Waiting in the Wings: Digital Print Awaits Its Crossover Moment into the U.S. Newspaper Publishing Market

By Schult, W. Eric | Editor & Publisher, December 2015 | Go to article overview

Waiting in the Wings: Digital Print Awaits Its Crossover Moment into the U.S. Newspaper Publishing Market


Schult, W. Eric, Editor & Publisher


TAYLOR SWIFT MADE THE CONVERSION FROM COUNTRY TO POP music. Can digital printing, likewise, expect to achieve its crossover moment in 2016, shifting from a technology primarily serving a niche in the commercial print industry to broader use among newspaper publishers?

Press vendors KBA and manroland, both having developed disparate solutions associated with digital printing, have been trying to gain traction in the U.S. newspaper market for several years. While they've had some successes abroad--mostly with short-run, on-demand book and industrial print applications--neither has managed yet to place their digital equipment with a newspaper publisher or printer in the continental United States.

"Unfortunately, we don't have a RotaJET into a newspaper environment yet," said Bruce Richardson, national sales manager for KBA, regarding that company's digital print line. "We're working on that." The company has sold two digital machines abroad to non-newspaper customers.

The story is similar for manroland. "Until now, we haven't sold any of our systems in the U.S. for that application," said Ron Sams, vice president of sales, regarding the FoldLine, manroland's digital finishing solution targeted at newspapers.

However, the company has sold a FoldLine to Gannett for its use at a newspaper it owns on the island of Guam, a U.S. holding. "The Pacific Daily News (in Guam) will be printed with a Kodak Prosper 5000 and a manroland FoldLine finishing system," Sams said. The equipment will be installed during "the first or second quarter of next year." The company has sold 23 digital finishing systems abroad, mostly to non-newspaper customers.

But there's nothing like a local success stoiy to use as a proof of concept, and Sams and Richardson refer to examples in Boston and Chicago, respectively, where digital printing has gained a small foothold in the newspaper sector, albeit using systems their companies did not provide. The Boston Globe, for example, recently began using digital inkjet print heads from Kodak, integrated into its offset press lines, to run a variable data advertising campaign for a local grocery chain. Topweb LLC, a commercial printer in Chicago, is running two digital print lines from press vendor TKS to produce short- and intermediate-run daily and weekly newspapers, an initiative it launched in 2012 and has been ramping up ever since. Both are first-of-a-kind case studies that could show the way forward for the successful use of digital printing technology in the U.S. newspaper market.

THE BOSTON EXAMPLE

According to Richard Masotta, vice president of operations for the Boston Globe, the paper put a pair of Kodak Prosper S20 digital print heads to practical use in mid-October--a little less than a year after the first unit was installed on one of the paper's existing offset press lines and testing began.

"We were trying to get some traction with the ad department," he said. "Just recently we were able to score a supermarket."

The idea behind integrating a digital print head into an existing offset press line is that it adds the ability to provide variable data to one side of a single Web of newsprint, without sacrificing press speed. The digital print heads being employed in Boston can print a four-inch wide band of information, running in the direction that the Web is running on press. Essentially, it enables customized messaging on up to two columns on a broadsheet page or an area four inches deep across mating pages of a tabloid product.

"The limiting factor is up till now it's been one color," Sams said, "But still, that's very powerful when you think about the possibilities with variable data, targeting specialized ... information to a party of one."

The application, in the Globe's case, involved leaving a space on the black plate of a color display ad for its grocery advertiser so that the digital print head could deliver a unique code to every ad printed and newspaper delivered. …

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