Keeping an eye on the future of print

Keeping an eye on the future of print

Ahead of Canon's global publishing conference in Germany later this month, we spoke to head of commercial print Stuart Rising about how we can drive intelligent growth in publishing.

Can you tell us a bit about the Future Book Forum's history?
Our original vision was to empower the continuous evolution of book publishing. We wanted to create an opportunity for the industry to come together, share ideas, build partnerships, and unlock new possibilities. At the first forum in 2014, based in Poing, Germany, the key focus was on adaptation: harnessing sophisticated digital technologies to keep up with rising online distribution and maintain profitability. Over the last six years, The Future Book Forum has grown into an event where global printers and publishers shape the future, explore alternative methods for driving sustainable revenue, and give readers the best hybrid digital-physical experience. In 2018, we started to discuss leveraging big data and artificial intelligence to transform the book as we know it—with granular insight fuelling more personal connections.

After seeing The Future Book Forum in Germany become a huge success, last year we launched the first-ever localised Future Book Forum London Edition. Taking our learnings from the long-standing event in Germany, the UK event aimed to inspire action by getting publishers in the same room to discuss the biggest issues and opportunities in the industry right now. The forum has been hailed such a success; we are pleased to say we will be establishing it as an annual event, so watch this space!

What will be the focus for the 2019 conference?
The next forum in Germany on November 20th–21st will be about defining how the industry as a whole can forge lasting relationships with diverse, and increasingly demanding, reading communities. Amid the ongoing explosion of content, it’s vital to not only leverage the resource-saving capacity of digital tools, but also their ability to produce varied content that inspires consumers and cuts through the noise.

As ever, collaboration will be a crucial element. Speakers from leading organisations—including Sarah Domville, chief revenue officer at American’s Test Kitchen, and Lucas Dietrich, international editorial director for Thames & Hudson—will provide valuable insights into what they are doing to move their businesses forward. Panels and roundtables will offer a chance for printers and publishers to learn from each other and use the forum as a means of identifying practical solutions for common challenges.

Can you share your favourite examples of current innovation in the content industries?
There are many innovations shaking up the industry, but one of the most interesting is smart books. This development is a prime example of how the strengths of digital and offline media can be united to create more impactful experiences. Smart books allow readers to immerse themselves in traditional print and deepen their engagement with the story via digital media—such as videos or virtual reality features accessed using mobile apps. It’s also a potent illustration of the way content is expanding: a book can now be more than words on the page; it can be a gateway to multi-channel interaction.

What are the greatest opportunities for publishing and printing at present?
This is a truly exciting time for the print industry. In an era of fake news and privacy concern, research by Ofcom shows 80% of consumers rate magazines as trustworthy news sources. The industry is starting to see that print is a well-established, trusted and authentic format with endless opportunities. For instance, technological advances are fuelling multiple opportunities to increase scope and efficiency across the sector. The internet of things (IoT) is already bringing cloud connectivity to hardware—enabling remote control of smart manufacturing tech and faster document processing. Looking ahead, greater adoption of IoT sensors and networking tools will further increase productivity, output, and performance. Using a real-time view of activity, printers can identify issues and make instant adjustments, in addition to highlighting where processes can be streamlined.

For publishers, intelligent tech offers a chance to improve the sustainability of their business models and increase margins. Print-on-demand, for example, is fast-gaining popularity as a means of achieving efficient workflows. Instead of printing huge volumes of books, they can print as and when orders are received; cutting down paper waste and investment lost on unsold stock. The added advantage being that as order numbers increase, so do the margins of slim line production.

What are the biggest challenges facing the industry?
The way consumers read content is changing. Alongside enduring desire for the tangibility of physical books, is a rising appetite for digital content, especially among younger audiences. But for the industry, the challenge isn’t managing the expansion of reading horizons; it’s recognising the shift as positive. Instead of considering online and offline as rival mediums, printers and publishers must learn how to use them as complementary forces. In the same way digital video can heighten the impact of TV programmes, online content can optimise the effect of print—and vice versa.

Print-on-demand has also shaken up the industry, as publishers look to prevent waste and keep costs to a minimum. With no requirements for minimum orders, print-on-demand allows publishers to use resources as and when needed, allowing Print Service Providers (PSPs) to deliver speed, agility, and quality—and exceed customer expectations. Additionally, the growth of inkjet technology has now made it possible for PSPs to offer a larger variety of applications to publishers in a quicker timeframe, but at the same quality level.

What should be our urgent priorities for growth?
Although far from a new trend, personalisation should be higher on the industry agenda. Customised items are not only in demand, but also a core product differentiator, as research shows 71% of those who want personalised products are willing to pay a premium.

For example, PSPs must ensure they have the tech required to fulfil personalisation requirements, such as versatile hardware that can switch seamlessly between different finishes and inks to rapidly produce custom designs. Meanwhile, publishers need to provide services that empower consumers to craft their own reading experience, such as photobooks they can customise using an array of online templates.

How can publishers thrive and continue to stay ahead in a world of exploding content and fast-paced digital innovation?
It wasn’t so long ago that digital media was threatening to take over print, pushing the majority of people online, but now we see more and more companies turning back to print in an effort to communicate with their audiences in an authentic, trustworthy, but most importantly, physical way. This highlights how quickly preferences and demands can change, so ultimately survival depends on an ability to accept and move with change.

Right now, that means producing hybrid content, implementing on-demand printing tools and increasing customisation capability, but next year’s market conditions are likely to be different. That’s why persistent collaboration and keeping an eye on the future will always be critical.