Changing the game of the book industry with cut sheet inkjet

A few years ago, a publisher of educational- and training programs for the automotive industry started with its own e-learning environment. Initially it was thought that the interactive and digital learning environment would usher in the end of the static paper manual. The publisher valued the paper book as a necessary evil. Like so many other educational publishers, they produced and distributed their high-quality educational content as cheaply as possible: mono colour, loose-leaf supplements and standard A4 binders. Some educative books, sold through bookstores, were still in colour and printed using offset presses. But the content that was provided to the educational institutions was produced by our printers at Scanlaser.

Sander Jansen with the game-changing cut sheet inkjet press

Sander Jansen with the game-changing cut sheet inkjet press

Therefore this publisher explained us in an early phase about the experiment that he would perform. A specific training program over the next year was provided completely paperless to the students. If the students responded positively, then more educational programs would be delivered through the Internet the following year.

But the subsequent year, the training program came back to our printers. Apparently, the students were enthusiastic about the interactive components, the videos and the high quality presentation of the information. Yet they felt a little robbed; auto mechanics paid thousands of euros for a one week course, but received no tangible products in return. And the reading of the larger texts obviously was easier on paper. Finally, students also indicated that the possibility of taking notes in the books was missed; a feature that helped them to learn and remember the information.

Complementary products

The publisher accounted for this by designing a whole new paper product. In terms of size, the new books contains less pages than the old textbooks; only the study texts and static parts of the workbooks are committed to paper. But two important new elements are added. The first is that the layout and images are taken care of and all pages are beautifully printed in colour. Unlike the old black text that was barely distinguishable in terms of quality from copies, this new design completely aligned with the colours and design of the digital learning environment. As a result, it was clear that the paper books and the digital tutorial were complementary to each other. The second novelty was the personalisation of each book, because each was equipped with the unique credentials needed for a student to log in their own learning domain.

This educational publisher is not alone in its developments. Almost all publishers of learning materials in the Netherlands are experimenting and using combinations of digital and paper products. More often they appear not as separate items, where one substitutes the other, but as complementary units that collectively contain the entire tutorial. During Canon’s Future Book Forum, that took place early November 2016 in Munich, it came clear that the leading publishers and producers from 23 countries had the same perspective on the future of the paper book. It would become an indispensable part of a larger whole.

The consequences for the printing industry

The impact of this shift for book printers is huge. The offset press cannot cope with this personalised and custom-made content and will therefore be increasingly irrelevant. However, from the perspective of digital print, the education industry is a huge growth market. For me, as CEO of a commercial digital printer Scanlaser, this is a very good future perspective. But it also confronts us with a scalability problem; the number of colour prints will grow explosively. Moreover, it is inherent in this market that the peak load in summer. Scanlaser has had a lot of experience with both continuous feed printing and toner printing with cut sheets. The problem with the first technology is that it doesn’t fit into our environment with many different media. In order to serve our 300 customers, a portfolio with 12 different types of paper is required. And changing paper on a continuous feed printer will cause problems of productivity and efficiency. Toner machines, however, have the disadvantage that the combination of variable data and media changes have a negative impact on the operational performance. In addition, the downtime of the toner printers is generally very large, although there are major differences between brands and types. The running costs for this type of printers is, apart from the higher toner costs, a barrier for growth in the educational market. In short, until a few years ago, none of the available solutions appeared to be the ideal tool that enabled us to respond to the consequences of the digitisation of the educational market.

The game changed in 2015. Scanlaser invested in a cut sheet inkjet printer, Canon's VPi300, and got rid of the obstacles that stood in between the potential growth and the realisation of it. Unlike the offset printer, this machine can handle variable data very well. And unlike continuous feed inkjet, this cut sheet printer remains productive with media changes: paper is imported from another drawer without stopping! And anyone who is accustomed to toner printers, as we were, will experience the increased productivity and the lack of downtime as a fantastic relief. Not to speak of the lower ink costs compared to toner; it is clear that the running costs are significantly lower.

Recognizing opportunities with an Innovation Framework

Anyone who purchases such a machine will automatically achieve an efficiency innovation (the first type of innovation, before incremental and disruptive innovations, mentioned by Clayton Christensen). But to consider these New Kids on the Block only from that perspective, would be to ignore the opportunities that it brings. The recent developments in the educational industry, as a result of digitisation, and the predictions of the publishing world about the future of the book are making it clear that major changes are coming. This offers opportunities for innovators!

At the IMI Europe Digital Printing Conference, from 30 November-1 December in Amsterdam, I will show how we, at Scanlaser, have set up an Innovation Framework and used it to create incremental innovation and how we contributed to game-changing of the book publishing industry in the Netherlands. I will show in what way innovations such as cut sheet inkjet can be used for business development, not only for the educational industry, but also for the traditional book industry and for the production and distribution of manuals.

Sander Jansen, CEO Changeventure, former CEO Scanlaser