Posts Tagged ‘andy mccourt’

  • Google Books – evil or not: Andy McCourt’s ReVerb

    Something relating to print reverberated in the past week. It was an ABC doco on Google’s attempts to digitize every book in the world. What began as a noble endeavour to enable universal access to humankind’s entire storehouse of knowledge has descended into litigation and castigation for copyright breaches.

    Called ‘Google and the World Brain’ this documentary by British director Ben Lewis invokes the works of famed Sci-Fi visionary HG Wells, who in the 1930s advocated such a ‘World Brain’ saying: “Without a World Encyclopaedia to hold men’s minds together in something like a common interpretation of reality, there is no hope whatever of anything but an accidental and transitory alleviation of any of our world troubles,” adding, in this pre-computer era: “a sort of mental clearing house for the mind, a depot where knowledge and ideas are received, sorted, summarized, digested, clarified and compared.”

     While HG (as in Wells, not Roy &), comes across as a nice old-school socialist duffer, like all extreme lefties, his vision tends to depend on total conformity – getting rid of anyone who won’t toe the socialist line; Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot took this to extremes. For most of his life, HG was also stridently anti-semitic; his advocating for the abolishment of Judaism was only tempered by a deathbed recantation in a holocaust-influenced apology to Chaim Weitzman.

    Wells’ World Brain idea was certainly complicit with his vision for a global society or, as has been said: “Inside every Socialist is a Totalitarian screaming to get out.” Wells even coined the term ‘New World Order’ – but what of Goggle’s intent?

     Rapine of the libraries?

    Scanning and digitizing all the world’s books means access to libraries. Some of these books are very valuable and need special handling, or the use of facsimile copies. Starting around 2002, Google made deals with major libraries around the world to scan out-of-copyright books. They patented new book scanning technology that enable the books to be scanned part open; not flat which can damage the binding. The only problem was; they scanned copyright books as well.

    In 2005, the US Author’s Guild sued Google for ‘massive copyright infringement.’ Later suits came from publishers in France, Germany and China. Settlements were agreed but Google cited ‘fair use’ of books, and the fact they were undertaking a useful service to humanity, as a defense. As the lawsuits continue, the maker of the documentary sheds a more commercial light on the project:

    “I didn’t think this was an organization that was totally suspicious when I started out. I thought, ‘These people are immensely imaginative. They come up with these remarkable new inventions – like a search engine that really works. And, of course, they subscribe to the ideology of the Internet: free culture and free information. But, by the time I’d finished the film I decided that [along with] any belief they had in that system, they’d also worked out that there was a way to make $150 billion. To ruthlessly exploit new-market economic areas that other people hadn’t spotted, and then try and dominate them in a monopolistic way. As you walk through the door there, it’s almost like you can feel the temperature change.”

     Thirty million scanned books later, the project has slowed as Google encounters opposition that has been articulated even by country Presidents such as Germany’s Angela Merkel and France’s former chief Sarkozy. Google’s slogan ‘don’t be evil’ is under the microscope as its intent appears that it might be: ignore copyright; rip off authors; use the meta-data gleaned from people’s book searches to invade their privacy, track and profile them and sell this information to the highest bidders.

    A book is not a series of tweets

    Ben Lewis’ excellently-made documentary (which you can download or buy here tends to draw this conclusion as it was repeatedly stymied for access to Google executives and even when granted, strict rules on what questions could be asked were imposed, such as ‘we can’t talk about books, only search.’

    Phoo-ey! Even the competency of the Google Book project was called into question, with miss-scanned pages and the laughable categorizing of Walt Whitman’s masterpiece ‘Leaves of Grass’ under ‘Gardening!’

    Quote of the show goes to Jaron Lanier, author of ‘Who Owns the Future’ and ‘You are Not a Gadget.’ Lanier was a computer and internet wunderkind, virtually inventing virtual reality and working at Atari but he is the voice-in-the-wilderness warning of the perils in allowing too few to know too much. The one of his I really liked and laughed out loud at was: “A book is not a series of tweets.”

    Therein lays the essence. Google is trying to do something new with a medium that is already perfect. You can make a raw diamond better by cutting it but once cut, it should be at its apogee…a perfect, never-to-be-sullied representation of sheer beauty and art. What makes books so perfect as a medium to convey thoughts, ideas, knowledge, rants, lies, damn lies and statistics is this:

    Books are deliciously anarchic and disgracefully evasive, so much so that many can only be tracked by treasure hunt. They are a disgusting alphabet-soup of dire individualism. Once the cover is open, you are immersed in the machinations of the author who will cause a multiplicity of synapse reactions in your brain, turn your stomach, palpitate your heart and cause you to orgasm if you are lucky. They are the expressions of individuals, not some form of mythical ‘collective wisdom’ – belief in which is the pernicious road to misery, totalitarianism, mediocrity and shame. There exists shared wisdom, not collective wisdom. A camel is a horse designed by collective wisdom. Collectivism = Marxism.

    Google does such great Search, AdWords, free Email and Browser – why has the company gone off the rails on the Book project? Answer, because books are more powerful, a beast that will never be tamed so long as a man or woman’s reach exceeds his or her grasp, (‘…or what’s a heaven for?’ – Robert Browning.)

    Give me books: paper, cloth, leather, inky and fibre ones. Dirty, smelly, outrageous, literate and badly written, shelf-worn, digitally remastered, Dymock-pocked, old and new, sordid and sacred……… or give me death.

  • Whatever happened to Memjet’s inventor? – Andy McCourt’s ReVerb

    It is now almost 18 months since the US George Kaiser Family Foundation took full control of the Australian-developed Memjet print technology, invented by Kia Silverbrook and his team at Silverbrook Research in Sydney. In this week’s ReVerb, Andy McCourt finds out what Silverbrook is up to now.

    Kia Silverbrook

    While Memjet appears to have gone forward strongly, with more OEM deals signed by big names such as Xerox and Canon and no less than 14 Memjet-powered printers on display at the recent Print13 show in Chicago; little or nothing has been heard of notoriously media-shy Kia Silverbrook – he of the 5,000+ patents and passionate inventor.

    The 2012 legal battle that was settled behind closed doors and saw San Diego CA based Memjet Inc take full control, has undoubtedly succeeded in commercializing the technology via OEM partner arrangements where the Memjet Waterfall print engine is incorporated into printers covering formats from labels, envelopes and A4 sheets up to 42” wide format and even an SRA2 sheetfed press from Delphax. While no one can doubt the brilliance of Silverbrook Research’s R&D, sellable products were elusive for many years with the notable exception of Australia’s RapidX who launched the X1 Memjet-powered label press at Ipex 2010.

    But what of Mr Silverbrook himself? The Memjet settlement stated he would consult to the company but his name has not cropped up in any dispatches. Print21 can now reveal that Kia Silverbrook is still inventing away in the print media, health diagnostics and solar energy fields and now lists around 9,000 patents to his name, making him by far the most prolific inventor Australia has ever produced.

    Kia Silverbrook’s main project appears to be Netpage Pty Ltd, a company he registered in October 2012 with its registered office at 6 Montague Street, Balmain NSW. Netpage is an App that magazine publishers can use to deliver interactive content from printed pages to smart phones and tablets. The pages are not simple PDFs or readers, they become shareable, archivable, organizable and are fully interactive with social media.

    In Kia’s own words from his Linkedin page:

    “Netpage is the original inventor and developer of Interactive Paper – the thorough integration of the world of print with the internet. Having finally solved the chicken and egg problem (which came first, the content or the users?) that plagues all new media platforms, the Netpage Browser for Print has been launched. Netpage has been available since the December 2012 edition of Esquire Magazine in the USA and the March 2013 edition of Marie Claire. In Australia, it is available in various Pacific Magazines titles, including New Idea, Famous, Marie Claire, and Better Homes and Gardens. It is available on iPhone and Android smartphones, and automatically creates a web site for your clippings that is somewhat like Pinterest. Convergence of media happens only rarely, as once converged, media stays converged. The convergence of print and computing is a historic event, and is happening now. Netpage goes much further than you imagine, as will become evident over the next decade.”

