Posts Tagged ‘Reverb’

  • The digital packaging promise – How real is it? – Andy McCourt’s ReVerb

    With almost religious fervour, many in our industry believe that digital processes can accomplish anything…eventually. While digital’s track record in SRA3 sheetfed printing, wide and grand format, labels, mono books and transactional printing is impressive; most attempts at breaking into the lucrative packaging sector have floundered; so far.

    The success of digital label presses from HP Indigo, EFI Jetrion, RapidX, Xeikon and others can be explained by the nature of the label market. The end product is print-intensive, on a narrow web. Inks are applied to a familiar substrate and finishing systems are openly available to foil, emboss, coat, matrix strip and rewind. There is existing demand for short-run colour labels that can be applied to a wide variety of products from smaller producers of foodstuffs, beverages, cosmetics and so forth.

    Moving up the packaging foodchain, we get to flexibles where, apart from prototypes and test marketing, the sheer speed and versatility of flexographic and gravure presses stands firm against digital. Add to this the fact that flexible packaging is less graphic intensive and more to do with the protective function of the bag. Of course, stunning graphics adorn most BOPP, LDPE, PET, Foil and Paper bags but the materials and converting define the end product. Even humble plastic bread bags require micro-perforating to allow the bread to ‘breath’ and delay the formation of mold. Reels of printed flexible packaging do not become fit for purpose until formed, welded or glued, wicketed and heat-sealed.

    Most flexible packaging uses white ink and this tends to slow down digital presses, as does the addition of special 5th, 6th and 7th colours. While producing great quality, this has relegated digital presses to be servants of the larger, faster flexo and gravure presses – to produce tests, prototypes and gimmicky personalized short runs.

    Next are the folding carton and corrugated packaging sectors where again, we are seeing great leaps in the level of graphics applied. Where once a corrugated carton would be plainly printed in one or two colours; pre-print and treatment techniques are producing cartons with outstanding colour, design and detail. The digital manufacturers have their eyes keenly on this market and would like a healthy slice of it; but there are barriers.

    Corrugated lives in a world of its own! While working in the UK in the 1990s, I was asked to promote a Corrugated trade show by the Ipex organizers. “They have their own trade show just for corrugated boxes?” I mused. I soon discovered a captivating world of high-precision engineering, converting, die cutting, assembly and; just as an afterthought; printing. Here lies the heart of the matter.

    With folding cartons and corrugated, printing is by far a junior partner in the manufacturing process. In his recent masterful analysis, Jeff Wettersten of US Packaging consultants Karstedt Partners noted from his days at a company called Inland Container, a maxim from a senior sales executive: “if we make digital printing about the ability to print a box, we all lose.” It’s worth checking out Karstedt, they are on top of their game:

    This is a powerful observation. Converters have many options for the supply of graphics to their containers but their first priority is that the container is manufactured with high-integrity and fit to…well, “contain.” The print on the box is almost as superficial as McDonald’s “D’you want fries with that?”


    Do you want Printing with that?

    My primary advice to anyone looking at digitally-printed production of cartons is to look at the converting end first, and then decide on a digital print platform. You might be surprised at the new names you will come across such as:

    Barberan: Barberan is a Spanish company established in 1929 and today is a major supplier of lines to add value to MDF, Particle board, doors, furniture and so on by printing, laminating and wrapping patterns on the otherwise plain materials. Packaging containers are a recent addition.

    Sun Automation: Converting manufacturers first, and now with the CorrStream digital print engine for corrugated board.

    You might also want to check out trends for digital printer suppliers to form allegiances with converting manufacturers such as September’s Kodak-Bobst one:

    Then of course are the B2 and larger digital inkjet presses from Screen, Fujifilm, HP Indigo and upcoming Landa Nanography. Converting the printed board digitally is only just beginning to be addressed by firms such as Highcon and delicious embellishing by the likes of Scodix.

    However, for the main part conventional converting lines for digitally-printed corrugated and folding cartons remain the preferred option. On the press side, VLF offset presses rule the roost.

    Unlike labels, digitally-printed cartons are more challenging markets to enter and be successful in. There are some established and very knowledgeable players who are seen by their customers as thought-leaders – they look to them to lead them into new areas such as personalized packaging and versioned products. The press is not driving this thinking; costs, brand appeal and converting innovation are.

