14 November 2014 Print Companies

Rotalito Lombarda carries on book tradition into digital age

Italy has long been a favourite destination for British book publishers. It is not the attraction of the culture, nor the food and wine, but the availability of large format sheetfed presses for printing illustrated books.

A peculiarity of Italian industrial relations favoured investment in large format presses, giving printers across the north of Italy an advantage when printing colour books. Some of those printers have now succumbed to the recession, been absorbed by rivals in rounds of consolidation, while others are changing the technological platform. It is much like the UK except that the Italians will still print coloured books thanks to a well won reputation for quality. Rotolito Lombarda is among these, exporting for the last 25 years and with a sales office in the UK since the end of the last century.

It has worked for most of the book publishers and a number of magazine publishers on contract publications. “But it’s still very much based on book production,” says Adam Phillips, Rotolito’s man in London. However, those books may as well be produced digitally as by litho. The company installed its first HP T300, since upgraded to a T360, in 2010 and this has been followed by a wide web T410. “There has been quite a bit of success and interest in colour digital in recent years, with the focus on STM and that has been very successful,” Phillips says.

The first machine operates with a Muller Martini Sigmaline folder, the second has the first Manroland Web digital folder which is configured to deliver 16pp sections. The commitment to HP continues with the installation of an Indigo 10000 which is being used for high quality colour books, albeit in short production runs.“It’s opening a new door for us,” he continues. “We are still a litho printer and are producing large colour print runs but have digital to respond to changes in the market and there is growing interest in this.”

Publishers are starting to look at the business model in colour books in the same way that they have changed in some mono trade books which have moved to a print on demand model. “They need to understand where the costs are along their business model, the amount of cost that is tied up in stock and in remainders. There’s a lot of interest in extending the sales and very much on the threshold of that situation. We think there’s huge potential and will be looking for partners to work with to bring the costs down. If we can we will open the market completely. Large print runs will remain, but there is a lot of interest in shifting these from Asia to Europe.”

The Indigo will be the principal tool for this. It can print on a wide range of papers, approved by HP, with unquestionable quality. The inkjet is printing on optimised papers and gloss coated equivalents are ruled out. “The quality we can get from the inkjet is getting better and better. It is very suitable for certain types of products,” says Phillips.

Success, however, will depend on selling not just unit cost to publishers but the whole concept of print on demand to the coloured books sector which has been driven by the unit cost. Phillips admits there will be a certain amount of trial and error involved. “It’s about us creating a solution and delivering a solution and making that solution as easy as possible. It’s going to be about us proving what we can do to help them. We are going to have to build trust and do what we can to make the cost side work because publishers have become more risk averse, more reactive. They don’t want unsold stock locked in a warehouse.”

The Italian company certainly sees digital as a key part of its long term future alongside sheetfed and web offset. “We know that that quantities ordered are going down,” says marketing director Emanuele Bandecchi. “Everyone wants to save on warehouse costs. We can say that instead of printing 5,000 to start with, why not print a few hundred and then if it sells, order reprints. The cost per unit will be higher, but the overall costs will be lower. The time and money saved is very important to publishers.”

The breakeven point between inkjet and offset is around 2,500 copies of a typical book, perhaps up to 5,000 on the larger press. The Indigo is competitive up to 1,000 copies; its average run is 300-400 copies.

One area of publishing that is looking closely at the potential of colour digital printing is the educational sector where digital can be used to keep text books up to date, to create editions branded to schools or even to print customised work books, tailored to the abilities of individual students. But it has not happened. There are some universities in the US where professors will specify a selection of papers to read for a course and have these bound as a book for students, but nothing like this in Europe.

Things may be changing. Educational publishers are coming in now says Phillips. “The technology is perfectly capable of this,” he says. “We think that the next step will be magazines,” says Bandecchi. “We can print on offset papers and the quality is getting higher and higher, runs in the magazine market are coming down and with inkjet there are a lot of opportunities for magazine publishers.”

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Rotolito Lombardo

Rotolito Lombardo

Italians still print coloured books thanks to a well won reputation for quality. Rotolito Lombarda is among these, exporting for the last 25 years and with a sales office in the UK since the end of the last century.

It has worked for most of the book publishers and a number of magazine publishers on contract publications. “But it’s still very much based on book production,” says Adam Phillips, Rotolito’s man in London. However, those books may as well be produced digitally as by litho.

Story 1 of 2

Rotolito Lombardo's HP Indigo 10000

Rotolito Lombardo's HP Indigo 10000

The company installed its first HP T300, since upgraded to a T360, in 2010 and this has been followed by a wide web T410. “There has been quite a bit of success and interest in colour digital in recent years, with the focus on STM and that has been very successful,” Phillips says.

The first machine operates with a Muller Martini Sigmaline folder, the second has the first Manroland Web digital folder which is configured to deliver 16pp sections. The commitment to HP continues with the installation of an Indigo 10000 which is being used for high quality colour books, albeit in short production runs.

Story 2 of 2