Areas
INTERQUEST projects that the overall volume of printed books (in units) produced in North America will decline by about 2 percent annually from 2010 to 2015. This decline will be the result of a general decline in reading, the impact of electronic books, and the growth of digital printing, which will help reduce waste, primarily in the form of returns. It expects the volume of books produced on digital printing systems to increase by almost 30 percent annually over the same time period. Among book sectors, the volume of trade books printed with digital systems will experience the highest growth (about 37 percent annually) as more high-speed monochrome presses become available. Total cost of ownership (TCO) reductions and the fact that most trade books are black-and-white—and thus less demanding in terms of print quality than color books—also will fuel growth in this segment. The volume of technical, scientific and professional (TSP) letter-size book impressions produced on digital equipment will increase double-digits annually from 2010 to 2015. However, this segment will not grow as quickly as other segments such as trade and El-Hi, as hardcopy delivery is increasingly impacted by e-books and electronic content—particularly in the legal and financial areas. As with the TSP segment, the higher-education sector, which has already been well-penetrated by digital printing, will be increasingly impacted by e-books and electronic content. According to INTERQUEST surveys, in 2010, slightly more than 90 percent of the book volume produced by printer respondents was monochrome, and 9 percent was color.
Overall, the total volume of printed books is declining as publishers derive an increasing percentage of revenue from e-books. At the same time, a greater percentage of print books are shifting to digital printing platforms, as publishers refine distribution strategies, and more titles are generated by long-tail sales and self-publishing. Given the waste that has existed in the book manufacturing and distribution supply chain, and the acceleration of the trends in this article, the volume of books produced on digital printers is poised for steady, continued growth. BB
Gilles Biscos is the founder and president of INTERQUEST. Established in 1989 and headquartered in Charlottesville, Va., INTERQUEST is a market and technology research and consulting firm in the field of digital printing and publishing. To learn more about INTERQUEST Digital Book Printing studies and seminars, visit: www.inter-quest.com.