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Inkjet's next chapter

May 1, 2010 12:00 AM

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An international contingent of journalists and graphic arts consultants recently converged at CPI just outside Paris to see the mega book publisher's monochrome HP (Palo Alto, CA) T300 Inkjet Web Press. The press is the centerpiece of CPI's “Quantum” solution for medium-run paperback book production.

CPI is a French group of companies created in 1996. It claims bragging rights as the No. 1 book printer and manufacturer in Europe, with 16 printing facilities spread across France, the United Kingdom, The Netherlands and the Czech Republic. The group has 4,000 employees and works with 2,000 publishers to print 500 million books annually.

From one to 1,000,000 copies

The Firmin-Didot subsidiary hosting the event traces its roots to 1713, when Francois Didot (of eponymous dot, font and point fame) got started as a bookseller. Bernard Kieffer, CPI's CTO, explained that the T300 meets the company's value proposition of “one to one million books.”

Vintage Cameron letterpress belt machines can handle the ultra-long runs. CPI's fleet also includes digital and offset presses.

Rated at 400 fpm, the 30-inch inkjet web press targets the gap between low-volume digital print-on-demand solutions that have higher costs per book and analog offset book presses that require longer run lengths. The HP T300 offers addressable 1,200 × 600 dpi imaging in a speed and size combination that can produce 2,400 A4-size pages per minute. Adding the HP T300 lets CPI produce virtually any run length on a wide variety of uncoated papers — a point of differentiation.

In “Building Blocks” (February 2008), we discussed a key U.S. book market trend: Publishers are printing fewer copies of more titles. The same apparently holds true for the European market. Noting that the number of book titles published in France grew from 44,992 to 78,213 over the past decade, Kieffer observed that the production level remained about the same: In 2000, there were 412 million books produced in France vs. 468 million in 2008. The average run length on CPI France's Cameron presses has declined from 13,500 in 2005 to 10,500 in 2009.

Kieffer cited prepress savings and zero makeready as key competitive advantages. “We can print different blocks, one after the other, without stopping the machine,” he says.

Other advantages include prefused book blocks produced inline, print quality said to be equivalent to offset, flexible format size and the ability to use the same stocks across all of its printing processes. (The HP T300 can print on virtually any standard uncoated paper.)

CPI installed the press in late 2009, operating the press for a trial period that began last November. The company also installed finishing solutions for the press from HP partners, as well as a sheetfed HP Indigo 7000 Digital Press that can be used to print covers.

“The Quantum solution is particularly well adapted for short- and medium-run printing — first prints as well as reprints — which is an ever-growing area of demand from publishers,” says Pierre-François Catté, chairman of CPI's executive board.

In November 2009, CPI produced its first mass-market paperback book printed entirely with digital presses: a 2,000-copy run of Nancy Farmer's “Au Pays des Pommes d'Argent.”

Quality, quiet and quite a press

Catté says industry realities fueled CPI's decision to step up to cutting-edge inkjet technology: “We must start the transformation, but if there wasn't a 20% to 40% competitive advantage, we wouldn't do it.” As a general rule, CPI won't invest in new technology unless it will improve efficiency by at least 30% and last 15 years.

Ultimately, however, CPI had to please its customers. “They can't believe the quality or the quietness of the press,” says Catté. “They want to see the ‘web machine’ behind the real press.’”


Top U.S. publishers by title output in 2009

BiblioBazaar: 272,930

Books LLC: 224,460

Kessinger Publishing: 190,175

CreateSpace: 21,819

General Books: 11,887 10,386

Xlibris Corporation: 10,161

AuthorHouse: 9,445

International Business Publications, USA: 8,271

PublishAmerica, Inc.: 5,698

Source: Bowker

Katherine O'Brien is the editor of AMERICAN PRINTER. Contact her at