    Netpage is currently being rolled out by Pacific Magazines here in Australia. Marie Clare editor Jackie Frank told The Australia’s Media section the technology was “a dream” adding:

    “It unlocks the pages of the magazine (but) it keeps the focus on the magazine instead of driving people off,” she said. “It’s the bridge between print and digital, completely connecting the two media.”

    Pacific Magazine’s CEO and publishing veteran from his ACP days, Nick Chan calls Netpage a ‘game changer’:

    We know we have the audience there and we know we have an engaged audience,” he said.”This allows us to sell off the page in a much more efficient way (and) start to demonstrate to advertisers that people do get influenced by magazines,” he told The Australian.

    Netpage’s corporate structure is with Kia Silverbrook as sole director as a $1 company but the website, registered in the USA, lists David Brewster as ‘Board Advisor’ with skills in capital raising and as a corporate lawyer/strategist. He is also a visiting fellow at ANU Canberra’s Strategic and Defense Studies Centre and an acknowledged expert on the rise of India.

    Silverbrook still lists himself as Founder and CEO of Silverbrook Research, since 1994, with Memjet having been ‘spun off’ in 2002 and a customer thereafter. His other interests include, since 2011, Superlattice Solar, a long-term project to develop thin-film photovoltaic panels able to generate electricity at 25 cents per watt. He is also Founder and Chairman of Geneasys, a genetic analysis device that can be used with PCs, Laptops and Smartphones to detect diseases from DNA material.

    So this is where Kia Silverbrook, Australian inventor and serial entrepreneur, is today: still inventing and still entrepreneur-ing.

    It’s good to know he still believes in print and, with Netpage, is bridging the gap between the printed page and the interactivity of smartphones and tablet computers, with some early successes with Seven West’s Pacific Magazines.

    We haven’t heard the last of him.



  • PacPrint13: where’s the litho? Andy McCourt’s ReVerb

    PacPrint opens its doors in less than six weeks and in the current industry and trade fair climate, it must be congratulated for staging the event. Looking into the exhibitor list and floorplan, Andy McCourt discovers a markedly different show than ever before, and not a little irony in the digital-to-offset ratio.

    May is the printing industry’s golden month as we put the turmoil of the first quarter of 2013 behind us and head to Melbourne for the National Print Awards and PacPrint, this year co-located with Visual Impact. A striking irony is that, as probably 1,000 people gather in the opulent Palladium room in the Crown complex, most of the awards given out will be for work printed on litho offset presses, with digital as newfangled minor categories.

    Across the road in the Melbourne Exhibition Centre, by far the majority of floorspace and almost all the working presses, will be digital. With three notable exceptions, offset press suppliers are giving PacPrint a wide berth this year. The three exceptions deserve special praise and they are:

    • Cyber Australia, with Ryobi presses
    • Ferrostaal Australia, distributor of Komori presses
    • KBA Australia albeit with a small hospitality stand

    Unless last-minute bookings are made for one of the many vacant stands, there will be no Heidelberg, no manroland, no Sakurai, no Hans Grohni, no Mitsubishi and no Goss, or any other offset presses. Yet the process by which only three out of 33 categories in the National Print Awards is recognized and produces maybe 16 per cent of Australia’s printing, takes up by far the majority of PacPrint and mostly on huge dazzling stands. Something is askew here, or there are messages to be heeded.

    Certainly, ancillary offset equipment such as CTP, rollers, inks and bindery equipment will be there but presses themselves (or their suppliers) will be very thin on the ground, except for the three exhibitors mentioned.

    The front-rowers inside the MEC, facing the Yarra and where the biggest stands traditionally are, are all mostly digital in their offerings. Lanier, Agfa, Fujifilm/Fujixerox, Currie Group, HP, Ricoh and Ferrostaal form the 8 mega-stands at the front of the Hall, with only Ferrostaal in the offset press game but even this company has just taken on a digital press agency in MGI of France.

    In the middle row only Cyber is likely to have a working offset press –  Ryobi. All the rest are digital in either small or wide format: Canon, DES, Konica Minolta, Kodak, Epson, Kayell and EFI amongst many other smaller stands including press ancillary suppliers.

    The back rows and sidewall are virtually all digital with Screen, Xeikon, Anitech, Positive Camtech, Princeton Digital, Jet Technologies, Pent Net and GBC amongst the larger stands. Carrying the flag for litho ancillaries and flexo however, are some PacPrint stalwarts such as Aldus Engineering, Venus Hartung, Hilton Laminating, Kurz, Jet Technologies, Muller Martini, KBA, PHE, Herben Numbering and Graph-Pac amongst others. Even BJ Ball has allocated its space to its Icon Digital paper brand.

    The Visual Impact section bolted onto PacPrint is of course almost all digital, with screen process now representing less than 2 per cent of the industry.

    There is no denying it, litho offset is under-represented at PacPrint and this highlights the reality of our industry at large. Digital is growing and prospering for both suppliers and customers. Margins are better, innovation is more visible and optimism is greater. Yet, digital processes currently produce only about 16 per cent of Australia’s marks on paper.

    Digital users tend to be the kinds of companies that litho businesses were when they were prosperous – SMEs, family-run, five to 25 employees and not silly enough to burn their profit margins in chasing big contracts that hog press time but are unprofitable. A quote I’ve used before is worth repeating and it came from an old friend who ran The Printing Centre in London.

    Martin Brazil (‘nutty’) was one of the first digital printers in the British capital and possibly the first to use a RIP to drive wide-format plotters as sign printers. I was in his shop when a lady from Time-Warner breezed in and demanded an urgent job be printed immediately on his Xerox Docutech.

    “Madam, please explain why I should interrupt several profitable printing jobs going through my machine, only to lose money on your one job that will tie it up for three or four hours?” was his earnest question.

    Let’s all hope and pray that the wrong-headed thinking that led to agglomerated private-equity backed sheetfed litho dinosaurs with no clue on proper costings, does not invade the digital print production space. It’s our last chance.

    Congratulations again to PacPrint for staging the show against a backdrop of seemingly impossible odds. Show your support by being there!

  • Apps for progressive printers to ‘think beyond ink’ – Andy McCourt’s ReVerb

    Andy McCourt takes a close look at the growing collection of emerging apps for progressive print industry and graphic arts professionals.

    There was quite a response to my ReVerb #3 about mobile Apps relevant to print. Since then, a lot more has come to light from some surprising quarters – and it’s all potentially good news for a progressive print/design/publishing business.

    Remember Quark? In the 1990s, any self-respecting publisher or graphic designer would use nothing else but QuarXpress for setting type and making pages. Sure, there would be some Adobe software lurking inside the Mac – Photoshop and Illustrator – but PageMaker was just ‘amateur hour’ to the committed typographically-trained designer.

    Quark, however, allowed its hegemony over page design to slip through a combination of haughtiness, poor support and lack of significant new development. When Adobe released InDesign 1.0 in 1999, it was at first slow to unseat QuarkXpress but, with InDesign 2.0 and OSX support, by 2002 Adobe had converted News Magazines, Murdoch Magazines and then the big one, ACP (now Bauer Media) over to InDesign . The rest of the market followed suit and by 2009 many designers were not even bothering to update their versions of Quark.

    It’s worth noting that the notion of all-in-one professional object-oriented design software was pioneered years earlier by Australia’s Wright Technologies. Its Wright Design product raised many eyebrows and was lauded by industry luminary Andy Tribute in the Seybold Report. Wright Design was Windows platform only but showed the way for integrated page design in DTP.

    Back to Quark, after seeing its estimated 95 per cent market share slip to low double digits, the company tried several strategies, lowered its prices, lost its founder members Tim Gill and Mark Pope and by 2001 was in the hands of Fred Ebrahami who shifted almost all development to India – where there is even a special economic zone called Quark City. The Ebrahami family sold out to US firm Platinum Equity in August 2011, and then began the real turn-around.

    In May 2012 with the considerable resources (their own estimate is $30 billion) of Platinum Equity behind it, Quark Inc purchased Mobile IQ who had developed a tablet and mobile product called Press Run, based on a cloud HTML5 conversion of InDesign and XML files.