    There is no doubt in my mind that digital printing will come to have an impact on the folding carton and corrugated markets, but I do doubt that it will be as rapid, or as penetrating, as in commercial digital print, wide-format and labels.

    Perhaps ‘hasten cautiously’ should be the byword. Happy New Year.

  • 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.



  • Who really killed Fairfax? – Andy McCourt’s ReVerb

    Since last week’s release of Pamela Williams’ book Killing Fairfax, the media and blogosphere has been abuzz with opinions, views and predictions. In this week’s ReVerb, Andy McCourt gathers together a lineup of the likely suspects behind the publisher’s perceived demise.

    In the wake of the release of Killing Fairfax, The Australian newspaper went as far as to say that Fairfax would, by 2015, cease printing its Monday to Friday editions of The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) altogether – an assertion that was scathingly rebutted by Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood in a rather grandiose old fashioned ‘thunderer’ editorial; not once but twice in the weekend and Wednesday editions. Maybe all he needed to write was: “Well they would say that wouldn’t they?”

    The 330 printers and staff at Chullora and Tullamarine are already on death row job-wise. Fairfax has openly stated that these print supersites will close by mid 2014. Hopefully, some will find employment within the remaining printeries such as Ballarat, Richmond and Newcastle but with 1,900 Fairfax Media redundancies by 2014 announced last year, the signs are not good. Tullamarine opened in 2003 and Fairfax now depreciates its presses over 10 years useful life, so the heavy metal owes them nothing.

    Killing Fairfax may be a sensationalist, celeb name-dropping take on the situation but it is well researched and crafted by Williams; who is ironically a Fairfax employee and was granted a six-month sabbatical to write the book. The whacky world of media whoredom is further illustrated in that a Murdoch company – Harper Collins – published the book. Howzat? Another book by a former Walkley-winning Fairfax editor Colleen Ryan, The Rise and Fall of Fairfax, was released on July 1st by Melbourne University Press and is a less sensationalist account and therefore drew less publicity than the ‘A’ list name-backed version.

    What is of more concern to our printing industry is that the once-mightiest and longest-established media empire in Australia and New Zealand is under the microscope for potentially abandoning print – denied of course by the Board and even majority shareholder Gina Rinehart reinforced this saying: ‘as long as it makes commercial sense,’ Fairfax would keep printing newspapers.

    There’s no need for verbs intransitive; the ‘old’ Fairfax is actually dead. The last director-shareholder with the family name, John B Fairfax, made a sour exit in late 2011, selling out and losing around $900 million in the process for his family company Marinya Media. The last Fairfax on the board, JB’s son Nicholas, resigned in November 2011. So, with the motto “Fairfax is dead, long live Fairfax,” here is a list of possible suspects for the homicide, presented in ‘whodunnit’ fashion.

    James Packer and Lachlan Murdoch: these two likely lads as much as confessed at the book launch but may have been verballed. “I think we killed Fairfax,” Packer allegedly said. “We did” said Murdoch and they were seen toasting to this. Forensics point to the Packer-Murdoch weapons of, and as causing mass hemorrhages from Fairfax’s rivers-of-gold classified advertising.  Further investigations reveal long-held animosities stemming from stories published in Fairfax titles about their Dads. Seems they regard the Fairfaxes as stuck-up silvertail parvenus. They, of course, are your everyday likeable larrikin billionaires. Verballed but not guilty.

    Gina Rinehart: Galled at Fairfax journalists’ probing and publishing of her family matters, Rinehart first tried to stop it through litigation, (bad move with the media) and then started buying shares. Her ally ‘Hungry’ Jack Cowin won a seat on the board and she now sits at just under the 19.99% ownership that would trigger a an automatic take-over offer. Six years earlier, Fairfax was worth 20 times Rinehart’s nett worth. Today, the world’s richest lady could afford thirty Fairfaxes as it is now valued below $1 billion. The sad part is that this is apparently a case of a very wealthy mining person buying into a media group, not for a good investment or love of newspapers, but to shut up, or get rid of, journalists for revealing the truth. Is this what our forebears fought for? She and Cowin could mince up Fairfax and make burgers out of it, then sell off the scraps and it would not matter one jot to them. Definitely one in the frame.

