Martin Bailey, chief technology officer, Global Graphics - developer of the Harlequin RIP
What do you think will be the greatest opportunity for, and threat to, the print industry next year?
It seems likely that the mix of print that’s produced will change radically over the next few years; some sectors (like long-run novels produced on offset presses) will suddenly find themselves with major over-capacity, and others (like digital brochures) will be growing rapidly. The biggest threat to individual print companies will be to ensure they’re positioned to take advantage of the growing sectors, and not sucked down in the shrinking areas.
For the market as a whole, one of the biggest opportunities will be in taking advantage of the ability to produce long, fully-personalised printruns at a relatively high speed and relatively low price on the new ultra-high-volume digital inkjet presses. One of the challenges will be to figure out what to fill their capacities with!
What do you believe is the most under-recognised aspect in printing that is likely to gain more prominence in 2012?
Laurel Brunner (managing director at Digital Dots) famously stood up at an Ipex panel discussion hosted by Jeremy Paxman and defended print as "sensuous". The print industry needs to take that to heart and start exploring how physical interactions with something printed enhances it beyond simply delivering text and images.
There are a lot of niche approaches that can capitalise on the simple fact that printed materials are physically delivered, from intriguingly-folded items to 'scratch’n’sniff'. I think we’re going to see some sectors focussing on print as the premium, collectable end of the market – such as coffee table books and high-quality novels.
What do you hope to get out of Drupa 2012?
Besides sore feet and an excess of beer and bratwurst, you mean?
There’s always something that surprises me at Drupa, something that points out new directions that the print industry might take. And sometimes those new directions turn out to be important. So, I plan to wander round some of the halls with an open mind, trying to connect the ideas that various people come up with, and see if there’s a pattern emerging. Sometimes that provides an opportunity for Global Graphics to become involved in a sea-change in the market; sometimes it’s something that we watch and react to later.
What new technology do you expect to see at Drupa 2012 in your sector?
One of the interesting things about producing a component of the print workflow that’s as generally applicable as the Harlequin RIP is that we take a very horizontal view. Prepress and digital presses are 'our sector', across many different aspects of the print industry. In that context, I’m expecting to see a jaw-dropping number of new inkjet press and printer launches at Drupa. Some will be from names you’ve never heard of, and some from names that are well known in other areas of print. Just figuring out how each one is planning to carve out their own niche will be a big part of my explorations at Drupa.
For those catering to the opposite end of the market, for small print service providers, I expect to see more emphasis on a variety of different light-production digital presses, each with unique capabilities – such as handling a wider range of media weights or sizes. I also expect the growing battle between vendors of plates which can be imaged on inkjet printers for use on offset presses to hot up a little more.
What new technology do you expect to see at Drupa 2012 in other sectors?
I’ll be intrigued to see what offset press vendors have added or done differently to try to persuade people to replace existing equipment. But a lot of the emphasis of the show will inevitably be on how to cut costs by processing jobs through the whole print workflow as seamlessly and efficiently as possible. So we’ll probably see lots of innovations in web-to-print, MIS, ink saving and closed-loop colour control.
What do you think the main trends will be at Drupa 2012 in your sector?
From my point of view, the top three items will be performance, performance, performance (at least in the high-volume digital sector). That will be tied to the increasing speeds of the presses themselves, and the increasing maturity of the market. Print sites now expect their presses to deliver the quoted monthly volume every month, with no excuses.
What trends do you think will emerge at Drupa 2012 in any other sectors?
There will be increasing pressure for, and announcements of, support for a wider range of media types on digital presses, especially on inkjet, which has traditionally had the most constraints on selection (if I can use the word ‘traditionally’ for a market this young!)
But I think in many ways looking for what isn’t at the show will be a more interesting angle to take. How much heavy iron in the form of offset, gravure and flexo presses will be installed and running in comparison to previous years? I hope there’s a good collection, with queues of people waiting to sign up and buy, but somehow I have my doubts.
What can the industry do to increase its profile next year?
This question is, more or less, 'What can we do to defend print?", and that is fundamentally the wrong question to ask. Print has no more intrinsic right to survive than any other industry. It’s up to print companies to show that what they do can provide value, either in competition or in combination with other technologies. [Print companies must] make the case for where a printbuyer or consumer should prefer information in printed form over an electronic form.
That case will be different for different sectors, and some may not be able to put forward arguments that are convincing enough. And different technology may enable some print companies to thrive, even as others in the same sector fail.
I’d recommend that people start by examining their own interaction with print throughout a week. Why did you select a printed medium in each case, if you had a choice? If not, who chose for you, and why?
What will you do differently next year?
The second half of 2011 has been very busy, and I’m expecting 2012 to carry on the trend. The increases in performance and other enhancements that we've made to the Harlequin RIP are getting a terrific response from our customers and prospects. We plan to continue on that course for the time being. But I’ll definitely be watching how the market develops, so that we can react as required, to continue providing a product that delivers what our customers want and need.