By Jon Robinson
By Jon Robinson
Five years ago, Webcom Inc., one of Canada’s preeminent book manufacturers for three decades, began building a true evolutionary printing platform around HP’s new T300 Inkjet Web Press. Webcom’s paradigm shift, a fundamental change in the basic concept of book printing, now represents an investment of $30 million and a 2.1-billion pages-per-year digital inkjet manufacturing capacity the Toronto company.
In October 2015, Webcom continued to illustrate its intent on shaking up the book-publishing world by installing a new HP Indigo 10000 press. PrintAction spoke with Mike Collinge to learn more about the direction of a Canada-first platform.
What key advantages does the Indigo 10000’s 29-inch format size provide?
Mike Collinge: It allows us to do larger-format products that you cannot do on smaller systems, whether it is a [traditional] Indigo, NexPress or iGen, basically they all are suited to 11 x 17-type products and, in books, that limits you with spines on books and jackets and oversize book products. It also allows us to double our throughput, so we are able to respond much quicker in peak periods, which publishing has. Third, it allows us to cut a lot of the processing and labour expenses in half because we are producing at least twice as much as we could before every hour.
How does the 10000 fit with Webcom’s existing HP Inkjet Web Presses?
MC: With digital inkjet and an HP Indigo 10000, we are able to offer our customers cost-efficient, offset-quality, short book runs of tens, hundreds or a few thousand books at North American – if not globally – competitive rates… all very, very efficiently.
How does this platform best help clients?
MC: The unique solutions we offer help a publisher pull their capital investment out of keeping inventories and redeploy that [capital] so it is not stagnant in a warehouse… It also helps them customize books for small markets… or, with a backlist title on the end of its lifecycle, our technology allows a publisher to keep products alive.
What growth is available for web inkjet?
MC: Inkjet still has a really positive outlook for the next five years. The industry studies say over 20 percent CAGR in digital inkjet and one of the top two drivers of that growth rate is targeted to be books. So it is a high growth part of the book manufacturing business. It is not all necessarily new business for a manufacturer or publisher… but it is definitely a fast-paced, high-growth segment for the publishing industry.
How difficult is it realize enough margin for large digital-printing investments?
MC: It is not just about printing a physical book and shipping it to the door. We are addressing supply-chain and inventory-management needs and customer integration. We have a lot of investment in systems, people and process… rationalizing and automating our customers’ order entry processes is part of our solution.
Has Webcom moved from unit-cost print?
MC: It is a total cost of ownership model that we take to our publishers and they need to look at more than just a print and bind… we are not quote-and-produce vendors for them. We are business partners.
How does Webcom leverage inkjet colour?
MC: Inkjet technology is so flexible that you can put colour on two pages in a 400-page book and not have to make sure that it is on a certain form or signature… When a publisher is looking at how to differentiate their product in a very competitive marketplace, whether an educational publisher or trade, colour is an underutilized capability because the print community has made it expensive and awkward. Inkjet really addresses that for short run products.
What is the outlook for printed books?
MC:[At November’s BMI conference] Markus Dohle, CEO of Penguin Random House, said, “Our basic strategic assumption is that print will always be important, always – not in 50 years or 100 years – always.” So the Amazon forecast of the demise of the printed book was, and I still believe is, premature and inaccurate. Digital headlines do not match the reality of the publishing world or what their consumers are choosing for preferred book format.
I am happy that our publishers are still successful and sustaining their businesses, but I think Webcom’s solutions are much better valued if there is urgency on them not to patronize old publishing models.
How does Webcom provide sustainability?
MC: Depending on the product, somewhere between 25 and 50 percent of books printed in the past have gone to obsolescence or recycling. Our technology makes it reasonable for a publisher to print only what they need, only what they have back ordered, without significant premiums… We are buying world-class technologies that have sustainability underpinning them.
How do you qualify the risk of being first with new technologies?
MC: We have a very succinct vision of what we can deliver for book publishers in North America. We have fantastic ownership and a strong financial position to be able to make these investments. I would call them investments, as opposed to risks. Whether it is in technology, process or people, these investments are the building blocks to help us deliver us on that vision for our book-publishing customers.