    Warwick Fairfax Jnr: The unfortunate Warwick Jnr. Took over the Fairfax crown jewels in 1987 and promptly set about re-privatising the listed company. Unfortunately his ‘banker’ was ‘last resort’ Laurie Connell’s Rothwells which went belly-up in the crash of ’87…eventually followed by John Fairfax’s receivership in 1990 when Warwick’s takeover vehicle Tryart could not meet its debt obligations. Canadian Conrad Black cobbled together a consortium – Tourang – and bought Fairfax out of administration in 1992. This was the first death and resurrection of Fairfax and young Warwick certainly has to shoulder some blame, but he has been out of the picture in the USA since 1991, away from the Killing Fields.

    Journalists: Journalists?? Sorry to say, but the very people who have made Fairfax newspapers so great over the years have contributed to the Killing. When David Kirk ran the company, he wanted to take The Age and SMH tabloid. ‘Over our dead bodies’ cried the avant-garde journos; and they eventually got their wish. The line sold to the public was that the presses could not produce tabloids (why can they now?) but I have from reliable inside editorial sources, that the journo lobby would not tolerate a reduction in editorial space from broadsheet luxury.

    Their power was drawn from the infamous ‘Editorial Independence Charter’ written in 1991 by then Chairman Sir Zelman Cowen, that Rinehart has consistently refused to ratify – in other words leave the door open for interference in editorial matters. However, the journos’ fear of ‘tabloidism’ was irrational and would have still been subject to the Charter had The Age and SMH gone ‘compact’ years ago. Didn’t they realise that it is advertising that pays for running newspapers?

    News Corp: News has outfoxed Fairfax at almost every turn for the past 30 years. News Corp prints papers that more people buy, went to paywalls for online/mobile content way before Fairfax and has more efficient production sites, best illustrated when the Brisbane Courier Mail went from broadsheet to tabloid in 2006, it was accomplished seamlessly, reduced costs and increased circulation. Even in Fairfax’s core metro territories of Melbourne and Sydney, News Corp titles outsell The Age and SMH by a country mile. There are only two national dailies in Australia and The Australian outsells the Financial Review almost twofold.

    News Corp also has the suburban community freesheet markets by the short ‘n curlies. Free mX commuter newspapers have also succeeded where Fairfax failed. News Corp Australia prints, sells and distributes over 17 million newspapers every week. Maybe News’ success could be put down to the fact it is run by people who really know newspapers and their communities; just maybe.

    Technology: Are the iPad, iPhone, online services and social media to blame for killing Fairfax? Hardly; Fairfax is into all these platforms and its websites attract more visitors than even News Corp’s (pre-paywall). Blaming technology is a cop-out; a media organisation’s job is to reach audiences and attract advertisers while delivering content that people want. Profits should follow if good management, vision and execution are in place. Not guilty.

    Successive boards: Since Sir Warwick Fairfax died, the boards and CEOs of his company have chopped and changed, appointed publishing-illiterate CEOs, failed to have long-term plans, ignored warning signs of public media tastes, shunned technology until dragged kicking and screaming into it (or executed it woefully-remember f2 online?) and fought with each other. Alan Kohler, a former Fairfax editor, put it most succinctly at the launch of Killing Fairfax: “It’s the main job of a board to ‘smell the smoke coming under the door’….The Fairfax board couldn’t even see each other for the smoke – and they still couldn’t smell it.” I can’t beat that…a serious case for the prosecution.

    I dunnit: Privilege: this is not a confession. But I did cancel my home delivery of the SMH. Not that I didn’t like the paper; I do but I got fed up of retrieving a soggy glad-wrapped tube from the wet grass. Even glad-wrap can’t protect a newspaper in a Sydney downpour. The wrapping itself was frequently unfathomable, requiring a chain-saw to get it off. The remains of the newspaper were then so curled up they required a ten-ton drop hammer to flatten them out. Contributory manslaughter, maybe, but I plead insanity, triggered by frustration.

    We all dunnit: You, me, society, GenX, Y and Z and the butler. Our tastes and desires in media have changed. Not enough of us want the much-vaunted ‘quality’ Fairfax type of journalism and we don’t buy enough newspapers or subscribe to e-versions anymore. The core product -news – is available instantly in our pockets via smartphones and the more serious commentary or investigative stuff is shunned for: ‘Kim’s mummy-tummy gone as she frolics with Kanye in a barely-there bikini.’ Ho-hum; bet Kanye looks daft in that. Moreover, we decided to look for new jobs, houses, cars and relationships online; we want the well-written pieces but we want them for free. Fairfax is sooo-Twentieth Century and we are über-cool urbanite 21st Century know-alls who don’t need smart-alecky publications to inform us about this and that. We want to know who wins the X-Factor and The Block; how to lose weight and who is dating who.

