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Building blocks

Feb 1, 2008 12:00 AM

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Interquest's (Charlottesville, VA) new study, “High Growth Segments of Digital Book Printing: Market Analysis & Forecast,” found that trade books currently are the largest market sector for digital manufacturers. Digitally produced photographic books are the fastest growing sector, but also the smallest in terms of volume. Digital production of educational books is expected to grow at about 15 percent annually with numerous opportunities for color and personalization.

“Overall, we find that many publishers are taking a harder look at their supply chains and are increasingly turning to digital manufacturing for on-demand fulfillment of front list titles in addition to using it to extend the life of back list catalogs,” says Interquest's David Davis. “We expect digital volume in the book market to grow at about 16 percent annually and more than double in output by 2011.”

The vendors we contacted for this article generally concurred with Interquest's assessment. Our commentators include representatives from Canon (Lake Success, NY); HP (Palo Alto, CA); InfoPrint Solutions (Boulder, CO); Kodak (Rochester, NY); Muller Martini (Hauppauge, NY); Nipson America (Elk Grove Village, IL); Océ (Boca Raton, FL) and Xerox (Rochester, NY).

The ink is black, the page is white

While color digital books are expected to gain significant ground, most observers say monochrome is still going strong.

“Color is used mainly for covers and inserts,” says Janet Cain, senior director, production systems, Canon USA. “It represents a large percentage of growth, but the overall page volume is still low.”

But as color print engines mature, Andrew J. Fetherman, manager of Muller Martini's OnDemand Solutions Division, sees the highest growth rate for color books. While Fetherman anticipates high-quality production in larger quantities, he concedes that color books still represent only a small segment of the market. Monochrome applications offer the greatest opportunities for process optimization through integrated production. Digital black-and-white books then will begin to migrate to spot color. Fetherman cautions, however, that any subsequent shift to digital printing in full color will take longer because the output speeds of color print engines still are relatively slow.

Heberto Pachon, president, Nipson America, thinks there are equal growth opportunities for black-and-white books and full-color books. High-speed monochrome systems can target short runs from the offset world in the hundreds or low thousands of copies, says Pachon, leaving four-color digital presses free to pursue very short color runs in the tens or the low hundreds. Because the run-length applications are distinct, Pachon says, there is no detriment to monochrome in the growth of the market for color digital books.

Christopher Reid, global solutions manager for InfoPrint, the IBM-Ricoh joint venture, agrees. Because most digital book work still consists of a black book block with a full-color cover, there hasn't been a lot of migration from monochrome to color. According to John Conley, vice president, publishing segment marketing, Xerox, one reason for this is that a digital reprint of a title originally produced in offset doesn't add color or change anything else that might affect the selling price of the book.

Paula Balik, Kodak's worldwide manager for product marketing, electrophotographic solutions, agrees that monochrome output continues to dominate. But as applications evolve and press capabilities improve, she projects more migration from black-and-white to color and to hybrid products that mix monochrome with spot color. Similarly, Scott Sipherd, director of North American marketing for HP's Indigo division, notes that digitally printed books increasingly are mixing monochrome text with page headers and other design elements in highlight color.

Shake a tail feather

Fetherman says that while conventional book manufacturing still takes place on bindery equipment that is physically separated from the press, “The new digital book manufacturing entrepreneurs are going inline.” These producers, he says, are leading a trend to replace “the very wasteful inefficiencies of handling stacks of paper” with automated solutions for inline and near-line processing.

Jim Hughes, Océ's director of product management for finishing and continuous-feed solutions, contends that publishers are starting to recognize the power of the model created by Lightning Source, with its unique ability to serve the “long tail” of ongoing, small-quantity demand in the aftermarket. As a result, he says, publishers are realizing they can keep their books alive and in print for extended sales cycles with the aid of digital output.

(Writer Chris Anderson's “Long Tail” theory holds that products that are in low demand or have low sales volume can collectively make up a market share that rivals or exceeds the relatively few current bestsellers and blockbusters, if the store or distribution channel is large enough.)