    Since 1990, Hyper Text Markup Language has been the code driving the way pages look on the worldwide web. It has gone through several revisions up to HTML5’s immediate predecessor; HTML 4.01. What makes ‘5’ special is the recognition of mobile and tablet applications and the bringing together of the broad mix of specifications that were homogenized under all previous versions of HTML. It’s purer, more powerful and mobile. Why is this important?

    When a PDF document or publication is uploaded to the web, it is essentially the same looking PDF that was printed. Links can be embedded to video and websites for example but essentially it is a PDF that mimics the printed item, sometimes with pages that can turn and zoom-in/out. If it remains a PDF, its functionality and interactivity will always be limited and the files size will be clunky, especially for magazines and catalogues.

    HTML5 has pure internet DNA and is the ideal language in which to publish on the worldwide web – but how to write all that complex code and maintain the integrity of the publication while adding the interactive features.

    This where it gets exciting. After acquiring Press Run, Quark invested in the development and has re-named it AppStudio. To put it simply; designers can create their magazines and catalogues as per usual in QuarkXpress or InDesign, upload via the cloud to AppStudio; chose the added interactive features and have the publication converted to HTML5 for publication to any mobile and tablet device. No code writing needed – you just do what you have always done on Creative Suite or Quark.

    Publications ported to AppStudio are not read through a ‘viewer’ – they are in themselves online publications with fully selectable text and searchability. Magazines that has so far gone mobile/online with AppStudio include:

    • BBC Good Food Guide
    • British Medical Journal
    • My Ford Magazine (Time Inc.)
    • Top Gear Portfolio
    • Amnesty International Journal
    • Guitar Interactive

    And dozens more in the USA and Europe. In a case study conducted on the tablet version of BBC Good Food Guide, 65 per cent of iPad users downloading the App from the Apple iTunes or AppStore, became subscribers to the digital version. Print circulation has not suffered – these are either new users or dual tablet and print subscribers. An additional benefit is the ability to measure page and advert dwell times, popular click-throughs; in fact anything important about the readership’s habits that can be used by a marketing department.

    Creating a publication in AppStudio can be trialed for free here and is also included as part of QuarkXpress 9, which is in itself a much-improved product these days. There are also excellent online tutorials there. A roadshow called ‘Think Beyond Ink’ (snappy!) is currently underway in the Northern Hemisphere, taking in San Francisco, New York, Hamburg. Paris and London. After contacting Quark, there are no firm plans to bring the tour to Australia or New Zealand as yet but ‘maybe in the future.’


    HTML5’s charge is encouraging more players to enter the publishing App field. One of these is a small company formed by ex-Agfa/IBM staffers and called Readz.

    Realview Digital has also embraced HTML5 and has enjoyed great success making retail catalogues available on tablet and other mobile devices. Realview is not as ‘App’ focused in that a true App is downloadable from the Apple, Google or Android stores. The advantage of being App-centric is that your publication is available to entire world, if you want.

    For textbooks, a start-up called Inkling has developed HTML5 based interactive academic publishing for the iPad.

    HTML5 is still a work in progress but what isn’t in the online world? There will be more to come for sure but the leader for now appears to be Quark with AppStudio.

    The attraction for publishers is that HTML5 apps are already showing better performance in monetizing their content – long a problem for print-based publications going online and mobile. It’s not just the subscriptions added but advertisers love the measurability and immediacy. The prospect of geo-location of tablet publication readers, say reading an article on a new Ford car, offer the potential of instant advertising with a message such as “You are only 5 minutes away from a place to test drive the new Ford XYZ, at Smith’s Ford dealership…call now…”

    For printers who take the trouble to clue up on AppStudio-like apps; where files are created with InDesign or QuarkXpress, a whole new world of services opens up for you in offering online and mobile device versions of your client’s publications, with a minimum of new investment and learning. AppStudio is cloud and subscription based starting from $99 a month and rising depending on how many issues, downloads and titles are involved.

    Tablets represent a screen size that is perfect for publications and, as with all mobile devices, the growth in usage is huge. Maybe it’s time for progressive ANZ printers to ‘think beyond ink?’

  • Whatever happened to DI? – Andy McCourt’s Reverb

    In his second Reverb column, Andy McCourt investigates the state of Direct Imaging print technology – a hybrid digital offset press system – in today’s industry, and discovers that the 1990s technology may be making a comeback in some sectors. 

    That’s DI as in Direct Imaging presses and not princesses! Hi and welcome to my second Print21 ‘Reverb’.

    DI presses are hybrid digital offset presses where plates are laser-imaged on-the-press for effective short run jobs that deliver the benefits of toner digital but the quality and low cost-per-sheet of offset. This results in very short make-ready times (5 to 10 minutes) compared to making plates and mounting them on the press.

    The first DI press was shown by Heidelberg in Chicago at the 1991 PRINT trade show.  I was there to see crowds thronging around the machine, all lit up in blue neon lights and page data being ripped directly to the press. It was the talking point of the show but very few printers “got” the concept of short run on-demand jobs back then and sales were slow.

    Andy McCourt

    At Ipex 1993 time, a new version using Presstek’s PEARLdry plates was introduced; sales improved but it was not until the drupa 1995 launch of the smaller Quickmaster that DI really took off, with over 1,500 presses eventually being sold worldwide. The QM-DI was a great profit machine; printers owning them noticed fiddly short-run jobs could be performed with a minimum of prepress fuss and customers didn’t argue about the higher price-per-page.

    The DI juggernaut rolled on for a few more years with Heidelberg introducing a five-colour B2 press, the Speedmaster 74-DI and even previewing a 102 DI press at Ipex 1998, using Creo laser imaging heads. By drupa 2000 the halls were replete with DI presses from Heidelberg, KBA, Sakurai, Adast, Ryobi, Akiyama, Screen and even Xerox and Kodak got on the DI bandwagon with re-badged Adast 2-up and 4-up presses, using Presstek technologies. Even a label press manufacturer – Nilpeter – designed a rotary press using Presstek DI technology.

    It looked like DI’s star would continue to rise for many years – even industry prophet Frank Romano predicted this – but a series of legal disputes began that unnerved press manufacturers. Presstek – the undoubted inventor of DI and owner of the ‘DI’ trademark – took action against Creo, Kodak and Fujifilm, protecting its intellectual property rights. In this, Presstek was mostly successful but it looked like only one manufacturer could supply the DI imaging heads and most importantly, the DI plate material. Meanwhile, CTP arrived, was getting faster and make-ready times on conventional offset presses were dropping. In the background, digital toner presses were getting faster and more reliable.

    Presstek’s ablation plate imaging technology was co-invented by Bob Howard, who also invented the Dot Matrix printer when he formed Centronics. DI was sold with great success to the abovementioned OEM partners over several years. There was also a proofing collaboration with 3M/Imation.

    However, in 2006 Heidelberg dropped the bombshell – it was quitting DI presses.  Some of the others had already fallen by the wayside, with Xerox’s Presstek-powered Docucolor 233 and 400 being discontinued in favour of iGen development, Adast going broke, KBA ceasing development of the Karats and others not bringing their DI prototypes to market. This could have been the death knell for DI except for one thing: Presstek’s dogged belief in the DI business model, where it fitted, as a better profit proposition for many printers. Offset stocks, Waterless Offset quality up to 300dpi, single person operation, no click charges and fewer breakdowns – these were some of the compelling arguments. By 2010, only Presstek, Ryobi and Screen with its Truepress 344, were offering new direct imaging presses.

    Presstek roars back with DI

    Almost as soon as the Heidelberg withdrawal from DI press manufacture was announced, Presstek announced it would make its own presses, in collaboration with long-standing OEM partner Ryobi. The 52DI was the first, a B3 landscape press, which is today also available with spot or flood coating, followed by the A3 portrait 34DI, which is also offered as the 3404E-DI by Ryobi. UV versions of both these presses are also available.