    We are all in ‘the frame’ for killing Fairfax; some more than others but the fundamental rule applies, as it always has: adapt, change and act or die out.

    For Fairfax Media, especially the printers, I hope it is not too late.

  • Click go the sheets boys! – Andy McCourt’s ReVerb

    Andy McCourt weighs in on a second round of debate about the local printing industry’s digital click-charge model following a spate of lively reader comments last fortnight in response to his ReVerb article, ‘Give the click the flick’. This time around, McCourt highlights how it can often be horses for courses when it comes to the click-charge model race.

    “Click go the shears boys, click, click, click
    Wide is his blow and his hands move quick
    The ringer looks around and is beaten by a blow
    And curses the old snagger with the blue-bellied joe.”

    Apologies to all the genuine shearers out there but this traditional Aussie bush ballad could easily be adapted to the pace at which digital click-based printing is thrusting into our industry – with sheets instead of shears.

    Two weeks ago I had the audacity to challenge the click charging model in the digital printing sector in what was originally entitled: ‘Is it time to give the click the flick?’ Publishers being what they are, and quite rightly so, condensed this to ‘Give the click the flick’ – it makes more sensational reading. But the debate is still there, naked and raw.

    I have never said click-based charging where the digital press supplier gets a slice of the printer’s profit is wrong. With the pun unashamedly intended, I’m not saying it’s ‘fleecing.’ It’s a business model offered and it’s up to the printer to negotiate a rate on the basis of his volume if he wants to; or buy equipment on a non-click basis of paid-for consumables and service if he prefers and is able to drill down to his real costs.

    Evangelists, disciples and atheists

    Nevertheless, the article produced some emotive commentary, which I will divide into three categories:

    EVANGELISTS: True believers in the click, mostly suppliers who of course benefit from it because each month hundreds of thousands of dollars turn up based on metered usage of their equipment. It is in the best interests of suppliers to keep their machines in production, and so service is included, and this takes some worry off the shoulders of the customers.

    DISCIPLES: Customers who have done well out of forging close relationships with suppliers on a click model. They don’t have to worry about accurate costings – it’s all done for them and hidden inside the click rate and, so long as they can maintain or increase monthly volumes, they roll over to a new machine every 2-4 years. So long as prices per A4 (still the standard sheet area for resale calculation) do not drop below the click+paper amount, they make profit and are happy, so “it’s not broke and we don’t see why it needs fixing.”

    ATHEISTS: Believe in the separation of power between Church (brand of supplier) and State (the wider printing industry). Will not accept suppliers taking a chunk of their profits with digital anymore than an offset vendor taking a cut of every offset sheet. Prefer to finance equipment, pay for consumables, parts and service and calculate their own cost of production, which should be lower than the click+paper model.

    There are also the Agnostics; a sort of hybrid between Disciples and Atheists. They have majority offset or flexo (if labels) production where a click is unthinkable, but also run a digital division where they accept click charges because it is too much trouble not to, for the small amount of production it represents.

    It is apparent to all in western developed economies that digital production is growing at a rate where it will eventually catch up to or overtake offset in the number of pages produced. When is a matter of conjecture. This is occurring at both micro (many installations of lower-volume digital presses into SMEs and print departments) and macro levels (high to very high volume digital, mostly inkjet webs).

    Shift happens

    With this shift in our industry come new challenges in costing. Marco Boer, VP of US research organization IT Strategies, recently commented: “Even those who have bought and are running these ink jet production printers on a daily basis may not fully understand their costs; all they know is that they are making profit.

    I think Boer is right, so long as there is ‘slack’ in the market, demand is rising and profits are being made; who cares what a click is? In the same discussion: “The Pluses and Minuses of Inkjet ROI” initiated and superbly articulated by Xerox USA veep of Inkjet Dustin Graupman here, the issue of ‘co-dependency’ between suppliers and printers comes up.