Duncan Newton, Océ's manager of business development, graphic arts, says conventional production isn't nearly as responsive to these new patterns of demand: “You'd have to be living in a cave to think that the long tail could be covered by offset inventories.”

Ring, ring goes the bell

According to HP's Sipherd, the demand for digitally printed books in the educational market will rise as textbooks become more specialized and shorter run lengths prevail. Professors will rely on digital printing to produce curriculum-specific textbooks from multiple sources. Textbooks on subjects requiring frequent updates also are natural candidates for digital output. Fetherman believes some of the growth in educational markets will come from versioning, which enables publishers to satisfy the demand from local school districts for tailored content.

Reid forecasts more color on campus as vendors perfect devices for printing high-quality short runs at high speeds. High-output, roll-fed devices such as the InfoPrint 5000 can deliver the speed and quality publishers demand. Scientific and medical books with lots of graphs and illustrations also are potentially large digital printing applications, according to Hughes.

Remember off-the-glass course packs? Newton says digitally printed solutions might replace the old hodgepodges of photocopied and bound materials assembled on the fly for each class. Professors can now order real books — even for small classes — that can be updated and reprinted from one semester to the next.

Conley says university presses, typically short-run producers, have found digital printing's economies make the process a viable alternative to offset for first editions. Other potential applications include adoption copies of schoolbooks for state review boards and lightweight teachers' editions of student texts.

Born to run

What's the run length range for digital book printers? Lightning Source (LaVergne, TN) can claim bragging rights on the low end. As the production arm of Ingram Industries, the world's largest book wholesaler, Lightning Source has the power of a global distribution network behind it — an advantage that almost makes this printer a market segment unto itself. Using advanced digital printing equipment from HP, IBM, Océ and Xerox, the company produces 1 million books per month from a database comprising more than 400,000 titles from about 4,300 publishers. The almost impossibly small size of the average print run — just 1.8 copies — is a testament to Lightning Source's total mastery of the manufacturing process.

Quantifying the high end of a digital run is more complicated — the specific print process and other factors must be considered. Eric Wilson, Kodak's director of product marketing for inkjet solutions, says inkjet's crossover point — the highest volume at which a digital press can print at a smaller unit cost than an offset press — is between 5,000 and 6,000 copies.

The crossover from electrophotographic digital printing to offset, on the other hand, occurs at about 1,000 copies. The offset crossover point is lower, Balik explains, because of fundamental differences in the processes. Of the two, inkjet is the higher-speed, higher-volume method, typically in monochrome or black plus spot. As such, it can compete with offset in larger quantities. Electrophotography is a slower but higher-quality process that does best by adding value to short runs that offset can't produce economically.

Paper format is another factor. According to Fetherman, in cutsheet printing, the competitive run length ranges up to 1,000 copies, whereas roll-fed systems can produce profitably in runs up to 2,500. He calls runs of 100 to 250 the average for digital book output, depending on requirements for inventory management. Sipherd adds that color coverage and the number of pages up per impression must be considered, too.

Ultimately, the top end of a digital book run is the largest number of digitally printed copies that the customer is willing to pay for. Hughes says that a typical run might be about 1,000 copies, depending on substrate requirements and the use, if any, of personalization. Pachon notes that customers frequently will specify digital printing for book runs up to 2,500 or 3,000 copies unless there's a compelling reason to print offset. Sipherd says runs of 2,000 to 4,000 copies are the norm for Indigo equipment.

Reid maps the range from “one at a time” to 1,500 copies, with about 300 copies of a 300-page book representing the “average” order. He points out that printers producing the longest digital runs tend to be all-digital shops that take their customers' high-volume work in order to capture the more profitable “sweet spot” jobs in the 300- to 500-copy range. According to Reid, customers with both digital and offset capability find that the “break point” or crossover from digital to offset occurs somewhere between 300 and 700 copies, depending on the nature of the job and the efficiency of their offset production.

