The arrival of high speed inkjet presses is one of the most significant developments in the printing industry in the last 10 years. Here’s where I think inkjet can and will have an impact on the digital POD (print on demand) book market:
- It will enable longer POD runs, cost effectively.
- It will bring the price of digital color down (over time).
Let’s dive into each of these points a bit:
It will enable longer POD runs, cost effectively
Right now in the POD book world, many companies can offer competitive pricing on run lengths up to the high hundreds. B2B pricing is a function of many factors, but generally speaking, on your avg. page count black & white book (lets say 250 pgs.) you can expect pricing that’s lower than offset up to about 500 – 750 cps. Many things can move this number up or down the scale. For some companies, it’s closer to 500 cps., for others, it’s closer to 1,000 cps. Things like page count, equipment compliment, financial condition of the printing company, time of year, region of the world, etc., are all factors that can affect price.
Unlike offset, inkjet does not have costly make-ready costs or plate costs. You simply load up the paper, que up the file, and a few minutes later you’re running – at blinding speeds. Make ready costs and plate costs have always been the biggest reasons that offset runs for low quantities didn’t make sense. This is one of the reasons that inkjet is ideal for these runs that are just out of reach of toner based POD, yet still a bit too short for cost effective offset.
So with inkjet, I think we can expect pricing (at the B2B level) that’s in line with what could be had via an offset press (+/-) for runs in the low thousands. Some of the OEM’s have come right out and set the expectations very high; that competitive pricing (vs. offset) should be able to be had up to 5,000 units, but almost all printing companies I’ve spoken with don’t think the number is that high.
It will bring the price of digital color down (over time)
Digital color is a pretty big bucket these days, so for the purposes of this discussion, I am referring to non photo-book color. This can be categorized as that level of color just below a high end photo-book. Things like direct mail, educational books, product manuals and catalogs, and magazines. For these applications, “pleasing” color is usually what’s required and budgeted for. The job is usually printing on a “good enough” sheet, as opposed to a premium sheet. Stunning color is not necessarily needed, nor is the customer willing to pay for it.
The output that I’ve seen off of the best inkjet devices is roughly equivalent to what can be had off of a Xerox iGen3 or a Kodak Nexpress. It’s that good. The Igen3 and Nexpress are both excellent devices that produce high quality output on a variety of substrates. Some of your favorite brands are printed on these machines. That said, I wouldn’t say that the current state of inkjet color (from any OEM) is as good as the output from an HP Indigo just yet. That’s still some years out.
So what we have are roll-fed inkjet devices that are capable of printing high quality output, on par with most of today’s sheet-fed toner based devices. And they are capable of doing this at speeds up to 3,600 pgs. per minute. Your top of the line Nexpress or iGen3 can run about 120 ppm. This is an order of magnitude difference (actually, it’s several). This kind of massive throughput combined with mammoth duty cycles (120 mm pgs. per month) should result in lower per pg costs. In fact, we know they will, because the OEM’s and printing companies have been telling us this for some time now.
So in short, the impact that inkjet will have on the POD book space will only be good. It will mean lower costs and shorter production times – eventually. This will be good for everyone – authors, readers, OEM’s, printing companies, and self publishing companies. Of course, the devil will be in the details. I’ve not seen a company tame one of these machines for 1-off POD yet, but it is coming. There’s no doubt about it.