    This co-dependency appears to be the kernel of the issue – at what point is a supplier welcome to be an integral part of a printer’s business and at what point are they like party guests who won’t go home at midnight even though you have your pyjamas on already? Worse still; what if they sleep with your spouse? By that I mean the contentious issue of suppliers becoming printers and competing for accounts that you may already be servicing: it’s happening.

    Think about wide-format digital, possibly the most successful sector in the graphic arts right now. The click or usage charge model just doesn’t exist there: businesses buy the presses, buy their inks coatings, service and parts and are in control of their costs and mark-ups. The presses have resale value as used machines because someone else can buy it, run it, and do so on the level playing field of an open market. Most small format digital presses are hard to sell openly as used because, without a re-negotiated click/service from the supplier, they are almost worthless. It’s almost like restrictive trade since only a supplier can put their own equipment back into market, holding all the ‘aces’ of parts, service, consumables and click rate.

    We are an industry in change; not just because of technology but also in the way we function at the business level. Certainly, the awful failures of the past couple of years have highlighted the need for a re-think of the way traditional sheetfed offset businesses are run and financed but we should not forget that, for every failure there are several success stories who have quietly held their ground and can now pick up the low-hanging fruit left behind by the failed companies.

    With the increased thrust of digital, each business must decide what works best for them. Higher volumes of digital approaching offset might necessitate a re-think of the click model and therefore knowing the real costs – a task made more complex by the myriad variables of digital. I’m working on such a calculation method, and it is indeed complex.

    In the meantime:

    “ Shearing is all over and we’ve all got our cheques
    Roll up your swag for we’re off on the tracks
    The first pub we come to it’s there we’ll have a spree
    And everyone that comes along it’s, “Come and drink with me!”

  • Give the click the flick – Andy McCourt’s ReVerb

    The click-charge has come a long way since its earliest days in the office copier market. Now it’s king of digital production printing. Andy McCourt reckons it’s time to give the click the flick and move to a more mature charging model for what has become a major print production sector.

    When the wonders of digital production printing arrived in the printing industry in the 1990 it came complete with a business model directly from ‘photocopier central casting’  – the charge-per-click impression model. But as digital printing becomes mainstream, it is time to abandon this taxation-like system and consider non-click models that allow printers to take back control of the pages.

    The best business model to accumulate large sums of money is the taxation system. With GST, for example, the more we buy and use, the more we pay to the state and federal coffers. In return, we receive benefits back: schools, roads, health services, a defence force and of course the machinery of government itself; those lovely Canberra and Wellington pollies and public servants that we cherish so dearly.

    The attraction of the taxation system did not escape the pioneers of photocopying. Making copy machines, selling them and supplying toner and developer would deliver only a manufacturer’s profit margins. But what if they could gain a small amount of revenue from every page that was copied? In return, the copier suppliers would provide maintenance service, parts and toner – maybe even paper at a push. All they needed to do was get the maths right.

    A case of doing too well

    The pioneer copier company – Xerox – did get the maths right and how. So successful were the Xerox copiers of the 1960s and 70s, particularly the iconic 914, that the US Federal Trade Commission took anti-trust action against the company, since it held almost 100 per cent of the market. Xerox was forced to license its entire patent portfolio so other firms could make copiers – and also charge click rates. The torrents of cash flooding into Xerox resulted in the establishment of the famed PARC research centre, where the PC, GUI, mouse, laser printer and PDL were developed, but never commercialised by Xerox as young tyros like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates seized on the computer revolution.

    So, the copier world became addicted to clicks – and why not? It was, literally, a license to print money – for the suppliers. When Canon introduced the CLC 1 in 1987, the licence extended to CMYK colour – with some villains taking ‘printing money’ too literally and forging banknotes on them. They were always caught, unaware of certain security features woven into the images, that enabled tracking back to source (warning: they are still there today).

    Click charges made fortunes for copier suppliers and paid for the BMWs beloved of highly-commissioned copier salespeople in the 80s. But then someone wrote a RIP that turned colour copiers into printers; page-per-minute speed accelerated and in 1993 Indigo and Xeikon set the copier world on a collision course with traditional printing with the introduction of the first true digital colour presses.

