Digital Inkjet Printing in Newspapers Must Cross the Hurdle of Feasibility

Newspaper printing, a segment generally associated with offset, is now seems to be flirting with digital inkjet. Rahul Kumar talks to machine manufacturers and end-customers about the technology available, the feasibility of the scenario in the Indian context and future possibilities.

First thing first, we ask the machine manufacturers, namely Xerox, Fujifilm, Kodak and Manroland, about the technology available. Most of the machines available are for short-run jobs. They are available as standalone machines, which can also be customised. Another selling point of digital inkject machines are its compact size.

The Xerox Impika Inkjet solution is suitable for customised, on-demand newspaper production. The Impika iPrint Extreme prints CMYK on a 28-inch web width at a speed of 375m per minute and hence, is well suited for newspapers printing. “You can, for instance, print 8,000 copies of a 40-page tabloid in one hour,” says Pankaj Kalra, head, production systems group, Xerox India.

The Fujifilm J Press 540 W is an inkjet web press targeted at shorter-run print applications traditionally run on web offset presses, such as transaction, direct mail, book and newspaper. Available either as a standalone machine or customised with optional equipment, including marginal punch, file punch, vertical perforation, cross perforation, slitter, sheet-cut, folder, etc, the J Press 540 W enables duplex printing within a single tower design, resulting in an extremely compact footprint.

Harshad Borude, sales manager, Fujifilm, lists some of the key features of Jet Press 540 W. These include monochrome jobs with good reproduction using Piezo- electric drop on demand printhead technology; high quality output using Fujifilm’s FM-based screening technology, enabling smooth colour tones and sharp text; and Vivida ink, developed specifically for the J Press 540W, delivers vivid colour and allows high-density images to be printed at high speed.

Borude says the press is designed to use uncoated and selected coated inkjet papers, and is targeted to accept a paper width between 6.2 inches (157 mm) and 21.54 inches (546 mm). Fujifilm’s XMF Workflow system is used to drive the front-end of the J Press 540 W. It is very easy to use, with a 15-inch touchscreen monitor and software interface, he adds. As for Kodak, for digital newspaper production, its portfolio is built around stream inkjet technology, which delivers offset-class output plus the ability to perform high-speed variable data printing, while enabling longer run lengths. The key differentiators in this new technology are brought about by advancements like nanoparticulate inks, extremely accurate drop placement and improved interaction between ink and paper.

Whether it is the Kodak Prosper S-Series imprinting systems or the new Kodak Prosper 6000, the company’s approach is to leverage it to create exceptionally reliable, easy-to-use and serviceable solutions, says ‎ Ramani Viswanathan, vice president, Sales, Digital Printing at Kodak India.

The Kodak Prosper S-Series imprinting systems generate new opportunities with a high-speed, hybrid digital solution. Operating at a press speed of up to 3,000 feet per minute, these imprinting systems enable full utilisation of the existing equipment while enabling highly targeted go-to-market strategies with differentiated product offerings.

The Kodak Prosper 6000 press resets industry standards, with an unmatched combination of outstanding quality, peerless productivity, and compelling economics. “Today's most demanding applications are handled aptly by this next-generation printing system, while continuously meeting and exceeding business goals, adds Viswanathan.

Manroland web systems’ solution for newspaper productions is its FoldLine, which can print with a proven cruising speed of 300 m/min. According to Alwin Stadler, vice president digital systems at manroland web systems, the production run guarantees highly reliable quality performance.

Offset vs digital
While the new technology has several options to choose from, the fact remains that Indian newspaper production is a web offset-dominated market. Easy availability of printing presses and their operators, and low-cost production are the few reasons of the dominance. In this context, how will digital inkjet make its way to the market? While web offset continues to be the preferred technology, due to large print volume requirements, Kalra says, these days, lots of content is being customised for specific regions and geographies. Most leading English language newspapers have suburban supplements, where the volumes are generally low and the content is local and specific to the region. “This is where we can play an important role,” Kalra adds. “What also needs to be understood is that the entire process ends with the distribution of these newspapers. This is being decentralised, owing to mixed content and increasing delivery costs. With the improvements in quality, competitive running costs and automated print processes, the digital inkjet press is ideally suited for this market.”

Borude says a digital inkjet press will allow newspapers to manage content, incorporate variable and target specific information. “This will enable newspapers to interact with its readers in a more flexible way,” he says.

