Digital Print Production Continues to Move Forward

By: Toni McQuilken

Digital presses have been around for years and they have been steadily improving in their quality and ability to produce longer runs profitably. When “digital” first started to impact the market, it was focused almost exclusively on short runs—for any job that needed more than about 1,000 copies, the technology simply didn’t make good business sense. But that margin has steadily eroded as the technology hasn’t just continued to improve, but the ideas of how to use it have adapted as well.          

Today, while many newspapers in the United States are still printed using the traditional offset equipment, international printers have started to flourish with alternate technologies. It is a much less expensive initial investment to get started with a digital press, and while printed newspapers are defending their territory from mobile technologies, in many parts of the world, print is still the main—if not only—source of news. And where we are used to newspapers runs that top the 100,000 mark and more, in many cases the run lengths of international newspapers are quite a bit shorter; even in the U.S., as publishers look to find more relevant ways to re-capture their audiences, run lengths are getting shorter, and more local or “versionized,” versus the one edition that went out to hundreds of thousands of subscribers from all over the country.      

And these scenarios are the ones in which digital excels.     

In the InfoTrends 2012-2017 U.S. and Western European application forecasts for the production digital printing market (see graph), newspapers are one of the top predicted growth areas.  InfoTrends sees impressions increasing by as many as 9.3 billion pages in that time frame. Those pages are not necessarily new, they are pages that are shifting from one technology to another.        

“The top 10 fastest growing applications are dominated by publishing and promotional applications,” the company said in a statement. “Compared to analogue volumes, the share of production digital printing in most publishing and promotional applications is small, but shorter runs and on-demand production is shifting volume towards production digital printing methods.”

For newspapers in particular, InfoTrends noted, “In Europe, newspapers have a high growth potential for production digital print, more, for example, than in the U.S. Different languages, holiday destinations and a multitude of newspapers are opening opportunities for digital print. We also expect to see some more innovative approaches in distributed print, localization and readership targeting by 2017. Still, production digital print will only account for a tiny fraction of the total newspaper volume by 2017.”         

That belief that this growth in digital print production of newspapers—measured in the billions of pages—is only still a small fraction of newspaper volume is actually a good sign on a variety of levels. First of all, it is a forecast that predicts newspapers, in the traditional form, remaining a very strong player for many years to come. As much as various new technologies are looking to bleed readers from the newspaper business model, InfoTrends doesn’t see them imploding the market any time soon.    

Second, this means there is a massive amount of growth potential still out there. Intelligent publishers and printers will continue to be creative in finding ways to produce newspapers more cost effectively, but also in more targeted ways. While a personalized newspaper for every single subscriber might not be on the immediate horizon, ideas that push boundaries that dramatically are still in their infancy. The growth and potential of these new print technologies mean publishers can explore ever more creative ways to bring their content to the masses. 

One thing to keep in mind is that the digital print technology is moving ahead at the same speed mobile and other emerging technologies are advancing. Unlike with an offset press, where a printer could make an investment and continue to use that same machine for decades, digital press technology has a much shorter life span. It will still work of course, but to take advantage of the latest advances and open up the field for those innovative applications, printers will need to get themselves on a more regular upgrade cycle than they ever had to in the past.     

Smart printers are constantly going to trade shows or manufacturer events to keep current on the latest technologies, and are constantly thinking about and testing how they can bring those innovations into their own shops. There is certainly a balance between throwing investment money at everything that comes along, and never investing at all. Ppublishers need to make sure they are partnering with intelligent printers that take the time to keep themselves educated. Because those printers making the investments into digital technology, and who are bringing new, fresh ideas to publishers, are the ones who will be your true partners for many years to come.

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