    What re-opened the eyes of many litho printers looking to go digital but not liking the typical digital ‘click’ model and format limitations, was the 2011 introduction of the Presstek 75DI. Based on the Ryobi 750 series but with Presstek DI throughout, it is highly automated, pumps up to 16,000 sph through and is available in 4 to 10 colours, with coating and UV options, straight or perfecting and, to appease the ‘it’s not true digital’ nay-sayers: in-line variable data via the inclusion of inkjet printing modules. Add the packaging option of up to 0.8mm cartonboard and it seems this press has every feature any other B2+ offset press maker offers with one huge advantage.

    The 75DI hits the sweet spot of profitable printing from 500 to 5,000 B2 sheets better than any other machine, toner, inkjet or offset. Within this band, 1,000 to 2,500 sheets is the fastest growing area for most jobs in printing and Presstek claims a 50 per cent lower cost-per-page than toner-based digital, and a 13 per cent higher profitability than printing the same job conventionally. After 20,000 sheets for one job, the profit scales tip back in favour of conventional litho plus CTP. Around a dozen 75DIs have been installed around the world so far – not a bad achievement in a depressed market for a newcomer to B2. A not insignificant number of 52DIs with coater and a sprinkling of 34s have also been sold recently.

    So that’s what happened to DI; its inventor is now the sole purveyor of the technology. In my pre-drupa wrap on B2 digital,  I did not even mention Presstek, considering it a waterless offset solution. I was wrong; a convivial chat with Asia-Pacific director Tim Sawyer, visiting Sydney last week, sorted that out. The 75DI especially is a digital press well worth investigating for short to medium-run printing and in particular short-run folding carton work. Apart from the high automation, which can include built-in spectros monitoring colour and automatically adjusting ink keys, a single operator can perform dozens of plate changes per shift, pumping out jobs that will return a much higher profit than those from a neighbouring conventional offset press running a long run.

    DI is not dead, far from it. It is fulfilling an important role in a market that is increasingly short-run and on-demand. You should think about it if this is you.

  • Private equity’s role in Blue Star break-up – Andy McCourt’s Reverb

    We’ve all seen the news – Blue Star Australia is back in the hands of Geoff and Paul Selig as Caxton Print Group, backed by Wolesley Private Equity, while across the ditch, it’s groundhog day for Tom Sturgess whose Tiri Group, backed by Mercury Capital, has acquired the NZ Blue Star operations. Andy McCourt (pictured) looks into the mysterious world of Private Equity funds and their decade of involvement in Australasian printing, and what the future may hold.

    A little over eight years ago, Print21 alerted the Australian Printing industry that “The Kiwis are Coming!”  Our Paul Revere moment foretold of New-Zealand-led raiding on long-established Australian printing businesses, starting with Merrit Madden (now inside Blue Star) and Graphic World (now inside GEON). The buyers were offering handsome leveraged buyout sums to ageing business owners with few or no succession ideas and ‘lazy balance sheets.’

    There were two progenitors of this activity and both had begun the roll-up of fragmented print businesses under one rationalized umbrella in New Zealand. Geoffrey Wilding’s Pacific Print Group, backed by ANZ Private Equity, had subsumed around seven NZ print businesses and Tom Sturgess, a director of Goldman Sachs JB Were PE (NZ) had rolled up the likes of Nicholson’s, McCollums and so forth, before striking out across the Tasman with the Merrit Madden buyout.

    These two were later followed by a third Kiwi-based PE fund; Knox Investment Partners who acquired Ligare Bookprinters and went on a buying spree of Southwood Press, Cactus Imaging, Omnigraphics, COS (Singapore), CanPrint and the reverse takeover of McPherson’s, which under the Opus Print Group banner delivered the only public listing of a PE-backed print group.

    Regrettably, since listing last April, the shares have bombed 88% from $1.76 to 21cents as of writing. Something must be worrying the market, not the least that Knox, as a foundation shareholder, immediately extracted $8.3 million from the float and Ligare co-founder Richard Celarc $2.5 million. In early January, up to $3.4 million of this was loaned back to Opus at 15 per cent interest; rising to 24 per cent should shareholders not approve its conversion to equity. Restructuring to reduce debt, with a focus on Asia, is underway according to CEO Cliff Brigstocke. Hopefully this will begin to restore shareholder value in what appears to be a well run print group.

    To cap it all off, Kiwi fund manager Maui Capital acquired paper merchants BJ Ball, Focus, Boomerang and CPI. The head of Maui is another ex-Goldman Sachs NZ man, Paul Chrystall.

    Private equity – a different kettle of fish

    The first thing I have learned about Private Equity Funding is that it is wheels within wheels, funds deal with funds, executives leave and start new PE ventures but still deal with their old employers and there is a significant sprinkling of Harvard MBAs and other highly qualified finance individuals whose job it is to generate significantly higher returns than can be earned at the bank, in government bonds, or on the stockmarket.

    The second thing I have learned is that everyday rules of accounting and legal corporate frameworks do not apply to PE funds. The accepted authority of accounting for PE funds, Mariya Stefanova, says in her seminal training work: “private equity accounting is unique and difficult to understand, at least at first, by accountants from outside of the asset class.”

    The third and most eye-opening lesson is that, by nature, the vast majority of PE funds are illiquid. They have little or no cash. They leverage small amounts of cash to gain massive results. Money comes in from ‘Limited Partner’ investors and this is used to buy businesses that can generate cash. Some PE funds are turn-around focused and invest in under-performing businesses to make them an attractive ‘exit’ following restructuring or IPO float. Others appear to use part of their portfolio as ‘cash cows’ – milking them for all they are worth and not caring what value is left at the exit point. NZ stockbroker Chris Lee has openly stated that Blue Star was ‘continuously milked for everything it had’ and ‘the brand was being destroyed instead of being saved and was directing cash flow to the directors and employees, while not honouring their obligations to bondholders.” Phew!

    Whatever the performance of component companies in a PE fund, the ultimate goal is to return a multiple on Limited Partners’ capital invested in the fund, generate fees for the PE management and ensure a healthy ‘carried interest’ capital gain, also for the fund managers or general partners. And this they do.

    Why New Zealand?

    Why did this phenomenon start in New Zealand? Well, a full possible explanation will be published in the February issue of Print21 magazine but one significant factor, apart from the recognized derring-do of Kiwi entrepreneurs, is that there is no capital gains tax there.

    The kicker is that the PE funds are allowed to class their ‘carry’ (proceeds from acquisitions) as capital gain and not income or profit to be taxed at corporate rates. Of course there are taxes on wages but most PE fund ‘Masters of the Universe’ would be unfortunate to pay taxes over 10 per cent of their total earnings.

    I can hear the screaming but this confession came from one of Europe’s leading PE fund Chairmen; Nicholas Ferguson formerly with SVG Private Equity (now has replaced James Murdoch as head of BskyB) who famously proclaimed in 2007, with genuine distaste, that he and other PE buyout barons: “pay less tax than a cleaning lady.”

    Let’s be clear, not all PE funds are run Gordon Gekko-style (film: Wall Street) by ‘barbarians’ (book: Barbarians at the Gate, about KKR’s hostile buyout of RJR Nabisco), and certainly not by the new hybrid PE + seasoned industry veterans back in the saddle at Blue Star; but PE does get very bad press all over the world.

    In Europe it has reached such a point that Vincenzo Morelli, a former head of the world’s largest PE/buyout firm TPG is now Chair of the European Private Equity and Venture Capital Association and is busy trying to polish up the industry’s image.

    Morelli sounds like a wise man, saying: “The (PE) industry needs to recognize it’s now too big and too important to operate below the radar screen. It has to recognize that it needs a societal licence to operate, an implicit licence that accrues as a result of recognition by broader society. We need to be more open and more proactive.”

    Amen to that. Trying to get any meaningful statements, with one exception, from PE types is like breaking the code of Omerta. Many PE fund managers are quick to complain that they are ‘misunderstood’ and ‘doing an essential job in the economy,’ but offer nothing by way of transparency, disclosure or detail other than the great returns they have delivered to their LP investors. They proclaim that self-regulation is the answer to rogue elements and asset-strippers who trash companies and cost thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in un-repayable debt. Sure, and biker gangs can self-regulate too!