    As digital page volumes increase, the stampede to ‘control’ page output and secure click charges accelerates. Theoretically, the number of MIF (machines in the field) should bear a direct co-relation to the monthly click volumes charged, but faster digital presses have made this assumption suspect. The game now appears to be identifying the high volume printers who can guarantee a fixed number of impressions/clicks per month or year. We are talking several millions here.

    No ‘clicks’ with offset

    The notion of an offset press manufacturer charging a ‘click’ on every impression made on one of their machines is horrifying to any self-respecting printer. However, back-door ‘click-model’ offset press sales have been made here in Australia and New Zealand – with disastrous results.

    Where a press supplier offers a TCO (total cost of operation) deal to a printer that includes finance, plates, prepress, blankets, ink, service maintenance and buy-back/trade-in prices based on annual metered usage after 3, 4, 5 and up to 7 years; this is a click charge by another name. It was a method favoured by Geon and the ‘old’ Blue Star Group, and we all know where that ended up.

    Being given a heatset web press on a payment holiday did Diamond Press no favours in 2000 – they won most of the Olympic printing contracts but went under owing millions in April 2001. There were others. Events such as these should make one think about the long-established and proven way to start or expand a business: begin with a great idea and business plan, investment, working capital, proficiency and hard work. If you make it too easy for anyone to enter a business sector with little or no capital commitment, no concept of real costs and suicidal pricing, there is only one likely outcome.

    The click-only trap

    A recent development in click marketing is for high volume digital presses installed on a ‘click-only’ basis. With no capital outlay and the press remaining the property of a supplier, the printer is in effect a ‘facility manager’ on behalf of the supplier, who reaps a fixed per-page ‘click tax’ based on a guaranteed minimum number of impressions.

    A printer under such an arrangement becomes little more than a labour-and site-provider for the supplier, who benefits from ‘gifted’ clicks that can be serviced directly should things go wrong because most digital suppliers have print management divisions. The ‘free machine, pay click’ model also disadvantages other printers who have financed their equipment, perhaps securing it against personal assets.

    Perhaps, now that digital presses are faster, more robust and utilised on more than one shift, it is time to sell them on an equipment + service + consumables + parts basis and leave the cost calculations up to the printer, just like the offset world. Operating leases can still be used to make monthly payments on a rental basis and keep Capex off of balance sheets, should that be desirable.

    As click-charges go down, it becomes more attractive for suppliers to pitch for major volume accounts through their print and facilities management divisions. This presents an ethical, as well as commercial, dilemma to the industry – just when is it acceptable for your machinery supplier to also compete against you as a print service supplier?

    One complaint on the supply-side is that ink or toner coverage in practice, exceeds that which is the norm when click rates are set. In mono transactional statement days, a high-volume digital press could be assured of no more than 15 or 20 percent coverage. Enter CMYK++ and solid colour backgrounds and it can rocket up to over 100, 200 or 300 percent – no problem if you are on a fixed click-rate regardless of coverage but take a look at the fine print of your contract and you may find ‘excess toner use’ clauses in there!

    Maybe we should ‘flick the click’ altogether for production printing, keeping it only for light volume and office-type printing which is where it all began with copiers. Efficient suppliers should still be able to make their profit goals by pricing service contracts, parts and consumables appropriately. The fear of inferior third-party inks and toners finding their way into big brand equipment is easily addressed in the warranty and service contract terms.

    However, to do this, digital printers need to know their true costs and very few do. In the next ReVerb, I hope to have ready a downloadable spreadsheet that should help anyone considering a new digital press to calculate their true cost-per-impression and make informed decisions on whether a click or no-click model is better for their business.

    Digital printing is generally a more profitable business than offset but it’s just a question of who gets the lion’s share of the profits.

  • Auspack Plus packs a mighty punch – Andy McCourt’s ReVerb

    Auspack Plus kicks off in Sydney this week, with the packaging and processing expo hosting a dizzying array of suppliers within the sector. Andy McCourt investigates how the trade show is excelling in an industry that is just as difficult and competitive as the local printing industry.

    Auspack Plus – PacPrint’s close ‘cousin’ trade show – held in Sydney this week, is a growth success story in just as challenging an environment as printing and the graphic arts.

    As PacPrint shrinks, Auspack Plus is growing. Without VIEE Image Expo, PacPrint stands at around 9,000 square metres – down from 17,000 at its peak. Auspack Plus is at 7,300 square metres; smaller but on an upward path.

