Every now and then we have to stand back for a moment, acknowledge the astonishing transformation in the print industry, and gasp.
What has occurred in printing over the past 20-25 years – namely the birth and rapid expansion of digital press printing – has rewritten a thousand years of history. And that’s just dating back to the beta version of moveable type. The creation of impressions onto clay tablets traces its origins to Mesopotamia, around 3000 BC.
Digital Press Printers: From Rumble to Rampage
Little did the industry expect in early 1990s that offset and litho printing – the longtime reigning kings of print and packaging – were on the brink of a massive disruption. Though digital printing presses began as a low-grade rumble, they foretold a seismic, tectonic shock to the industry.
Is it not fair to say that digital printing, combined with the World Wide Web, launched a one-two punch that caught everyone a bit by surprise – and has forced the print world to rethink its entire business model?
Digital printing presses breathed life into what have grown to become mainstream (and some dominant) applications and products. It wasn’t long ago that short run printing, publishing and converting were nowhere to be found in the industry lexicon.
Variable data printing? Personalized marketing materials? On-demand printing? They were simply unheard of just a few decades ago.
So, yeah, printing has changed. A lot. But, you probably knew that. And today, this industry is still striving for more ever more profitable value propositions.
The Shifting Digital Printing Landscape
Even within the arena of digital press printing, the ground is always shaking. Increasingly better quality, simpler hands-off automation, lower costs per page, cool new applications – they’re pretty much an ongoing norm in digital printing.
In late October 2015 alone, we saw news that Vida, a year-old fashion
e-commerce firm based in San Francisco, has been incorporating digital print into its product line. Using digital print presses, Vida is applying photos and artwork from artists around the world onto apparel. Their merchandise already includes 500 new pieces featuring digitally reproduced art. While doing so, they’ve attracted $1.3 million in new seed investment.1
Evolve to Exist, Say Publishers
Publishing, which has adopted digital printing in steadily rising numbers, still has a large number of holdouts. Many publishers are reluctant to fully embrace the “zero-inventory model” enabled by short-run, digital printing. The age-old fear of running out of stock of popular titles keeps them holding onto a fading business model for dear life. Switching to a digital print model is simply too hard a culture shock for many.
Attendees at the recent Digital Book Printing Conference in New York City addressed that fear factor at length.2 Digital publishers counter that resistance to change is costing their holdout publishing peers millions of dollars a year in wasted inventory and shipping. It could even prove fatal.
Recent history shows that a similar trepidation or culture freeze kept film-and-camera manufacturers, like Kodak and Polaroid, from evolving. And look where those once seemingly indestructible brands are today.
Room to Grow in the Digital Space
No one denies that digital printing presses still have a lot of room for improvement – particularly in the areas of substrate options and format size. Almost from the first days of digital print, providers have been demanding manufacturers to offer additional substrate versatility and larger, more efficient formats.
In fact, the failure to offer more substrate and format options has restricted digital press printing from entering the true mainstream print production. Let’s face it, despite its growth, digital printing has only recently been forecast to break into double digital market share.3 Offset printing, though challenged, hasn’t been dethroned from its competitive perch.
The Next Digital Disruption?
Will digital printing technology take that giant step towards achieving parity with offset? The Landa NanographyTM process, with the signature features of both offset and digital, could well create the next shake-and-quake to an ever-shifting landscape.