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Digital printing

A revolution in publishing

Created date

April 26th, 2011

Publishing has come a long way. As early as the fifth century, monks toiled in their cells, carefully tracing out letters on parchment that would become books for the wealthy and educated. By the mid 1400s, Johannes Gutenberg developed a moveable type press that made books such as the Bible accessible to all of the literate public. In the late nineteenth century, Otto Mergenthaler took printing to a new level with the push-button Linotype machine, a device that Thomas Edison called the eighth wonder of the world.

The ninth wonder

Now, the computer age has given us digital printing a technology that Edison might have considered the ninth wonder and a company called Arvato Print is using it to the fullest. The world of printing has been in a state of evolution literally for hundreds of years, says Dave Leiss, President and CEO of Arvato Print, a division of media giant Bertelsmann. Before the availability of digital technology, printers produced books solely through offset printing, a form of printing that uses plates of typeface to transfer the words to the page. This meant that publishers had to order unnecessarily large quantities of books just to save on production costs. For instance, if a publisher knew ahead of time that it would only sell 2,000 volumes, it would still order 7,500 to lower the price per book. While this might have been cheaper, it also wasted materials because it sent roughly 75% of that inventory to the trash bin. Digital printing, on the other hand, functions much like a desk printer on steroids and removes the tedious manual process of plates and typeface. Computer hard drives hold the page layouts, and with the push of a button, they re on their way to book form. Digital printing has eliminated a lot of the labor costs associated with the traditional offset methods, says Leiss. Instead, you press a button and go from a blank roll of paper to a finished book in a matter of two minutes. People often hear the words technology and publishing and assume that you re talking about ebooks, but we ve moved forward leaps and bounds on the physical side of books as well. In fact, the possibilities are numerous for everyone from big companies like Random House to vanity press outfits such as LuLu and iUniverse. Among other things, digital printing allows Arvato to act as a virtual warehouse where publishers books are stored on hard drives rather than pallets. The days of one-million-square-foot buildings packed with books that will never reach readers have basically ended. Publishers have greater control over their supply chain of titles that aren t sure-fire bestsellers. With digital equipment, we can manufacture anywhere from 100 to 2,500 books economically and at a fast pace, Leiss says. To do this, we use a Kodak Prosper 5000 printer, which is truly state of the art. It enables us to crank out books pretty much on an on-demand basis.

Single-order publishing?

Leiss projects that Arvato may even be able to fill single orders as early as 2013. That is, Arvato prints a book whenever a reader purchases it, making the production process efficient and waste minimal. The rising vanity press market too has benefited from digital printing technology. Today, writers can turn to companies such as Lulu and iUniverse to print small runs of their memoirs, family histories, or first novels and distribute them to online and brick-and-mortar vendors for sale.

Traditional printing still sound

Despite the many benefits of the new technology, however, Leiss notes that the traditional offset printing method is still very much a part of the publishing industry. Most notably, Arvato printed more than 80 million copies of Dan Brown s provocative opusThe DaVinci Code(2003) and does about $7 billion in annual sales. In a technological age when the demands of both suppliers and consumers are evolving, everyone needs to find new ways of doing things to meet those demands, remarks Leiss. Our industry combines tradition with the wave of the future. Though no one knows for sure what lies ahead for the written word, two things are at least fairly certain. There will always be readers who want a good book in their hands, who love the texture of the page between their fingers. And the print business will forge ahead as long as we publish books. '