    PacPrint – in two weeks – will be a great show, due in the main part to huge efforts put in by digital suppliers on giant stands, such as Currie Group, Ricoh, Agfa, Fujifilm/Fuji Xerox, Konica Minolta, Canon, Kodak and Screen plus others. Auspack Plus has more exhibitors but typically on smaller stands.

    Yes, PacPrint is a not-to-be-missed event but contrasting it with the growth of Auspack Plus, perhaps there should be some pause for thought with respect to future directions of both PacPrint and PrintEx….and maybe lessons to be learned from Auspack Plus?

    Looking around Auspack Plus, it’s hard to believe that there has been a GFC, high Australian dollar and poor manufacturing environment. The show is the largest it has ever been, a total sell-out of around 7,300 square metres of actual stand space. Shuttle buses are bringing visitors in from the airport and CBD and the car parks are filling up. Delegations from China and other Asian countries are plentiful alongside many local visitors and exhibitors.

    Luke Kasprzak, Auspack Plus event manager.

    Event Manager Luke Kasprzak (pictured) puts the success down to knowing the market, listening to what it wants and ‘providing the right platform for business, education and networking.’ In the midst of Auspack Plus are the 2013 APPMA Awards of Excellence, a vital part of the event, says Kasprzak: “It’s recognition for outstanding innovation in packaging and processing from design to production.”

    Looking around the Auspack Plus show floor there are many familiar names that can also be found at PacPrint: Ferag, Esko, Ferrostaal, Kurz, Label Print Systems and Spectra Training. Some of these are divisions within the organization that specialize in the processes of packaging while others, such as Label Print Systems are directly involved in supplying the equipment and converting systems to produce labels. LPS’ new Memjet-powered Colordyne printers in both roll-to-roll and sheet & envelope versions were on display and these can also be seen at PacPrint from 21st May in Melbourne.

    The Ricoh name was also spotted on the Milford Astor stand – for their thermal ribbon transfer printers more so than the printers and copiers.

    Joe Foster of Foster Packaging does short run and mockups on Indigos.

    Printers servicing the packaging sector are also exhibiting such as Brookvale, NSW’s The Van Dyke Press with a range of labels including in-mold, heat-seal, wrap around and flexibles. Le Mac is a major player in all aspects of labels and packaging in Australia and beyond and this company has Australia’s only Dotrix digital press for short run flexible products. Le Mac even had personalized Coke bottles on display, and two delightfully outgoing, blue-haired, promotional ladies!

    The internationalization of AusPack Plus is very apparent with over 60 overseas exhibitors, out of a total of around 240. There are many new exhibitors from PR China in particular but also from Thailand, Malaysia, Korea, Taiwan and Italy. Even early on the first day, the buzz from the floor was very lively and the shuttle buses were bringing more and more visitors into the show.

    “We expect in excess of 6,000 trade visitors,” said Luke Kasprzak; “and we have 27 countries represented here. The event is one hundred percent owned by the APPMA, with a sub-committee specifically assigned to the success of the show.”


    Auspack has always featured a good number of suppliers for marking and encoding printers; Imaje, Domino, Zebra to name but three.

    What is very apparent at the 2013 event is that the digital printing is enabling the packaging industry to step up to full-colour labels produced either in-house or in short runs from trade sources.

    An example of this is Foster Packaging’s Mock-Up-Studio, who specialize in mock-ups and short runs for many kinds of pouches and cartons.

    Large Chinese delegation at Auspack Plus.

    “We produce the mock-ups using HP Indigo technology on pre-treated substrates and then finish and fill them by hand, so they look like the real thing,” said Joe Foster, head of the Dandenong, Victoria-based company.

    Foster helps its global clients design, develop and test new packaging ideas but also own a gravure press for production.

    Amid all the conveyors, fillers, bottlers, check weighers and sealers, full-colour digital labels are also an increasing feature of Auspack Plus. It can be expected that this will be a growth area for the next show in Melbourne in 2015 where no doubt new generation, faster digital label presses will be everywhere.

    Auspack Plus is owned by the APPMA – the Australian Packaging & Processing Machinery Association – and organized by Exhibitions & Trade Fairs Ltd. It runs for four days from 7th to 10th May, and is being held at Sydney Showground, Sydney Olympic Park.

  • 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.