    It all started with printing

    The very first PE deal that rocketed the LBO (Leveraged Buyout) game to fame was for a printing company in the USA – Gibson Greetings. In 1982, a former US Treasury Secretary William Simon bought Gibson for US$80 million but only put up around US$1 million of his group’s own cash. 18 months later, Gibson floated for US$260 million and Simon trousered a rumoured US$66 million.

    In Australia and New Zealand, the decade of PE fund dominance of large print groups has not necessarily ended but it has entered a secondary market phase where smaller, more focused PE firms such as Mercury Capital and Wolesley PE, in partnership with highly capable former owners, the Seligs and Tom Sturgess, are set to turn around the businesses and run them for profit and growth and not as cash cows. Sure they have bought cheap – in Kerry Packer/Alan Bond mode – but their businesses were successful and profitable before they sold them.

    Sturgess’s Tiri Group (which he bought from the Hauruki PE fund #1 when it was exited by Goldman Sachs JB Were), comprises several industrial units including Masport (lawn mowers and foundry), Pacific Wallcoverings (wallpaper), NZ Insulators (electrical), RH Freeman (sheet metal), Rapid Labels and others. His strategy is to let existing management run the businesses with advice and finance always available if and when needed. The acquired Blue Star NZ operations should be no exceptions.

    Wilding’s original Pacific Print Group, which morphed into today’s GEON, operated under the same principle – separate businesses and brands managed under an umbrella financial entity. The subsequent aggregation, consolidation and single brand strategy appears not to have worked, with shareholder and brand value decimated. KKR and Allegro Capital are now the masters since they own the GEON debt – purchased at a distressed discount from Lloyd’s. What the future holds there depends on KKR and Allegro.

    Tom Sturgess told Print21: “I’m not an apologist for the PE industry.” Read into that what you will, but for Blue Star and GEON debt and/or bondholders, there seems to be a lot to apologise for from some other quarters.

    Andy McCourt’s full investigation into the ‘PE Decade of Print’ appears in the February issue of Print21 magazine with some startling revelations, plus a ‘where are they now?’ rundown of PE movers and shakers from the passing parade. Don’t miss it.

  • Drupa Snooper-drupa every three years: can we take it?

    Print21’s Drupa Snooper, Andy McCourt, takes a close look at how a three-year drupa cycle could wreak havoc with Europe’s crowded printing trade fair circuit.

    As a card-carrying ‘Drupa Snooper’ it comes as no surprise to me that the quadrennial print media show looks set to become triennial. It has been one of the worst kept secrets in the global trade fair industry that Messe Düsseldorf wants to move to a three-year cycle.

    In more genteel times, an organization called Eumaprint ensured that major international print trade fairs did not clash in the same year. All the major expos were signatories to this, mostly through the trade associations who owned or part-owned the exhibitions. Ipex (UK), Print (USA), drupa (Germany) and Italian, Spanish and French trade fairs would all plan their cycles so no two shows occurred in the same year. In the late 1990s there was even an attempt for Pacprint to join Eumaprint through GAMAA.

    The synchronizing of trade fair cycles was primarily at the behest of exhibiting companies since staging such exhibits is both logistically and financially challenging. Evidence of this is clear with the withdrawal of Heidelberg from next May’s Pacprint, and Heidelberg, HP, Agfa and Kolbus from Ipex 2014.

    Now, it seems all bets are off as drupa owners Messe Düsseldorf know full well that by moving drupa to 2015 and then 2018, Ipex, if it remains on a four-year cycle after 2014, will clash in 2018. As a sideline casualty, the Spanish Graphispag expo due in 2015 will undoubtedly suffer.

    There is no way on God’s Earth that major printing equipment vendors can sustain exhibiting at two global trade fairs in the same year. For Australians and New Zealanders, there is little chance that both shows would be attended – it will be one or the other.

    Bearing in mind that Messe Düsseldorf is also the organizer of All In Print China, Shanghai which is on a three-year cycle and occurs in November 2014; it would come as no surprise if battle lines for access to exhibitors’ budgets have been drawn between the British and German trade fair organizers.

    The unholy mess that is the Eurozone at the moment has enabled Germany to rise to a position of economic dominance on continental Europe. Britain is seen as a pariah state by fervent Euro-centrics (“Britain uses Europe like a supermarket.” – French President), the five-decade long courtship of Britain becoming ‘truly European’ has progressed beyond niceties and dainty gifts of appeasement, and now seems like it will either become a shotgun wedding or return of the engagement ring; thrown somewhere into the middle of La Manche.

    I believe this is the psychology behind drupa’s decision to tackle Ipex head-on. The rule book has been torn up, Eumaprint is now toothless and anyway, Ipex is privately owned by the Informa Group after acquiring it from Picon (formerly the British Federation of Printing Machinery Suppliers). Drupa still has strong ties to the VDMA – the German print and paper technology association. With China now accounting for the majority of non-digital equipment sales by German manufacturers, pressure on budgets even for giants such as HP and the situation in Europe, Messe Düsseldorf sees an opportunity to quite possibly monopolise the international graphic arts trade fair calendar; and to blazes with Ipex.

    There is little question that drupa and for that matter K and Interpack, are very well organized and run. The town of Düsseldorf does a great job of embracing the influx of visitors at every level – from the free public transport to the smiles on the faces of barstaff and waiters delivering Pork Knuckles at Schweine Janes restaurant and other Aldstadt haunts. But Ipex has proved to be a terrific show also since it moved to the NEC, Birmingham and internationalized itself.

    Ipex 2014 will be a test of the decision to move back to London but having seen the Excel Centre used for the London Olympics and the way the Brits in general organized the Games, there is no reason to doubt that Ipex 2014 will deliver a great event with a totally different ambience to drupa. Losing HP, Heidelberg and Agfa are certainly blows but my view is that it’s a two-edged sword.

    The decision by a major digital and a major offset supplier not to exhibit at Ipex 2014 could also turn out to be major marketing disasters – the other edge of the sword. Already competitors are increasing their standspace – Konica Minolta has almost doubled its area, for example. For ANZ visitors in 2014, the familiarity with language and many family ties make the London stage convenient for extra-curricular activities.

    It’s going to be a ding-dong battle and we are still in the ‘phoney war’ stage. Ipex and IIR/Informa are mustering support and have already fired a broadside with the £1 million ‘Hosted VIP visitor’ programme – like high rollers being paid to visit casinos; key print executives will be flown in, accommodated and presumably wined and dined during Ipex. There’s more to come, make no mistake.

    Past chivalry between drupa and Ipex is just that – past. The game is afoot to see who will come out on top and, watching from our shores 16,000 kilometers away, it’s a gladiatorial spectacle but hey; we’ve got Pacprint combined with Visual Impact next May. After six Ipexes and seven drupas, that might just do me fine!

  • A Sorrell tale of decline – Andy McCourt

    Print21‘s Andy McCourt highlights why printers need to think seriously about digital, after Sir Martin Sorrell, head of the largest advertising media buyer in the world, spoke at an event in Sydney, suggesting that the biggest shift from traditional print media to digital is yet to come.

    As I was delivering my address to the PANPA faithful in Sydney a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that I had noticed the worldwide head of WPP – the largest advertising media buyer in the world ($72 billion) – was delivering a speech in the same convention centre on the topic of marketing in the digital and mobile age.

    Sir Martin Sorrell is a media ‘Madman’ through-and-through. Think Saatchi & Saatchi, J. Walter Thompson, Ogilvy & Mather, Young & Rubicam, Grey and clients Unilever, Kellog’s and IBM to name but three.

    3,000 offices in 110 countries employ 162,000 people and generate over $10 billion in revenues.

    And, I was almost on the same bill as him…well a stone’s throw away at least.

    He was addressing media and marketing types at a Global Leadership conflab-endorsed by the Media Federation of Australia. You can see him in action below, courtesy of AdNews.

    So, here’s the message…Sorrell openly stated that the biggest shift from legacy press to digital (and mobile) media is yet to come. Still to come? Tell that to any magazine or newspaper space sales manager and they might tell you it’s already happening. In his wonderfully logical and analytical way, Sir Martin painted a gloomy picture for advertising spends in mainstream print media.

