In previous columns I covered the success of inkjet in direct mail and transaction markets. There is another market inkjet printing has had great success so far: book printing. The idea of on demand book printing is not really new – already in the 1990’s concepts for on-demand book printing using toner cut-sheet or roll-fed printers were put forward. The market did not take off instantly, however.
Defining the Book Market
The book printing market is less well-defined than it seems at first. Books from “traditional” book publishers are a big portion of the market, but there is more. Self-publishing gained a lot of traction in recent years. There are many book-like publications printed in corporations, education or government entities as well. Additionally, manuals can be very book-like from a production standpoint above a certain page count.
The rationale for on-demand book printing is quite compelling. It reduces stock keeping and the problem of obsolescence (disposal of unsold books) while allowing for short runs of books with low demand – the famous “long tail”. Even with continuous feed printers the production of single books is routinely achieved now.
Optimizing Book Production
The biggest enabler for digital book printing is not being able to print the shortest runs without plate changes and press set-up, but electronic collating. Not having to print signatures and putting them on a collator is not only a huge cost saver, but also reduces mistakes and damages considerably. This is why some printers state break-even points of inkjet against offset of up to 3,000 copies in book printing – much higher than for not-collated jobs.
In the early years of digital print, toner printing had only limited impact on book printing. Devices were too slow and there were some quality issues, especially waviness of the book block. With the advent of 200+ ppm cut-sheet devices the number of installations went up, but they only scratched at the surface of mainstream book publishing. Inkjet upped the speed considerably, lowered the running cost, added colour as an option and allowed for wider web widths for more imposition options. Waviness can still be an issue, but a lot of work has been done to eliminate the problem.
Print technology and productivity are not the only issue slowing the uptake. When the Kindle was introduced in 2007, the publishing industry entered a multi-year panic over predictions that the digital book would replace ink on paper. Twelve years later, e-book sales have flattened while printed book sales are stronger than ever. E-book sales have settled at a decent 20% of the market in the US and UK, while in Germany, France and Italy the share is around the 5% mark. With a more stable outlook on printed books, publishers and book printers resumed investing in printing equipment.
This is mirrored somewhat in the uptake of CF inkjet lines in book printing in Europe. Sales started slow and only picked up in 2011, while other segments already had significant numbers of inkjet installs. Installations peaked in 2013 and declined somewhat afterwards – likely a sign of sufficient capacity built up by then. After some slowing, installations rose again in 2017 – as more publishers took up on-demand print. There is a lot of room to grow, estimates show that only 7 to 8% of books are printed digitally in Europe, half the share digital print has in the US.
Inkjet Installations for Book Printing
More than 100 print lines have been sold into the book print market in Western Europe until 2018. This is a moderate share of the more than 700 CF inkjet lines sold so far, but it includes very productive lines. Eastern Europe adds almost 20 additional CF inkjet lines in book printing. This is not much lower than the combined transaction and direct mail installations in Eastern Europe, signifying interest in digital book printing in Eastern Europe. Additionally, there are some cut-sheet inkjet printers used for book printing, but that number is currently small.
Among the commercial book printers, the CPI-Group is the largest user of inkjet presses in Europe with 10 HP inkjet presses – a mix of BW and colour lines. Clays in the UK is another big user of inkjet equipment with several print lines, including a Timson T-Press. Parent company Elcograf in Italy owns two more HP T490 lines. Rotolito and Grafica Veneta are other large users in Italy. There are some installations in the book supply chain as well. Lightning Source has several inkjet presses at their UK site. Books on Demand, a subsidy of book wholesaler Libri in Germany, has two inkjet lines.
It is remarkable to see the variety of types of CF printers installed in book printing, which surpasses the variety in transaction and direct mail by far. The 2-up installations found in most other markets are complemented by many 3 or 4-up installations. There are even a few wider web presses in use from KBA (RotaJet) and Timson (now defunct) with the T-Press. Book printing is also the only inkjet market where mono inkjet presses took hold in Europe. The majority of presses installed are colour capable but obviously there is good demand for pure monochrome books and manuals. Another remarkable fact is that the vendor range in book printing is much wider than in other inkjet applications. Canon, as total market leader in CF inkjet in Europe, has a good share, but HP has an equally large share in book print. There are a number of Ricoh, Screen, Xerox (including former Impika) and Kodak (mostly Prosper mono) presses installed in book print. Those are complemented by vendors not seen usually in transaction or direct mail like Domino (K630i), KBA (RotaJet), Timson and Fujifilm (JetPress 540W). Additionally, there are some self-built print lines in use, utilising readily available inkjet imprinting heads and a paper transport.
The UK is the strongest market in terms of book lines installed, possible a sign of a more agile and forward-thinking book market. The number of installations in other countries follow pretty much according to the strength of their printing industries, namely Germany, Italy, France, Spain and the Netherlands.
Moving forward there are a couple of trends in book print:
- Book printing will continue to support a wide range of devices as book/manual production environments differ a lot
- A seamless integration into a finishing workflow remains important as this delivers the highest cost and time saving potential of print on demand
- Higher quality CF inkjet devices have begun to make inroads. More demand for high quality printers for coated paper is expected
- Usage of cut-sheet devices will increase, especially if they offer full book block production
- Connecting digital and printed content (e.g. via embedded links) will become commonplace, which could include personalised content
- Specialty colours for covers will remain a challenge in inkjet