Offset presses have their own limitations. According to Viswanathan, however, Kodak’s products open up avenues for VDP and personalisation, with special applications like versioning and micro-zoning. Gaming applications are another new direction the market can look towards, prompting higher engagement with higher revenue creation. “These are unique applications that can be catered to, reaching out with differentiated offerings into the digital printing market,” he adds.

Manroland’s FoldLine, on the other hand, offers huge opportunities for new hyper-local editorial concepts and ‘micro zone’ advertising campaigns. “It is a digital production system in combination with a highly developed workflow environment,” says Stadler. Manroland web systems invested heavily in workflow plug-ins to complete the workflow environment, especially for the finishing system, and this delivers a competitive cost per copy. “Of course, we do have the competence to discuss and calculate for each individual customer, especially for its own needs,” he adds.

For the Indian market
Unlike the western countries, the Indian newspaper market is growing at double-digit rate. The growth in business is promising and will lead to generation of more content which would be regional and localised for targeted reader. “This could take shape in form of additional supplements along with the main newspaper. This is where we feel the opportunities exist,” says Kalra.

Fujifilm believes that the advantages of a digital inkjet printing go beyond savings in time and paper costs. This technology also empowers newspapers to create new business opportunities.

Since the Indian newspaper market is leading to higher content consumption, Viswanathan says with VDP and micro-zoning, newspaper publishers can demand higher advertising rates for an improvised solution with targeted delivery. For gaming applications, traffic can be driven to TV and the internet, adding value to each communication. “The opportunities are varied, delivering greater returns on marketing investment every time,” he adds. Manroland too sees a huge potential in India. “The precondition is that the editors and the advertising industry is already asking and pushing for the potential of industrial digital production solutions,” says Stadler.

Echoing the arguments proffered by Viswanathan, Stadler says, there is a huge volume of regionalised newsprint and additional printing applications with short
run lengths, ideal for future digital printing. “The different local languages can create additional interest in digital printing. Beside, the flexibility of industrial digital systems allows applications like books or commercials printing, besides the newsprint and this creates a new business model,” he adds.

Viswanathan says Kodak’s technologies optimise print production efficiency, distribution, quality and relevancy, helping newspaper publishers reduce their environmental impact, and deliver content that engages readers, driving greater returns for advertisers. “The stream inkjet technology creates new business opportunities to achieve profitability, giving access to a wider audience, markets and regions, and advertising shares. Combine this with a reduction in supply chain and logistics costs and you have a cost-efficient, profitable solution for the Indian market,” he adds.

Feasibility How feasible is the digital inkjet technology for the Indian market? Borude says digital printing is being increasingly recognised as a practical way to address issues faced by the printing industry today. He, however, adds that the cost per copy is still on higher side compared to offset. “It is hard to name a newspaper publisher in India who is ready to invest in the digital. You would need a good argument to persuade newspaper publishers that they should invest in digital web press,” he adds.

Feasibility is an outcome of getting the perfect mix of volume and cost, says Kalra. “With the generation and need for more regional and localised content, a digital printing solution is a must.

Customer Speak
George Jacob, Malayala Manorama
With the speed of digital presses today, they are only suitable for short-run newspapers. When you print a 24- page or more newspaper, added requirements for reelstands, web-handling systems and folding, etc will make the price comparable to conventional offset at similar speeds. The only benefit with digital is that every copy can have different content. While it is useful for personalisation, it does throw up challenges for mailroom systems.

Pradeep Unny, Amar Ujala
I don’t foresee digital taking over offset, as the cost of the machine is too high. So is the operating cost. With the kind of prices newspapers are sold in India, it does not make business sense. It is not possible to replace web machines in India, as the volume is huge and the pagination levels are high, I don’t think a digital press can cater to this.

DD Purkayastha, ABP
Newspapers are becoming more hyper-local and customised. As a result, there will be many more editions with smaller print-runs instead of a single edition printed centrally. Digital inkjet printing will be suited best for small customised print runs.

Presently, digital inkjet technology is evolving and cannot replace faster web offset presses capable of handling large print runs with more pages.

Snehashis Roy, ABP
Digital inkjet has a major disadvantage of having zero economy of scale. Unless cost of electrostatic ink and printer heads go down substantially, this technology would only be suitable for short to very short production runs, mostly B&W books and reports. Speed is also another concern with four-colour inkjet technology. It is already complementing offset for variable data customisation. However, replacing web offset will need further development in some key issues.