In control

Conley dislikes terms such as “crossover” and the false economies that he believes they imply. “That's not how it works,” he says. “If you're just looking at straight crossover in monochrome, it would be about 1,000 copies. But 1,000 is meaningless if 200 is the number the publisher wanted to [target].” According to Conley, playing the numbers game ignores some larger benefits. “The digital platform is a management tool for the publisher,” as he puts it. It can help users control inventory, cash flow, demand cycles, and all of the other factors that measure the true cost of producing a book.

On-demand output is easy to rhapsodize as a panacea for publishers, given its potential to do away with physical inventories, keep backlist titles alive, and eliminate the waste associated with traditional printing and fulfillment.

Most of our participants generally agreed with Sipherd that there will be a surge in demand for books printed digitally in response to orders taken via the Web. But some, like Balik, point out that market growth for books on demand has been limited precisely because of the ease of ordering and the swiftness of fulfillment from inventory as offered by Amazon and other online vendors.

People get ready

Conley cautions that since no one tracks the number of books printed digitally for on-demand order fulfillment vs. the number produced for simple inventory replenishment, it's impossible to express a market share estimate for books on demand. He believes on-demand book printing will become more widely adopted as rising distribution costs make the prospect of localized, small-quantity output more economically attractive. In any case, says Conley, “On-demand is driven by the retailer, not by the publisher.”

Fetherman agrees books printed to order represent only a small percentage of all books. A book ordered via the Internet is likeliest to be fulfilled from an existing inventory. He does foresee on-demand printing as the method of choice for personalized photobooks and other categories in which the purchaser essentially says, “I'm the prepress,” by designing and assembling the book with the help of Web-enabled front-end systems.

Hughes calls books on demand a “sleeping giant” in terms of market potential. He says online ordering, combined with the reasonable turnaround and reasonable price made possible by print on demand, is a “wonderful business model.”

“It's well short of rocket science,” adds Newton, noting that Amazon has embraced the model with its BookSurge self-publishing service and others will follow suit.

Pachon points out that while Lightning Source may be the preeminent practitioner of the one-off, sell-then-print book production model, this is a specialized niche, and the rest of the digital book market won't necessarily grow that way. Lightning Source produces books in a small number of standardized formats, notes Pachon, whereas most other book printers produce in whatever formats their customers want.

The market, all agree, is there to be tapped by any printer willing to equip and organize for it. All book printers, says Wilson, are looking for ways to add value and expand their services, and they all can broaden their horizons by branching into fulfillment and distribution either on their own or in partnership with others. Digital book printers also can extend their reach by partnering in distribute-and-print networks.

Reid envisions three ways to break into the market: Provide either short-run printing, versioning or one-off books on demand. Digital printers, having entered the field by one of these routes, then tend to find book publishing niches for which they equip accordingly. Or, says Reid, they may add digital capabilities to satisfy the needs of specific customers.

Sipherd asserts that the most successful digital book printers are highly specialized organizations that can build the Web sites, workflows and publishing tools needed for Web-enabled production and fulfillment. Printing companies that lack these resources can access them through partnerships. And, Sipherd adds, much of the experience acquired in other kinds of short-run digital printing can be applied to book production.

Side by side

Will digital printing challenge its offset counterpart? Reid says InfoPrint sees pages migrating from offset to digital at a rate of about 15 percent per year. Because this represents the annual growth rate not of “new” digital pages but of pages formerly produced on offset equipment, the increase comes at the expense of offset. As run lengths decrease, Reid adds, the competitive pressure on offset grows apace.

Conley makes a similar forecast by positing a 15 percent to 17 percent CAGR for digital pages over the next five years, in substitution for offset. This particularly applies to pages for books on demand: “Everything that goes into an inventory management solution is migration, offset to digital,” Conley says. “Every single page.”

Hughes says both processes will coexist, with cost ultimately determining which is used. Balik adds that the processes are complementary because they're equally necessary. “When you bought a microwave oven, you didn't throw away your gas stove,” she says. “You can't cook a Thanksgiving dinner in the microwave.”

