Not for decades according to Tribute’s assessment
In the US the Printing Industry Market Information and Research Organization (Primir) is about to release a research study on the impact of digital printing that was prepared for it by IT Strategies. This study looks at the period 2009 – 2014, and projects a drop in the page volume of analogue printing over this period of time of 0.3 per cent and a growth of digital printing by 15.9 per cent. While this appears to show a major increase in digital printing if one puts these figures in context it still shows that analogue printing is 97 per cent of all print volume and digital is 3 per cent.
These numbers are not by value but by number of sheets printed. IT Strategies indicated that a finding of the study is that digital pages have a much higher value than analogue pages so if the study were to look at the value of both analog and digital printing, then the digital value would be much higher than 3 per cent. In terms of pages all figures are based upon A4 size single sided pages (and all analogue printing volumes are converted to be equivalent to this format).
One of the key aspects of the Primir study is to assess when the tipping point of analogue to digital printing will take place. The assessment of the study is that it will take decades for this to happen. To make such an assessment is very difficult, if not impossible as there are too many unknown variables to take into account. I also believe that one cannot look at a study that just works on the basis of pages printed, and one must also look at the value of printing and the run lengths carried out, plus the changes happening in the market, such as the impact of e-readers, on reducing the length of print runs for books.
I have recently had the opportunity to spend time with Heidelberg looking at its plans to re-enter the digital printing market early this year, and as part of this I was privileged to see some of Heidelberg’s market figures. Heidelberg generates its figures from taking input from a variety of sources, including Prmir, but also other research companies in the printing and paper industries. These figures looking at the overall print market are based upon the value of print rather than the number of pages. In this they take a base year of 2009 as the base year for real representation of values.. This shows the overall worldwide value of print in the print media industry in that year to be €413bn. The shown figures include for the 2009 value of print a breakdown by commercial/packaging/publishing with commercial leading at 42 per cent, as well as a split by printing process (sheetfed, web, etc) with sheetfed leading at almost 38 per cent and digital (production) slightly above 6 per cent.
The Heidelberg figures are confirming digital printing pages to be worth more than analogue printing pages, in line with the assumption that digital printing pages capture higher street prices than the avearage of anaologue printed pages. This can be understood in terms of other benefits, for example short delivery time or small volume charges.
Heidelberg’s figures also show that the print production volume throughout the first decade of this century growth was fairly static, mainly due to the two economic crises. Heidelberg’s projections then for the period from 2009 – 2015 show a fairly significant compound annual growth (CAGR) of 1.61 per cent.
For many observers in North America and Europe this growth projection may seem strange, particularly when the Primir figures show a negative growth of -0.3 per cent in printed area. To understand what is happening and why Heidelberg projects this growth one must look at world markets where GDP is projected to be far higher - in the developing markets rather than in the industrialised world. This is Asia Pacific, South America, Eastern Europe, Africa and the Middle East. In all of these markets print growth is still happening and digital printing is still a very small part of the market. There is also still a major replacement market for offset presses particularly in the USA, where there is large volume of old offset equipment still in use.
Another interesting set of figures from Heidelberg shows that despite the recession the overall volume of sheet fed offset print revenues have not fluctuated wildly. The lowest year of revenue this decade was 2003 and the highest was 2007. So the drop in 2009 was brisk but did not fall below the 2003 level. By 2015 Heidelberg is projecting a growth of approx 1 per cent per year. based on the limited decrease of sheetfed offset print revenues in 2009, and the positive print market outlook in the developing countries. This 1 per cent growth translates pretty well with the Primir forecasted decrease in the printed area in the same time period.
In comparison with the smooth print production volume development in the recent crisis, there was a major drop in investment in new presses in 2009, and while there is a projected increase from 2010, Heidelberg does not see this reaching the levels of pre-2009.
I find that many projections for digital printing growth are pretty wild. This is particularly where the subject of personalisation is covered. I don’t think that there is a high volume of personalisation being carried out, and most personalisation is being done by specialist organisations, and most commercial printers carry out little such work. Obviously this will grow with the introduction of the high-speed continuous feed inkjet presses, but most of this business growth will be in the transactional printing market. Also at this time most of this new high-speed inkjet printing is being aimed at offset replacement for items like book printing, rather than for the personalisation market.
One of the areas of digital printing that is seldom covered where most personalisation is carried out is the overprinting of offset printed direct mail work using inkjet print heads. I recently visited one of the largest direct mail printers in the UK where every bit of personalisation is carried out in the finishing department using Kodak continuous inkjet (Versamark and Prosper) print heads. All printing is done on two Goss Sunday web offset presses. Their comment was you couldn’t do large-scale personalised direct mail using digital printing presses, as the running costs are far too high compared with offset printing.
My assessment therefore is that while I am a huge supporter of digital printing, and in particular of high-speed continuous feed colour inkjet printing, it will take a long time before the tipping point is reached where digital becomes larger than analogue printing. Offset presses are now very competitive, particularly when run in a web-to-print environment. Sheetfed digital electrophotographic presses are reaching the limitations of their technology, and at this time inkjet presses are not able to achieve the quality of the best sheetfed offset, and are limited on substrates that can be handled.
At this time, digital printing has a zero penetration into the magazine and newspaper printing space and a limited penetration into the packaging space. I have to agree with Heidelberg’s projections, and still see offset will maintain its position against digital for many years to come and it will be many years before the tipping point is reached.