by John Conley July 24, 2006 -- As the printing industry gets even more competitive, many print providers are seeking new digital printing opportunities. These opportunities will not only sustain their businesses, but allow them to take on more jobs, get the most out of equipment and build new business. Print providers who are ready to develop highly competitive applications should discover the power of digital books and how they can mean dollar signs, and lots of them. Digitally-printed books will account for one-third of all books printed within the next five years Mercury Print Productions seized the digital books movement and is carving out its spot in the profitable world of digital books printing by investing in the future and leveraging technology to make its business stronger and more competitive. A commercial printer in Rochester, N.Y., Mercury started offering digital book production as an added service for customers in 2001. Now books account for half of Mercury’s digital volume. Between 2003 and 2005, digital revenue almost doubled, from $4.5 million to $8.2 million --about 40 percent of overall sales. Digital book customers include educational industry leaders like Harcourt, McGraw-Hill and Houghton Mifflin Company. According to industry expert Frank Romano, digitally-printed books will account for one-third of all books printed within the next five years, so there is plenty of opportunity. Mercury quickly recognized this and opened a second production facility this spring, exclusively for digital book manufacturing, to serve this growing market. Three Xerox iGen3 110 Digital Production Presses are in the new plant, along with four high-volume monochrome cut-sheet printers (two Xerox Nuvera 120 Digital Production Systems and two DocuTechs), along with an HP Indigo Press w3250 and a fully-equipped bindery. “Book publishing is a small world and word travels fast,” said Christian Schamberger, director of operations, digital book division for Mercury. “Word of mouth referrals have been integral to our book business. One of our clients was chatting with a colleague at a seminar about digital printing and shortly after we received a call from Simon & Schuster for sample requests.” Proving the Quality Initially, Mercury faced a challenge familiar to many print providers --proving that digital print would meet the most exacting quality standards. About 18 months ago, Mercury received a request for a proposal from Harcourt, who was looking for ways to reduce inventory and cut costs. Mercury needed to prove that the digital books would be virtually indistinguishable from books printed on offset print technology. Mercury created presentations and print samples which convinced Harcourt that its standards would be met and that they could add additional capabilities such as versioning. Mercury created presentations and print samples which convinced Harcourt that its standards would be met Mercury currently produces four-color work for key markets such as education, health science and technology. Mercury helps educational publishers reduce inventory and costs by rebinding books, customizing texts and shorter runs of books (often in full color). Mercury has done runs of as many as 700 books and as few as 25 for the educational market, with page ranges from 500 to 1,300 in both spiral-bound and case bound editions. Meeting Special Requirements One specific and unique requirement that the educational book market had was for all books to be printed on a 45-lb. gloss stock. The 45-lbs is lighter than standard paper and is used for its durability, weight and to keep the product consistent among volumes produced on offset and digital. This paper stock added a few considerations to the usual to-do list to get the new facility up and running since the 45-lb. gloss stock is especially sensitive to humidity. As a result, Mercury needed to install special equipment to closely control the temperature and humidity for optimal equipment functionality. Proper paper storage is essential for the highest quality prints. The health science and technology market is another major focus for Mercury. One of the challenges in this market is the requirement for high-quality half tones. Half tones are needed for the books’ detailed medical subject matter such as diagrams depicting the brain and heart or images of CAT scans and X-rays. Mercury’s black-and-white printers were able to meet these needs and Mercury now reproduces short-run editions for nurses and doctors in quantities of 300 to 600. “As a result of our digital strategy, we’ve been able to get business from customers we never would’ve had access to before” “As a result of our digital strategy, we’ve been able to get business from customers we never would’ve had access to before,” said Schamberger. “It has also opened up the door for sheetfed offset work — and that has increased overall revenue.” Book printing companies around the world are using digital presses to help revolutionize the economics and availability of book publishing. Digital printing allows print providers to meet the high quality expectations and cost targets of book publishers. Great opportunities abound to create compelling books that are virtually indistinguishable from offset print technology. The time is now for print providers to leverage digital printing technology to open up new markets and revenue opportunities with expanding applications offerings.