Eventually, says Sipherd, one end of the digital production spectrum will be occupied by producers that print hundreds of thousands of copies in very small on-demand runs that never accumulate in physical inventories. But he believes that, for the foreseeable future, the industry will operate in hybrid mode, printing longer runs conventionally and producing jobs up to 4,000 copies on digital equipment. Sipherd also thinks “green” issues will compel publishers to pay more attention to inventory reduction.

Got to admit it's getting better

Although digitally printed books still seem relatively new as printed products go, production methods have come a long way — certainly far enough to have inspired a war story or two. Newton relates that in Lightning Source's early days, it was necessary to jerry-rig their systems to accommodate bookstore chains with MIS setups that couldn't comprehend the notion of purchasing from a source carrying zero inventory. Today, in contrast, booksellers are realizing it is possible and even desirable to bypass the traditional distribution chain by dealing directly with digital printers.

“This stuff used to be hard,” Newton says. “Now it's getting pretty simple.”

Patrick Henry is the director of Liberty or Death Communications. Contact him via

A Diamant is forever

Muller Martini's new Diamant 35 short-run book line can produce 2,100 books per hour, a 16 percent improvement vs. its predecessor, the Diamant 30.

Complementing its running speed, the Diamant 35 also provides outstanding operational efficiency resulting from a high degree of automation. Changeovers can be completed rapidly, enabling different runs to follow one another quickly to optimize utilization and ensure cost-effective production.

At a recent open house in Germany, visitors saw the Diamant 35 and a Vesta jacketing machine manufacturing books with gatefolded flaps and flexible covers (“full-flap books”). The demonstration also incorporated two BLSD book stackers, with Muller Martini's Tele-Commander technology handling production setup.

For producing books on demand, Muller Martini offers the modular SigmaLine. Users can opt for a complete line (an entirely inline system that prints, folds, stitches, trims, collates and binds) or partial configurations that may include a high-speed, roll-fed printer with a perfect binder, cooling tower and trimmer. (See “Real books, real fast,” AMERICAN PRINTER, May 2005.)

Offset answers back

In April, we'll look at some offset innovations for handling short runs efficiently. See you then!

Market outlook

Interquest's new study, “High Growth Segments of Digital Book Printing: Market Analysis & Forecast,” is based on 60 interviews with major publishers and book printers specializing in trade, education, professional, and photographic book applications. It includes market size and forecasts as well as key trends and developments.


Field trip

An RIT delegation recently visited ColorCentric Corp. (Rochester, NY). Andy Cooney, ColorCentric's director of business development explained the digital book production workflow to a group of students and faculty.

“The students are senior software engineering majors who are working on a team project,” explains RIT's Frank Cost. “It involves the creation of a Web-based book publishing platform for K-12 teachers who want to enable their classes to publish anthologies of student work easily. “

The project involves two RIT colleges, ColorCentric and the nearby East Irondequoit Schools. John M. Lacagnina founded ColorCentric Corp in 2003. The 70-employee, 60,000-sq.-ft. facility has three Xerox iGen3s, two of which are linked to Bourg Book Factories, as well as three Xerox monochrome printers with inline finishing capabilities.

In a January 2008 PMA magazine ( profile, Gary Pageau describes ColorCentric Corp's role as a transparent middleman: “Its customers are numerous online businesses and retailers who offer a menu of more than 250 ColorCentric products on [their] site[s]. The consumer places the order on the retailers' Web sites, and ColorCentric fulfills the order in less than 24 hours.”

If you order photobooks, calendars or other photo products while surfing Facebook, MySpace, Webshots or Photobucket, chances are ColorCentric did the printing. These sites aren't direct customers — but their partner, Qoop, is.

ColorCentric cranks out 300,000 color and black-and-white books a month, a testament to its workflow heritage. In 1992, Lacagnina cofounded Electronic Demand Publishing (EDP), a multinational document management company. Kinko's acquired Electronic Demand Publishing in March 1997 and changed its name to Corporate Document Solutions, a division of Kinko's.

