People can quote figures from various research companies, vendors, analysts – wherever they get them, they tell the same story: digital book publishing is taking off, despite the recession, writes Paul Haglich, marketing and product manager of the production systems group in the Xerox division at Bytes Document Solutions.

The reasons are straightforward: it’s best-fit digital production print technology that drives down costs, it opens opportunities for new lines of business, it allows for far greater self-publishing opportunities, grows digital print profit, lets printers do shorter runs for the same price as longer runs, cuts down time to print, and eliminates the need for stock.
And stock is a major headache for book publishers – European analyst Sean Smyth’s research indicates that up to 30% of books aren’t sold and are repulped.
But what do the benefits mean for printers?
For little up-front investment and a rapid process from buying the machine to charging customers for the first books, printers can offer a raft of new services around book printing – and that means more revenue. This is not just for the big boys – the actual devices that can make all of this possible range from smaller machines suitable for a mom-and-pop print shop, all the way up to the big shops.
At the entry level users have affordable 60- to 70-page-per-minute machines, and the market in South Africa is growing and following the international trend, particularly now with the introduction of inkjet and gel ink printers, and the flash fusing technology in the higher spec toner-based machines, which is especially good for lay-flat printing and binding.
Flash fusing technology takes care of a big headache with normal laser printers that curl the paper as they print it. And the phrase flash fusing technology may sound like an episode of Star Wars, but it’s simple for users because they don’t have to deal with it – it just works.
And to really boost productivity, efficiency and customer service, an automated pre-press workflow system should be integrated with the book production workflow – for instance, job files can be checked once to ensure file matches order and are not touched again until book blocks are loaded for binding.
The other area to focus on is making it easier for clients to do business with a company by enabling a Web ordering system – to quote the CEO of LaserTryk, Denmark: “We make buying print as easy as buying pens and light bulbs.”
Consumers have all heard the stories that in the US and Europe the digital book printing market is already big, but even there the market is largely untapped. Caslon estimates digital will account for 13% of overall book print volumes by 2015. Research firm INTERQUEST believes digital book printing print volume will grow at 15 to 20% in the next five years.
It’s the same here in South Africa. There is a huge and promising market for local printers, because in the local publishing industry, a good run on a popular paperback book is in the region of 3 000 to 4 000 books. That’s ideal for the machines that are already available and being put to good use. And that’s just in the publishing industry.
A sub-section of that is the self-publishing industry. Many people write books and publishers won’t necessarily take them on, suggesting that it may not be economical to do so. But digital publishing changes that dynamic – people can print a few copies, see how they sell, and print more as needed.
Or they can keep them as specialist subject matter books, printed on demand as buyers arise. That’s a big market in education at the moment and also in government, not just in South Africa but many of its neighbouring countries too.
People can also personalise special copies for promotional activities or as special corporate gifts to a select audience. The flexibility that digital book printing enables means that printers are only limited by their imaginations – although it may be dangerous to say that. Printers in South Africa can be a pretty imaginative bunch.