Publishing retains its reputation and its “gravitas,” according to Marco Boer, vice president, IT Strategies, but it has also come under “huge financial pressure” that publishers can use digital technologies to help relieve. He reviewed the options for producers of books, catalogs, magazines, and direct mail, noting the opportunities that each segment has to print with better quality, efficiency, and economy.
The book market, he said, is “really stable,” with about 8% of its pages now printed digitally and twice that percentage of digital pages forecasted by 2020. The question is how to make it more profitable. Part of the answer, said Boer, lies in producing more books in color: about 10% of offset book units are printed in color, but they account for 33% of the value.
As book run lengths decline and the frequency of ordering increases, profit will come from turning book printing into a form of “agile manufacturing” that can adapt to the change in demand. Distribution inefficiencies have to be addressed as well. Up to 30% of all books printed are still shredded as unsold returns, said Boer, who also noted that “the slow boat from Asia doesn’t really work any more” for publishers that want to adopt data-driven production strategies.
Emerging, said Boer, are global networks for color book production in which “touchless processing” characterizes the workflow from order entry, content assembly, and logistics to distributed printing at a location close to the customer that placed the order. He said continuous-feed inkjet printing would be central to this model, although cut-sheet toner digital presses and offset lithography also could have their places in it.
Catalogs, in Boer’s view, remain highly relevant as “on-ramps” to the non-print shopping channels that consumers are now using. Offset continues to be the predominant process for this mostly high-volume application, but digital printing, with its unit-cost advantage in short runs, is made to order for the specialized vertical markets that catalog retailers also want to reach. Inkjet presses are getting better at printing on the kinds of paper stocks that catalogers like to use, Boer added.
Substrate compatibility is something that inkjet production will also have to offer magazines, whose declining circulations and changing formats are starting to make them candidates for the short-run economy of digital printing. Various methods for making coated offset stocks receptive to inkjet inks are available now, and new processes and consumables that serve the same purpose are on the way.
These solutions won’t establish themselves overnight. But in 10 years’ time, predicted Boer, the debate about inkjet’s suitability for magazines and catalogs will have ended, and offset will look less attractive than it does now as a process for printing them.
Direct mail, meanwhile, stands out as the sterling example of what digital printing can accomplish in the traditional channels. Inkjet, according to Boer, accounts for 30% of all direct mail pieces now produced. IT Strategies projects that inkjet’s share will be 50% by 2020.
Will inkjet make similar inroads into catalogs and magazines? That depends, said Boer, on how long it takes their publishers to realize that producing them “is no longer about print cost—it’s about value to the customer.” Once they see that, they’ll also see that they “can’t afford not to have digital print” as a manufacturing option.
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