Prior to founding EDP, Lacagnina launched Entire, Inc., a company credited with developing the world's first Postscript RIP. He's also the founder of Quality Measurements Systems and Excel Information Systems.

ColorCentric uses Xerox job-ticketing software — everything else was developed in house.

“When we started there wasn't any workflow software,” Lacagina told Pageau. “Our software takes the job ticket, creates all the information, and does the imposition and color rendering correctly. So by the time the file and job ticket get to the print engine, the engine just runs.”

ColorCentric recently announced Frank D. Steenburgh has joined the company as chief marketing officer. Steenburgh retired from Xerox at the end of 2005, where he was senior vice president, business growth. From November 2001 to June 2003, Steenburgh was responsible for bringing the iGen3 to market.


Every picture tells a story

Shutterfly, Lulu and HP's Snapfish are among the online sites that have helped popularize photobooks. HP's Scott Sipherd says we can anticipate enormous growth in Web fulfillment of photo products.

“The Web enablement of digital photo content is just pervasive now,” he says, adding that HP has customers using “farms of Indigo presses” to satisfy the demand. He thinks similar growth can be foreseen in personalized genealogy books, another publishing product that can be compiled and printed to order via consumer-facing Web sites.

Xerox's John Conley counters that some consumers balk at the books' cost and others aren't prepared to change long-held habits associated with storing and viewing their pictures. He adds that photobooks are one piece of a larger photo applications market that includes prints, greeting cards, calendars and other vehicles for personal images.

Photo Marketing Assn. (PMA) ( research suggests consumers are finding new ways to preserve their memories. A recent PMA report found that 21.4 percent of households that made no prints from their digital cameras in 2006 purchased some other photo-related product or service, such as a photo book or personalized calendar. The association further noted that this figure practically doubled from 2005 when only 12.3 percent of the members of this group made photo-related purchases.

Hands-off book plate production

Book publisher Malloy (Ann Arbor, MI) produces 16,000 printing plates a month for a pressroom that features a fleet of Timson book web presses as well as four Heidelberg Speedmaster sheetfed perfecting presses. The company's solution incorporates a Rampage workflow driving Screen USA's PlateRite Ultima 16000 and PlateRite Ultima 32000Z thermal platesetters. Malloy uses Fujifilm's medium run-length LH-PJ thermal plates as well as the manufacturer's FLH-Z processor. The plates are double-coated for enhanced durability and scratch resistance. Two Burgess Industries fully automated plate handling and plate bending lines complete the lights-out process.

“We load the plates into the CTP's autoloaders and they're never touched again by a human hand until the press operator hangs them on the press. We don't touch them, not even once,” explains Brenda Brown, prepress manager for Malloy. “It's completely automated.”

Malloy specializes in short- to medium-run work — most jobs range from run lengths of 500 to 20,000. A long run typically is no more than 150,000 copies. For short runs, the company recently installed an Océ 6160 digital printer.


See the latest & greatest

If you want to catch up with cutting-edge digital printing, attend the OnDemand Conference in Boston, March 3-6. The conference program includes “EB5: Digital Book Production: A New Wave Begins.” Don Leeper, president of Stanton Publication Services (Minneapolis), and Bruce Watermann, vice president of operations for Blurb (San Francisco), will discuss the growing demand for customized and personalized books as well as the enabling technology.


This is how we do it

On Demand Machinery (ODM) offers an 8-pg. pamphlet on producing single copy hardcover books with virtually no makeready. The guide provides step-by-step illustrations and photos of the entire process, including sewing, casemaking, casing-in and building-in. See

On the cover

Frank Cost, codirector of RIT's Printing Industry Center, took this photo of Bethany Robinson, print operator and template designer at ColorCentric Corp. (Rochester, NY). Cost used a Nikon D200 camera equipped with a AF-S Nikkor 18-200 f3.5-5.6 G ED, which he calls “The most amazing lens I've ever owned.”

The images were shot without a flash at the widest setting (28mm equivalent), ISO 360, with a shutter speed of 1/30, f4.5.