    “There are two major shifts still to come. The two big disconnects are internet and mobile where we know people spend around a third of their time, but our client’s budgets are only 19 per cent,” is what he said, adding that, “Legacy press – newspapers and magazines – are 19 per cent of our budgets worldwide, but consumers spend only nine per cent of their time on them. Those are the two big changes that have to take place.”

    Where did these figures come from? I have no idea but I think we should take heed of Sorrell’s message, and plan accordingly; he’s a big cheese in the media ad-spend world, maybe the biggest.

    I never like to present a problem without at least trying to put forward solutions. The solution to the world’s largest media buyers actively looking for ways to reduce their print media spend is to fragment, mutate and blend in with the digital economy.

    Static media is literally a sitting duck. It can’t measure accurately; it can’t vary the message with pinpoint accuracy, it can’t change on the spot and its attempts to integrate into the digital economy, while laudable and, in some cases superb, have all been based on print being the senior player. It’s time to change that.

    Digital on-demand printing of everything that claims to be media is a must for the survival of newspapers and magazines. Not exclusively – there will be markets for long-runs of both for some time but in order to reinforce the ‘brand’ and stay relevant in a growing digital economy, you need:

    Web-based digital media

    Mobile-based digital media

    Tablet-based digital media

    Print-based digital media


    …in that order.

    Last year, WPP’s biggest single spend was with a ‘traditional’ media group. Next year it will be with Google.

    Think about Sir Martin Sorrell’s main message…and then think whether you can afford to ignore it, follow it or actively change your business to adapt and evolve with it.

    In media, the answer is digital, no matter what the question is.

  • Drupa Snooper – still rocking for a dwindling crowd

    drupa 2012 crowds surely thinned out near the end out but some areas showed no sign of letting up in vitality and buzz. Big orders still flowed on the last days, such as Pitney Bowes first Intellijet 20 press – an HP T 300 clone – to a Mexican customer and a $3.5 million Mailstream line to Switzerland. Heidelberg continued its renaissance with a brace of new Speedmaster 106XLs and Polar kit to Birmingham, UK printer Alltrade. On the topic of the XL106, I vote it one of the slickest press demos of the show; poetry in motion but eclipsed by – you guessed it – Landa Nanographic press demos.

    Take a look at the photograph. It was taken at 12:15pm on the penultimate day of this two-week trade fair, a time when many exhibitors are surreptitiously packing things into boxes, powering down machines ready for a quick exit tomorrow. (In fact several Chinese exhibitors have done just that, but left 3 days early leaving empty shells of stands!). But not on the Landa Nanography stand. The crowd you see are outside the live presentation theatre, watching it on a huge video display screen. There just isn’t enough room to fit everyone in! The interest in the Nanographic process and ink technology is phenomenal. If the indications prove correct in 2013 when presses start to ship, Nanography could potentially make other ‘new’ processes obsolete before they have even had time to roll fully into market. Yes, that’s a big statement but I’m backed by Heidelberg, Komori and manroland who have all signed license agreements to bring their own Nanographic presses to market.

    I was privileged to be granted one of very few one-on-one interviews with founder Benny Landa; that’s the two of us in the picture. Look out for June Print21 magazine where the full interview will be published.

    Drupa Snooper slideshowThe drupa 2012 highlights

    In other drupa sales news, Scodix, the digital spot UV and embossing innovator from Israel – available in ANZ through Currie Group – has sold several of its S74 machines as has rival MGI with its JetVarnish. This type of kit is pure value-add and literally puts the ‘gloss’ back into print; now spot UV is digital, every digital printer should offer this as an option, especially for short-run packaging. It’s tactile, eye-candy and just beautiful.

    Kudos to manroland web for signing up the largest heatset web press in the world, a 160-page Lithoman to WKS Druckholding in Germany. Even Flexo presses are flying with a second Comexi to India. As mentioned in the last drupa Snooper, KBA has sold everything off their stand and some. Pictured are Dave Lewis and Grahame Harris from KBA Australia and Stefan Segger, managing director for KBA Asia-Pacific, with good reason to smile having booked three orders from Australia.

    Delphax Technologies, the Canadian-US company who blew cut-sheet colour printing speeds away when they announced their Memjet-powered Elan digital press at 500 impressions per minute, have sold their first machine to UK book printer Berforts Group. Vice President Sales & Marketing Kevin Howes said, “We have had interest expressed from Australia and I am looking for a capable partner who knows colour management in particular in that region.” Delphax has also entered an agreement with Colordyne, another Memjet-powered machine but for labels, where Delphax assumes master distribution for outside of North America including Australia. This would offer any potential dealer the fastest cut-sheet colour machine plus the fastest narrow web label machine currently available.

    Fujifilm is pressing ahead with bringing its B2 digital press to market with a special folding carton version, provisionally named the JetPress ‘F’. Samples shown were excellent and there does seem a bias towards packaging work from all of the B2 digital vendors.

    As I prepare for a mad dash to the airport and bid drupa farewell, some observations. The show is probably now 3-4 days too long. The dwindling numbers in the traditional halls, countered by still strong crowds looking into digital, indicate that all could be accomplished in an 8-10 day show in 2016. The influx of exhibitors from China was somewhat disappointing in that, for many their idea of exhibiting was to paste a couple of posters up on the wall and sit around on chairs. Adding to the mixture was the early exit of some, leaving bare walls and boxes behind them. With some notable exceptions such as Shanghai Electric, Purple Magna, Founder and Donghang, our Chinese industry friends need to learn how to exhibit themselves a little better.

    Having said all that, hearty congratulations to the drupa organisers and all exhibitors for staging a surprisingly excellent trade fair so soon after the GFC and right in the middle of a Eurozone crisis!

  • Drupa Snooper – visitors down 20% but business is booming

    Addressing the mid-drupa press gathering, drupa President Bernard Schreier revealed that 170,000 visitors had passed through the turnstiles; an expected drop from the same time in 2008 of 20%. However, there is no doubt that purse strings have loosened and many millions of dollars in sales are being made.

    “drupa once again demonstrates its outstanding function as a sales fair, a source of ideas and a platform for the exchange of soloutions and successful business models,” noted Schreier. He went on to describe the striking increase in numbers of visitors from Latin America, Africa and other emerging markets, which to some degree has compensated the drop in European and North American numbers.

    The number of visitors who tick the ‘Senior Management’ Box on registration is up 4% – an indication of decision-making and perhaps why the order books are filling fast.

    Here are a few indicators of just how post-GFC affected print media is re-equiping.

    • GOSS – Every press on the stand carries a Sold sticker – naming the customer
    • HP – As many as ten of the new B2 digital presses could be headed our way.
    • KBA – A delighted Dave Lewis said he had signed or was about to sign 3 major sheetfed orders. Most of KBA’s show equipment carried Sold stickers
    • LANDA – Nanographic presses won’t ship until early 2013 but the cash register is ringing with orders, letters of intent and deposits. The 200-seat presentation theatre runs 5 shows daily and all are booked out, so Landa has had to relay the show (and what a show!) to a giant screen outside where another 800 people stand riveted to the launch.
    • HEIDELBERG must be singing Hei-Dee-Hi with all the orders, some from European and USA customers who can no longer delay re-equiping
    • MANROLAND – is back stongly for both sheetfed and web – and digital! Orders galore with a major Australian one to be revealed soon
    • MGI – A mind bogglingly busy stand with every staff member rushed off their feet. All show equipment is sold except for the prototype AlphaJet B2 machine. Every time an order is signed, a bell is rung and it has clanged regularly whenever I have been near.
    • CRUSE – A high-end 3D scanner for texture scanning, artworks etc. There is one only in Australia at CIE Elle Imaging. Cruse‘s show machine had 3 sold stickers – all to China.
    • DURST – Has sold several of its new Tau narrow web inkjet UV presses
    • SCREEN – Their fastest high volume inkjet, the TruePress Jet520ZZ sold to Italy and the first order for the super-fast flatbed UV Truepress Jet 1632UV is going to the UK.
    • SERENDIPITY SOFTWARE – Our very own Bob Murphy and Peter Skarpesis are delighted with the response to their latest Black Magic Rip version and especially Veripress press-side soft proofing that even simulates show-through on lighter stocks.

