Ricoh and Digital Book Printing – a view from the Frankfurt 2012 Digital Book Printing Forum

Benoit Chatelard (second left) participates in the Experts’ Panel at the Digital Book Printing Forum

A lot is happening in the world of book printing. First and foremost the meteoric growth of digital book distribution via e-readers is impacting the total volumes of books printed –for every 100 print books sold through the site, Amazon said it sold 114 titles for its Kindle e-reader device. Second there is an accelerating numbers of titles, and shorter print runs.  According to research from Pira* 79% of book print jobs are now well suited to digital production (volumes below 5,000).

Frankfurt - the world's largest book fair

Frankfurt – the world’s largest book fair

As a result one key theme for this industry is Digital Book printing. That’s why Market Research consultancy Interquest runs a forum at the Frankfurt Book Fair – the world’s largest book fair – with more than 7,000 international exhibitors, diverse new customer groups and more than 3,200 events.

In the forum leading book printers and publishers, suppliers, influencers, and other major players of the book supply chain share their experiences, present their latest developments, discuss hot topics and challenges, and provide their vision of the future.

Ricoh ‘s General Manager Solutions, Production Printing Business Group,  Europe Benoit Chatelard participated in the forum and provided an update on Ricoh company strategy, developments, and recent success stories in the book market.

Why did Ricoh attend the Frankfurt Book Fair Digital Book Printing forum ?

Ricoh has attended this forum for a number of years in the USA and this is the first time that Ricoh has attended the European forum.  We are joining the debate because we believe that firstly the Digital Book market in Europe has matured and secondly recent Ricoh investments in Graphic Arts printing means that the time is right for Ricoh to focus on this market.

We have a number of customer references in Digital Book printing and we see publishing as a strategic focus area for Ricoh. That’s why we dedicated a zone on our stand at drupa to publishing. In this zone we featured two customer Digital Book solutions:

  • Re.Be.L : Colour books on demand for the Italian education market
  •  SoBook: Short run books, printed on demand

What major changes, if any, have you seen in the past twelve months in the digital book printing market?

From a technology point of view, more and more book printers are investing in continuous feed inkjet systems.      

Book Printers are recognising that Digital printing is a great alternative to litho printing especially for short runs.  In this respect our partnership with Heidelberg that is not only a recognition of the quality and efficiency of our products give us a fantastic understanding of the offset environment and challenges.

Print on Demand (POD) and inkjet have gained momentum in the past twelve months. Both require printers to make important changes in their workflow and processes. How are you helping them to accomplish this?

Absolutely. Worklflow has always been one of our key strengths. We have been developing workflow solutions for years. Generally speaking we can transfer a lot of knowhow that comes from the transactional world in terms of control, traceability or integrity management to the PDF world and the book industry

Only recently at Graph Expo 2012 we announced  Ricoh TotalFlow Cadence for Publishing. This is specifically designed for ultra short runs – where it’s possible even to print a single copy of a book cost-effectively with an end to end workflow control  – we call it the “Book of one”. 

Where does colour digital printing for books stand? (Many–printers and publishers—are saying “Colour electrophotography, print quality is good, but the cost is still far too high! …and with ink jet, both quality and cost are a barrier!” What is your response to these objections, and do you have any examples showing that colour quality and cost are not an issue for some of your customers?

First of all book printing is a huge industry containing many different segments – and the requirements vary significantly so it is difficult to generalise in this way.

In a number of these segments Ricoh can fully match both quality and financials but digital cannot yet beat offset in terms of image quality range and media range.

I see the key value of digital is in printing on demand, i.e. making it cost-effective to produce even very small quantities of a book. This has huge implications for the entire value chain, logistics and inventory costs.  It is about moving from a fix costs model to variable cost model.

Substrate limitations seem to be major challenge for a number of book printers who are currently using inkjet presses—and for some of those looking into acquiring such equipment. Concerning toner-based systems, some printers say they have to continue using offset equipment for short run jobs which require low-weight paper. Where do you stand in terms of developments/partnership in this area to resolve this issue? 

This is changing every day. In response to demand we continuously test and integrate new media.  We recently announced our High Capacity Dryer solution which allows us to support heavy coated media at ultra-speed in continuous feed.

Some of you have developed/are marketing distribute-and-print solutions, where do they stand in this area, and for the others what is their perspective on this market?

I may be controversial here but I believe that the book is not the final product. It is just one of the vehicles used to distribute content. Consumers are looking for content – and increasingly they are looking for multiple ways to consume that content, be it printed books, IPADs/tablets or e-readers.

It is interesting to see that analysts studies show that eReader customers actually buy more printed books: “Kindle owners read more books and recent figures appeared to show that physical book sales were not being harmed by the digital switchover.” **

This is why we totally believe in cross-media and digital integration.  Our recent strategic investment in PTI Marketing Automation software illustrates that. 

Another great Ricoh cross-media innovation is “Clickable Paper”. This is a technology concept that will allow readers to use a smartphone or tablet to click on literally any image on a page and be taken to a website – without the need for specialist codes like QR or bar codes.

 Overall, what have been your major challenges to make digital book printing grow in the past 12 months? 

Digital Book printing is already growing. Interquest studies in this forum do show that clearly, but it shows also that Europe is not as advanced as the USA in that matter.

In our experience successful companies focus on the ecosystem (Author, Publisher, Retailer, Printer, and Distributor). They look at re-engineering the entire value chain to make it more efficient to produce variations of the content in the most appropriate media, e.g. printed books, online, digital and so on. 

The main challenge is to find courageous sponsors and entrepreneurs that are ready to stress and challenge the prevailing ecosystem.

What is your key message for book publishers this year?

Imagine. Change.

Embrace new technology (both electronic reader and digital print) to enhance your business model.

Think about the whole consumer experience. Maybe you could deliver an enhanced customer experience depending on the method of distribution.

Last but not least – re-invent the Book Store. It may still have a place but not just as a simple book shop.   Imagine what additional services could be offered in these places. Maybe one day consumers will be able to have books printed on demand within the book store, while they wait.

In any case Digital Book Printing is now an industrialised process that provides so many productivity improvements for short runs, and enhances dramatically the availability of books to the consumers. In this respect, I believe it is inevitable that a significant portion of book production will go digital.  It’s an exciting period of change that lies ahead.

Benoit Chaterlard

Benoit Chatelard General Manager Solutions, Production Printing Group, EMEA

For more insights into Print Opportunities see:


*Pira Printing on Demand – the Opportunity in Books and Packaging available via Ricoh Business Driver Programme

**Bezos and the future of books, BBC News, Oct 11th 2012

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