New push to 'sharpen' digital print proposition

A new initiative to exploit the benefits of digital newspaper printing in the Asia Pacific and especially Australia is the result of detailed analysis of the needs of hundreds of publishers.

Industry veteran Stephan Peters says the technology has reached a point where integrated inkjet systems can bring very substantial savings.

With Ian Byrne - his partner in consultancy and agency business Pegras - he studied the print and logistics needs of a number of individual publishers: "There are a large number of companies which could benefit today, and they're not just the ones you might think of," he says.

While some of Australia's biggest publishers - including APN Australian Regional Media before its change of ownership last year - have trialled or examined digital printing, smaller publishers with a range of short-run publications could be the ones to gain the most. Some projects have stalled on factors such as the cost of ink.

Peters says that despite the march of mobile apps and digital publishing, new technology is providing news publishers with rare opportunity to grow their print business. He believes smaller publishers could gain an advantage, "before larger organisations wake up to it".

Recent research shows that short run publications are still in high demand, with the market of local school, club and sport event publications still hardly touched by the established offset printers.

In Europe and the USA, online websites already offer print services, with well-designed templates for this newspaper market. There's also no hassle with payments, as e-commerce facilities secure cash-flow when PDFs are uploaded.

Peters says smaller publications would really benefit from digital web printing, which calls for cheaper equipment and fewer staff. "Talking to production managers and in my research, I've been amazed how many jobs printed each week have circulations of less than 10,000 copies," he says.

While digital newspaper presses are not yet a substitute for the coldset web-offset on high volumes, they are ideal for on-demand newspapers and magazines, capable of the quality needed for today's market, and cost-effective with print orders in the 500-7000 copies range.

One factor hampering installations has been the capital cost of typically-separate inkjet press and finishing systems. By contrast, Japanese press manufacturer TKS - for which Pegras is agent - has had an integrated digital web press, with its own flexible folder, running for several years. Apart from conventional offset installations in India and Asia, TKS has digital print users worldwide, including one US user with two lines. Peters says he believes the lack of systems choice has been a factor in holding digital newspaper printing back. The TKS system combines its own inline postpress with an "open" ink, saving costs on both counts.

Current technology lends itself to short runs - down to an "audience of one" - and presents the opportunity to effectively sell an advertising space several times in geo-targetted editions.

"Advertisements are more effective when printed, something acknowledged by Sir Martin Sorrell, chief executive of world-leading advertising and marketing services group WPP.

"The flexibility of these systems, capable of producing almost anything, could take us back to that golden age, reminiscent of past letterpress days, with multiple localised print houses, each printing newspapers and a variety of other printed matter for its area," Peters says. "That would indeed be a renaissance for print."

Pictured: College and ethnic newspapers produced by Chicago-based TKS digital user Topweb; and (right) The second generation TKS JetLeader 1500

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