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LCC Conference Considers the Inevitability of the E-Book
Heidelberg presents offset litho as digital workflow
William Pollard (will789)     Print Article 
Published 2008-10-23 14:31 (KST)   
At Total Print in London last week Heidelberg demonstrated how an Anicolor Speedmaster could be used for short runs with costs and times that compared with digital printing. Heidelberg pointed out the growth in demand for print in quantities below 500 and admitted that offset typically generates a waste of the first 200 or 300 sheets. Because of the Anicolor inking unit and the Prinect digital workflow it was claimed that runs as low as 200 could be viable for litho printing. The current assumption is that the cost of a litho plate ensures that digital is competitive on shorter runs although the cost of ink gives litho an advantage for longer runs. The Total Print show has developed from Digital Print World and has previously concentrated on digital print. Fujifilm showed a video of the JetPress 720, claiming it will compete with litho for runs up to 2000.

Richard Bradley, Heidelberg
©2008 William Pollard
Heidelberg is the largest supplier of equipment for offset litho printing, still the established method for most of the printing industry. They fully support the Job Definiton Format (JDF), a set of standards to define a print product and associated workflow. At DRUPA earlier this year they showed JDF with a range of finishing equipment, for example guillotines and binding machines to produce finished books. At Total Print there were many stands for finishing intended for short runs but Heidelberg concentrated on printing. There was a Suprasetter 52 Computer to Plate system but this was to one side of the stand. It can produce up to 17 B3 plates an hour, so for four colours a change of plates every quarter of an hour. However the productivity gains of going from computer to plate and missing out film are now so obvious there was no publicity.

Checking printed sheets
©2008 William Pollard
A White Paper explains that a 50 percent cost saving is due to the Prinect workflow with the transfer of ink presetting data from prepress to press. The Anicolor inking unit saves a further 40 percent. Heidelberg suggested that the Prinect Digital Print Manager could also be used with digital equipment from Canon, Hewlett Packard, Kodak and Xerox. It is hard to imagine how offset litho could be more integrated in a digital context.

Mark Stephenson, Fujifilm UK
©2008 William Pollard
Fujifilm announced the JetPress 720 as one of several volume inkjet presses discussed at DRUPA. There will be some actual sites in Japan during next year but for the UK it is possible the first demonstration will be at IPEX in 2010. At Total Print there was photograph and a video. Slides included the claim that the JetPress could compete with litho for runs up to 2000 and also projections of a continued trend for shorter runs as required by print customers.

In conversations during the show I found that most people thought about runs around 1,000 when considering the Heidelberg Anicolor. It may be suitable for a run of 200 but this has not yet been accepted. Next year if reports suggest that inkjet presses are starting to compete for runs of 2,000 there will be a much more interesting comparison.

FujiFilm also presented an updated version of the XMF cross-media workflow. Like Prinect this is based on JDF. XMF 2 incorporates version 2 of the Adobe PDF Print Engine. This supports PDF throughout the workflow and variable data as required for many applications of digital printing. The aspect of variable data is the major difference from Heidelberg Prinect. XMF was presented as suitable for long runs and for litho as well as digital.

Fujifilm slide
©2008 William Pollard
Fujifilm slide
©2008 William Pollard
At a debate on the environmental consequences of print, James Todd from Heidelberg observed that run lengths are reducing at all levels. Book publishers wish to avoid warehouses full of unsold stock so Heidelberg are working with print service companies to support runs of 50,000 rather than 100,000 such as was common until recently. This scale is way beyond what is possible with digital equipment.

Books were also discussed during the conference organisd by the London College of Communication. Ian Lacey claimed that the printed book is "the last bastion of defence against hyperlinking." He claimed that e-learning was failing because the tendency to follow hyperlinks "breaks any structured commitment. You have to make a commitment to the structure of the book." However he did consider that the e-book was inevitable though regretting most of the consequences. He suggested that students read Maggie Jackson on Distraction as a warning on the perils of hyperlinks. Later Chris Linford explained what Web 2 might mean as a social medium and suggested that the e-book has yet to take advantage of this sort of possibility. In a couple of years some students may return to explain how publishing can cope with these various concerns.

The recent graduates for this year are each working around web design, mostly for advertising or corporate sites. The London College of Communication was once the London College of Printing but clearly there are reasons why the scope has had to change.

The games industry was well represented by Leigh Christian and Ernest W. Adams. Both spoke about the costs of distributing games with printed packaging through retail shops. There would be obvious cost savings through online distribution but doubts continue as to how well this would be accepted. Book publishers could study this situation for clues as to the timescale for the printed word. Adams spoke about a link between emotional attachment and a physical object. A URL in an envelope is doubtful as a gift. Symantec offer downloads cheaper than a disc for software but this might just be evidence that anti-virus software is something people are not very excited about. Printing is likely to continue for some time with more engaging content.

However the e-book has achieved enough momentum for continued existence. At the Frankfurt Bookfair there was discussion about the ePUB format, a standard based on XML and also about the role of XML in general. Liz Thompson reported in Publishers Weekly that Mike Shatzin had proposed publishers work in XML for intellectual property as the sun of a new system, with the "book as merely one orbiting opportunity."

The Frankfurt meeting on ePUP organised by The International Digital Publishing Forum heard thst year-to-year wholesale eBook sales are growing at 71 percent and there have now been over 2 million ePUB downloads from Feedbooks. Feedbooks can create a variety of formats for e-books from most web sources.

But the printing industry is also relating to XML and the Web. At Total Print there were many examples of Web-to-Print, sites where print could be ordered from a browser including some design and adding variable data. Xralle can work from a database or from a PDF where text is stripped out and replaced. Clickforprint uses a Quark server so that all the resources of Quark are available in a browser. In practice there is extensive use of templates but the possibilities are intriguing. XMPie, widely used for variable data, have added uStore as a web front end. In general at Total Print there was less technical background than at the drupa Innovation Parc but most of the stands for digital presses were close to some form of web-to-print and there was a consistent claim of integration with management information systems.

Bodini Systems showed how colour control can be consistent on screens, inkjet proof and offset litho. The chosen inkjet, an Epson Stylus Pro 7900 is large for most people but the concept of remote proofing is available on most desktops.

At the debate about litho and digital for short runs, much of the discussion was about what "short run" might mean. The meaning seems to be shifting away from just below a quantity where the unit cost makes sense. Emphasis is put on personalisation and immediacy. This reflects the audience who seemed mostly interested in digital. Gareth Ward from the Print Business pointed out that the actual costs of a short litho run were dropping and mentioned the Anicolor as an example. James Shand moderated the debate and welcomed the presence of offset litho as part of the show. He regarded "Total Print" as including any available process and recognised that litho will continue with a major role.

However Robert Stabler, UK country manager for HP Indigo, was far less polite in an interview for an issue of the Print Business given away during the show. He predicts that the latest Indigo will be suitable for colour runs of books in quantities of 5000. That is a level at which offset litho would need to make a convincing case as most people in the print industry would be paying attention.

Stabler adds:
"The amount printed digitally will increase as the market becomes much, much bigger; as technology improves; and as printers understand the margins they can get from digital printing. Our competition is litho printing. Litho has improved, but these are marginal and incremental gains. In digital printing there are going to be step changes. There are no limits and barriers to where digital can go."

Future information will be in the drupa2008 blog - http://drupa2008.blogspot.com
©2008 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter William Pollard

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