    Pictured: Peter Skarpesis and Bob Murphy of Serendipity Software –going great at drupa

    I could go on but you get the message. Although the Asians, Russians and South Americans are spending big, orders are flowing again to major European countries – and Australia/New Zealand.

    Its only halfway at drupa 2012 but the visitors are not doing anything by halves – this is a re-investment show and the mood is very positive all over.

  • Drupa Snooper – A tale of two drupas

    “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us…” Andy McCourt feels that Charles Dickens´ opening words from A Tale of Two Cities might well apply to drupa 2012.

    Greetings from Dusseldorf, Germany where I am attending two trade shows. Two? Well they are both called drupa and co-located, in fact it is drupa but there are two distinct themes running through the 17 fairground halls; a dichotomy of ideas, culture and approach to our industry. Analogue and digital? No, not quite. Old technology and new technology? No. Electronic and paper-based communications? Not even that – if archaeologists unearth a tablet computer in 1,000 years time, it won’t work and will remain a mystery of Rosetta Stone proportions. “We believe that early 21st century humans used this item in religious ceremonies where the high priests ate sacred Apples and were in constant conflict with a rival deity named Mike Rosoft.” If they unearth a book, they will simply open it and read it.

    My call on the “two drupas” is that one is ‘push’ manufacturing-driven and the other is ‘pull’ service-driven. Naturally, this ‘push-pull’ division pits digital methodologies against analogue and trade craft skills against IT savvy but it is not absolute. It is, however, something that exhibits an observable force on where the crowds are flocking, and flocking they are.

    I walk around the print-manufacturing aisles and, while some have respectable numbers of visitors, I see many where stand staff are talking amongst themselves and looking up and down the aisles hoping for a customer visit. I walk onto Xerox, Konica Minolta, Ricoh, Screen, Canon, Xeikon, MGI, HP, Heidelberg, Epson, EFI, Mimamki Memjet OEMs and Landa –especially Landa and I’m shoulder-to-shoulder with enthused delegates from all over the world eager to paw and ogle the equipment.

    Don’t get me wrong; I am not saying that manufacturing-centric print and finishing is dying, far from it. Ryobi, for example, have attracted huge crowds to working demonstrations of a single-unit B1 press! It’s a 1050-1 with a UV casting and holographic foiling for security and decorative packaging work. If a sparkling holographic perfume carton adds 25 cents to the cost of a product that sells for $50 – who cares?



    The tale of two drupas is about your printing business model and how you see your future – craft based manufacturing bidding for large print runs together with many other printers, with reducing profit margins as the runs get longer; or a service-based business model where print runs can be ‘diced and sliced,’ produced on-demand, versioned and personalized, use fewer staff, have lower capex, respond to market ‘pull’ and the value that is added is your most excellent service and being able to say ‘yes’ to almost every customer request.

    Take a look at the photo of a Landa S10 press here. Yes, I’m writing about Landa again and why not? The more the Snooper discovers, the more fascinating it becomes. This press is a B1 8-colour perfector capable of 13,000 sheets per hour and yet it looks like something out of Doctor Who! Like the Tardis, you get a lot, lot more inside than the physical dimensions would suggest. It’s digital of course but it is also a ‘green’ press using no plates, water-based inks, totally recyclable and de-inkable output and a footprint on-third of a comparable offset 8 colour perfector.

    It’s not operated from the feed or delivery end, it is operated from a ‘side-on’ giant touch-screen. The story behind this is fascinating in itself. During the R&D, Landa involved school-age children in a project something like “if you could design your own operating interface for a nice big colour printing machine to print your own books – what would it look like?” The result was the sublime giant touch-screen that you see in the picture. In true Generation Y fashion, the smart kids came up with an Xbox/iPad solution. Forget trade school to learn this kind of printing – just read the manual.

    With a claimed break-even crossover to offset at around 8,000 B1 sheets, the Landa S10 commercial and its packaging single-sided incarnation, is a short-to medium run dream machine when it becomes available in 2013. This is not a print-manufacturing machine, it is a print service providing facilitator. It is likely that the Heidelberg, manroland and Komori Nanography-licensed versions when they come out, will also reflect this trend.



    Konica-Minolta is also showing a prototype digital B2 press, the KM-1 using Konica’s own printheads and ink. Manager of Production Print Marketing and Inkjet, Kazuyoshi Tanaka and Australian Sales Chief David Procter admit it represents a new game for them. “We recognize that the B2 commercial market might not want the ‘click’ business model that is almost universal in the B3 digital sector, so we will be flexible in offering both a click-based pricing model and a consumables-with-service one,” said Procter. The print quality on the samples I saw were very sharp and exhibited great colour.

    With Konica-Minolta’s existing BizHub range decidedly in the ‘Service Print’ sector; the KM-1 will no doubt appeal to both PSPs wanting to upsize and commercial offset printers wanting digital production that can utilize existing finishing plant.

    Pictured: McCourt with KM’s Kazuyoshi Tanaka in front of the Km-1 prototype

    Speaking of B2 digital, I now count 12 current or future suppliers: HP Indigo, Landa, Konica-Minolta, Komori, Jadason (a Chinese manufacturer), Screen, Fujifilm, MGI, Ryobi, Miyakoshi, manroland and Heidelberg. It’ll be a market space as crowded as sheetfed offset was in the 1980s and one can expect Darwinian influences will cause some casualties; but it is a happening thing and can’t be ignored.



    Following the swift and very wise settling of the patent dispute with Silverbrook Research, Memjet has lost no time in announcing three new OEM licensees – Canon/Oce, Toshiba and today Fujixerox. Toshiba is for an office MFP but both Canon/Oce and Fujixerox are for high-output 42” wide format machines with particular appeal to the CAD/GIS market.

    Visiting Memjet’s VP Marketing Jeff Bean (pictured left) and Wide-Format President Mike Puyot (pictured right), it is obvious that Memjet companies (Wide Format, Labels and Office, they decided to pull out of a Photo market specific strategy), will embark on a licensing spree where Memjet printheads, chips and ink crop up in zillions of printing and marking products made by third parties. Signing up Fujixerox is indeed a jewel of a deal since FX is so strong in the engineering drawing and production graphics sector. Bean and Puyot are pictured proudly holding one of the Memjet ‘Waterfall’ Mems-engineered printheads.

    All of Memjet’s OEMs offer service-centric incarnations of the technology – short run high speed documents (e.g. Delphax); fast convenient office printers (e.g. Lomond) and very fast wide format machines (e.g. Xante).



    Even finishing is going service-based. One of the great press conferences I attended was for Highcon, an Israeli company started in 2009 to digitalise die-cutting and creasing. Highcon’s Euclid technology is currently in Beta – they even had the Beta customer addressing the media – and machines will begin shipping in late 2012. Euclid uses lasers to die cut folding cartons and a clever UV-cured polymer-like material that is squirted into the creasing cylinder and hardened with UV energy.

    Euclid is a natural companion to B2 digital presses and again brings service-related packaging print into the equation for small runs, test marketing, versioned packs, serial numbering and so forth. It costs around $1,600 to set up a die knife and cutting press for a folding carton print run and takes days. Euclid claims it can do the same for $375 in 15 minutes. Imagine the demand for that!

    So what is best? Manufacturing print or Service print? Well, I don’t subscribe to a ‘best/second best’ simplification. If you are happy manufacturing print in long runs and competing fiercely on price; why not? But for growth and better profitability I am in no doubt that Service-based printing and an administrative back office to support it is the way to go.

    Pictured: That’s not a drupa snooper… this is a drupa snooper

    It’s your future and your choice but whichever direction or combination you choose – which tale of the two drupas you believe – don’t be like Dickens’ Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities and lose your head!

    Another drupa Snooper next week at the end of the show and more news-as-it comes from our Publisher Patrick Howard who has worked twice as hard.

    Everything is before us.

