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13 Feb 2018
The centenary issue cover
Publisher Rob Mulligan celebrates the hundredth issue of Digital Printer with a trip down memory lane.
Digital Printer was launched in April 2006 at a time when digital printing was starting to be a serious alternative to litho devices. The process offered and still offers huge benefits over an analogue technology that itself had supplanted the existing letterpress presses back in the 1960s. We had been covering digital technology within our sister magazine Print & Paper Monthly but we felt that the subject warranted its own publication.
Looking back at that launch issue I think it's fair to say that we've moved a long way down the road and the reasons for investing in the technology have changed, along with the dynamics of the industry. Perhaps, the main reason seen for investing in digital at that time was because print runs were getting shorter and profits were being eroded. Printers needed to find ways of reducing their costs and overheads. However, it should be noted that this was not the way the suppliers to the industry were looking to sell their wares.
Personalisation is still not here in a big way but there are exceptions and the digital world is producing opportunities for printing companies. In the packaging sphere, versioning and some personalisation is coming in with some notable brands working with suppliers with interesting results. I believe that this is just the start and as brands continue to innovate in their search for increasing market share, new ideas will come forward, aided and abetted by printers and suppliers.
Pushing boundaries with innovative front covers
I'm pleased to say that many of the advertisers from those first few issues are still here today (proof, if proof were needed, that advertising works!) and their messages are very similar to today, i.e. providing solutions to businesses challenges, not just pieces of kit - but is the industry listening? I believe it is. I have spoken to quite a number of printers over the last 12 years or so and have seen some of their operations and it is clear that whole businesses have been built around the capabilities of digital printing.
Those early issues were full of product launches as well as features to guide the printer into what was possible with a digital press, as well as predictions for what the market share by process of the industry would look like today. John Birkenshaw of Smithers Pira (then just Pira) talked about the impact well into the future, he predicted that a lot of work that was done by the 2006 printer, such as business stationery and forms that were already in decline, and much simpler promotional work will in future be done 'at the desktop' in-house on colour digital machines, so there would be less general print work around.
Mr Birkenshaw went on, 'But printers will still be called on to produce work that requires sophisticated pre-press data processing and formatting work often involving databases.' Perhaps we're not quite there with the data interaction with some obvious exceptions like direct mail. However, he was 100% right when he predicted that the print company will interact with its customers almost entirely through the digital communications network (that's the Internet to you and me).
One of the magazine's earliest features was to run centrefolds and finishing lines. These were double-page spread graphic cutaways of machines available at the time with technical data covering performance, vital statistics, speed, size and so on. These were extremely popular and ran for some time. The first machine that was covered was the HP Indigo 5000, perhaps one of the most successful digital presses produced to date. The first finishing line product to be featured was Duplo's DC-645 Production Colour Finisher, another machine that has been hard to beat for value for money.
The look of the magazine has changed over the years as we have attempted to make it as contemporary as possible; after all we are talking to the cutting edge of our industry. Its frequency and reach have also grown. Back in 2006 we published just five issues; today Digital Printer brings you 10 regular issues a year plus four sector-focused Guides and various specials, as well as our daily-updated website and weekly e-mail news digest.
Events add to the value
All this time digital was growing and so was the thirst for knowledge. With that in mind we ran our first Strategies for Success conference in January 2007 at Canon's superb location at Woodhatch in Reigate. There were many great presentations given that day and on many subsequent days after that as we held other conferences at various locations around the country in the following months and years.
Another first that year was to run the inaugural Digital Printer Awards. The event was held at the Hyatt Regency London, The Churchill and it showed, by the number of entries we received, that digital printing as a process was here to stay. The Awards moved to the Marriott in Grosvenor Square in 2011 and have been held there ever since. Arguably these coveted awards are the 'Oscars' of the digital printing industry and I know it's one of the most anticipated days of the year.
December 2017 issue: Digital printing and finishing technology has come a long way
These events were complemented more recently by the Smart Directions initiative, which produced a raft of content for novel business ideas from 2013 onwards, summarised in yearbooks, and saw three major annual conferences plus daily presentations at Ipex 2017; ideas for business development based on digital printing of all kinds will continue to be a major part of Digital Printer's content going forward and we will complement this with targeted events to add value to the brand.
We've always been pleased to walk the walk as well as talk the talk. I hope you have seen the four last issues in 2017 and the special covers that were produced for them. Working in turn with Kodak, Vivid Laminating Systems, HP Indigo and finally GMP UK we have been able to bring to you real examples what is possible with digital printing technology. However, we go back a long way in terms of showing you what can be achieved including a few firsts. The September 2009 the magazine pioneered combining personalised front covers and versioned digital sections with offset printing. In March 2011 we produced the world's first personalised case bound cover. There have also been other issues where we have demonstrated what's possible with digital printing. With the support of our partners, we have been able to bring all sorts of new technology to the fore.
The success that we've enjoyed over the years would not have been possible without you, the printer. As I look through the back issues I sense there was something stirring within our industry. For sure, in 2006 digital printing was pretty much in its infancy but what is clear is that it has matured into a mainstream process. Ideas are boundless and we will do our best to provide you with as many of them as possible, as well as practical hints and tips to ensure your businesses thrive in the future.