You’ll quickly spot some patterns if you speak with pressroom pros or go to the tradeshows where they and publishers ponder what the future of newspapers will look like. Recurring themes arise: Press runs are shorter as some print subscriptions give way to electronic ones. Publishers seek to print more than just newspapers. They’re thinking more creatively about inserts and supplements, native advertising campaigns and commercial print. There is increasing talk about the quality of audience and how segmentation and hyperlocal publishing may better appeal to audiences who want their newspaper to help solve day-to-day dilemmas and measurably enrich their lives.
In quieter conversations, there’s talk about how to sustain and better printing operations at a time when purse strings are so tightly clutched. It’s difficult to be both austere and innovative. It may be the opportune time to take a sincere look at digital printing—specifically, the new class of digital inkjet Web presses.
Last year, E&P spoke with Hewlett-Packard’s Pat McGrew, evangelist of print, inkjet and production mail technologies, who predicted that digital inkjet would soon pique publishers’ interests here in the domestic newspaper market. She cited a newspaper print company based in Italy that was already reaping the benefits of its digital inkjet investment. E&P followed up with that supplier—Centro Stampa Quotidiani, “CSQ,” and its general manager Dario De Cian—to hear how profoundly its HP T230 Color Inkjet Web Press impacted operations.
De Cian noted that he wasn’t an immediate digital convert. In fact, five or so years ago, he found himself at a print event, checking out the then-new technologies in the inkjet category. He was less than impressed. But in recent years, engine manufacturers and printhead developers have been hard at work bettering quality and resolution, while cranking up the speeds. They’re more competitive in cost and capability. De Cian recognized progress and wanted to be ahead of his competition.
The HP T230 allows CSQ the flexibility to print on a range of media—everything from newsprint to commercial-grade cover and text stocks. They’ve printed segmented inserts and foreign-language newspapers, for example. One of CSQ’s newspaper clients has a daily circulation of 40,000+; it’s now producing hyperlocal advertising for select villages.
“This is very important for smaller advertisers,” De Cian said. “A small advertiser—a restaurant or a pizzeria—is not interested in having an ad distributed across 50,000 copies because nobody is going to drive more than an hour to eat at his restaurant. So this capability is very important to publishers.”
CSQ reported one of its newspaper clients saw a 325-percent increase in advertising revenues derived from digitally printed “localized” inserts.
De Cian noted that no publication has to be painted into a corner—always offset or always digital. Rather, depending on the run length—and because the quality of the digital inkjet print now rivals offset—the printer can choose between the two processes.
“We print a lot of English, German, and French foreign titles, and three Russian titles,” De Cian said. “We print these seven days per week, but the run lengths change with the seasons. They may be short in winter, or low season, but can be very high in the summer. This is why it’s important for us to have both digital and offset.”
Having the digital inkjet capability hasn’t diminished the need for offset. In fact, the opposite has been true. An English-language newspaper client was so impressed by the print quality, they awarded CSQ the print and distribution of its titles to the south of France and Switzerland. The added circulation required CSQ to print those newspapers on its offset presses, instead.
From time to time other titles require a hybrid approach, whereby the guts of the papers are printed offset, with the cover pages produced digitally. They’re married at post-press—with no distinguishable difference between the media and quality, De Cian said.
“My vision of the future is that newspapers will be produced more and more with a combination of (offset and digital inkjet),” he said. “When you have only one of these technologies, you are only solving half of the problem…Today, it’s possible to do really deeply segmented products using both.”
Digital Inkjet’s Time
According to Jeff Burton, digital inkjet advisor with InkjetConsultants, newspaper publishers and printers should take notice of what’s happening in R&D. Printheads are improved upon every year. High-density nozzles in huge numbers—for example, 20,000 per head cartridge, Burton suggested—produce better quality and variable-drop sizes. Manufacturers aren’t just quickly introducing better, faster, and more efficient systems, they’re also partnering with key suppliers to tweak and tailor systems for specific applications or broad commercial use.
Burton said that it’s also important to keep tabs on what’s going on in commercial print; newspaper publishers can take some leads from that print segment. Quad Graphics, for example, recently invested in more than 20 digital inkjet presses from HP. Even the big-brand print companies who have stalwart defenders of those iron presses are “seeing the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Burton. That’s digital printing coming their way. This is noteworthy for newspaper producers that hope to bring in more commercial print projects to supplement their newspaper production revenues.
Whether newspapers themselves are printed on digital inkjet equipment will largely depend on niche and numbers. “Smaller papers like religious presses can go to (inkjet) quite nicely,” Burton said.
Bruce Richardson is the national sales manager, Web presses, for KBA North America. KBA’s RotaJET is already in place at two customer locations, producing tabloid and broadsheet newspapers, according to Richardson, who said, “Digital inkjet printing can be more cost-effective in a lot of ways—from a labor standpoint, in waste, even though the inks tend to be a higher cost.”
Waste is a big distinction. “Some newspaper presses can run 250 to 300 copies of print waste per run,” Richardson said. “That’s money out the door. Our digital press will print from the very first start of the machine until the machine stops. The first and last copy are saleable copies.”
KBA’s first introduction into the digital inkjet Web market came in the form of the RotaJET 76, a 30-inch-wide configuration. But its newest, scaleable RotaJET L-Series can be configured to accommodate rolls from 30-inches all the way up to 50-inches wide. This should be of particular interest to newspaper publishers, Richardson said.
No one is predicting the demise of offset for newspapers. Those big-iron presses aren’t going to be retired anytime soon, especially for high-circulation titles. But digital inkjet Web presses may solve an immediate challenge for newspaper publishers. With these investments running side by side with offset equipment, hyperlocal publishing can be done; personalization becomes do-able rather than some ethereal concept. Printing of multi-language titles is within reach. Niche advertising and commercial-print work is in the realm of possibility. These are revenue-generating possibilities that newspapers can now explore.
Editor’s Note: Regular Digital Publishing columnist Rob Tornoe will return next month.