  • Drupa snooper – The change will do you good

    Welcome to drupa Snooper number eight. Only one more to go before the show itself – when your ‘Snoops’ will come directly from the Messe aisles and laneways of Düsseldorf itself. By the way, now that drupa Snooper has gone viral it has been adopted by two of the most innovative exhibitors at the show, Memjet and Landa Nanoprint 

    Now the build-up has commenced; the stand-builders are erecting their ephemeral gin-palace citadels; the electricians are wiring up what will be the world’s largest printing factory for two weeks and the hotels are jacking up their rates five-fold (it’s true even for mediocre places where the normal €60 nightly fare has become €260 – one German booking website has even disabled the ‘under €200’ option from its search engine!); what’s it all about?

    Friends, it is about change. Never before in drupa’s sixty-year history, has the event portended so much change. It is not just incremental or evolutionary change. To our industry, this drupa may represent the equivalent of the asteroid that hit planet Earth 65 million years ago and killed all of the dinosaurs.

    Imagine you were a scribe in 1450. After a busy day scrivening, you hear news of a new device that will reproduce beautiful text faithfully from hand-cut type letters. As you quaff your cup of Malmsey-wine with colleagues down at the Scrivener’s Arms, you reflect on how this might affect your livelihood; a noble craft that has endured since ancient times. A few cups later and a chat with your pal Desiderus Erasmus, you bid farewell saying “It’ll never catch on you know – this printing thing from Gutenberg. People want their books hand-written by us and beautifully illuminated.”

    “Too right,” replies Erasmus, who went on to account for about 20 percent of all the world’s book sales by the early 1500s – printed of course. But Scribes still exist of course; the Reformation and education saw to it that we all learnt how to write for ourselves and DTP made us all printers too. Nevertheless, in a marvelous example of enduring respect for craftsmanship, there still exists in London, the Worshipful Company of Scriveners, established in 1373 and, in its own unique way, still going strong.

    Ring in the changes

    Change is the only constant and I see at this drupa, evidence of so much change in the way we as an industry will be doing business, the kind of careers we will be offering our youth, the geopolitical shifts in influence. To get your mind around change, I have selected a few quotes about the subject:

    “He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery.”
    This came from Harold Wilson, Prime Minister of Britain twice in the 60s and 70s. His challenge was to try and make post-imperial Britain relevant in an uncertain world.

    “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”
    I like this one from psychiatrist and contemporary of Freud, Viktor Frankl since it drives straight to the heart of what afflicts our industry. Evidence abounds that the Printing Industry can no longer change the world’s communication dynamics, so it is time to look inwards for re-invention.

    Even 400 years BC, Greek tragedian Euripedes observed: “What can we take on trust in this uncertain life? Happiness, greatness, pride – nothing is secure, nothing keeps.”
    And finally from Robert C Gallagher: “Change is inevitable – except from a vending machine.” The only reason this is here is because I think it is funny. However, it could equally apply to drupa hotel rates and a €500 note.
    So what are the change dynamics of this drupa that so affect our immediate futures?

    Change deals:

    When exciting new technology comes along, those who have funded it like early returns. This encourages OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) deals to be done, accelerating the adoption of the tech and also allowing companies who have resisted change for years to catch-up quickly. Remember Nokia made gumboots before it made mobile phones. Here are the digital deals known to date, including one you are reading here first:

    • Memjet – Océ: an industry source says expect to see a wide format iteration using Memjet printheads. Note Océ, not Canon at this stage. Oce is known to have been working with Memjet but the company can not confirm nor deny if an Oce-Memjet product will be ready for drupa.
    • Memjet with others – Delphax, LG, Lenovo, Lomond, Astro Machine Corp, Colordyne Technologies, Xanté, Japan Electronics Inc, Imaging Systems Group, Own-X, Rapid Labels
    • Heidelberg – Ricoh
    • Komori-Konica Minolta (including another B2 digital sheetfed press)
    • Ryobi-Miyakoshi
    • Manroland (web) – Océ
    • KBA – RR Donnelly
    • Timsons – Kodak
    • Screen – Ricoh Infoprint
    • Hunkeler – with anyone who makes a digital web press
    • Fujixerox – Miyakoshi and Impika
    • Esko/Videojet – X-Rite/Pantone

    What can be seen from the above is that offset manufacturers are turning to established digital vendors for their digital products. One exception is KBA who, through their development partnership with RR Donnelly, claims that the RotaJET 76 is ’the only German-manufactured digital press.’ The printheads, however, will almost certainly not come from Germany, and my understanding is that the Océ ColorStream 3500 is made near Munich which last time I looked, is in Germany. Standout non-digital players include Mitsubishi, Sakurai, Hans Grohni and Akiyama/Goss, with Presstek doggedly sticking to the DI type of fixed-data ‘digital’ press, with a loyal following.

    Whether the Landa Nanographic process will be licensed to others or OEM’d; or sold solely as a Landa product remains to be seen after drupa. Speaking of Landa, CEO Benny Landa is delivering a keynote address on the opening day in the drupa Cube area entitled:

    “Print in the Digital Era: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the iPad” – not to be missed, which brings me to change force number two:

    Change from mass market to mass customization

    This is the big one and probably why so many all-analogue printers ‘don’t get it.’ The mass market started in 1940s and 50s as the post-war economy and baby boomers surged ahead. Print experienced massive growth and, when colour came along for magazines and catalogues, the advertising world seized upon the opportunity to pump billions of dollars into promoting mass-market products. Newspaper circulations boomed, great and even not-so-great literature sold by the millions.

    Today, in all aspects of social behaviour, we are moving away from mass markets and closer to targeted, zoned and personal markets. This demands that printed products must follow their customers’ lead and, to quote Mike Ferrari – a 30-year veteran from doyen of mass marketing Procter & Gamble – “The analogue supply chain can no longer cope with this.” Ferrari is speaking in the drupa Cube on day two, 4th May. Remember, he is a guy who has purchased billions of dollars in mass packaging over time and yet he says: “Several brand name companies are already relying on a digital supply chain. They are already profiting from faster turn-around times. I therefore recommend that all companies that produce products for end consumers to consider digital processes – and quickly!”

    I’ve heard printers express despair at the shortening of orders and the IT demands of changing content for both small batches and, worst of all, single products or pages. Take heart – the market is still ‘Mass’ – it’s just ‘Massively Customised’ now and all you have to do is change the way to think.

    Change print-web-mobile

    So you still think drupa is all about hawking heavy metal, mashed up trees and oil by-products? Change that thought right now! It’s about trends and new processes. If the good people organizing drupa, (and bear in mind the drupa President is also CEO of the world’s largest heavy-metal print manufacturer, Heidelberg), have seen fit to incorporate online, mobile, iPad and other electronic media in its main message, why not you?

    Print in almost all of its forms is part of a Galaxy of media and communications that reflects the contemporary state of the human condition. This means, as Benny Landa has so eloquently put it, we must “stop worrying and learn to love the iPad.” To that could be added the SmartPhone, Facebook, Twitter, the X-Box and anything else that your ten-year old child likes to interact with. In return we can teach them to learn to love books, magazines, newspapers, great graphic design, personalized wall art, photobooks, smart packaging and snazzy signs.

    Change the world

    Finally, a word of change for this spangled orb, this sapphire and emerald jewel of a planet on which we live. Print has to continue the already-begun good work, to become a totally sustainable industry that takes no more from the Earth than it puts back. Aqueous inks, no chemistry plates or no plates, zero waste and emissions, power-efficiency, managed forests for pulp, zero tolerance of environmental vandalism to produce paper and clean, safe, harmonious workplaces – these are just a few of the steps underway that will help us to thrive in perpetuity.

    Drupa is the world’s largest trade fair dedicated to the printing and allied graphic media industries. Held every 4 years, it opens on May 3rd at the Messe Düsseldorf, Germany and closes on May 16th. The Printing Industries Association of Australia, in conjunction with Eastern Suburbs Travel, is organizing tours including a pre-drupa ANZAC-themed tour of Gallipoli and beyond. For details please contact Marty, Vicki or Sonia on
    02 9388 0666 or