Interview with Manfred Breede, author Adding Value to Print: A Survey of Novel Products, Finishing Techniques, and Materials Options

Can you talk a little bit about some of the more interesting, or perhaps your favorite, examples of print being integrated with other media?

1st example—Although not as common as they used to be, inserted CDs can enhance the value of certain types of books considerably. In fact, the first book I ever wrote had such an inserted CD (Handbook of Graphic Arts Equation, 1st edition). Since the book dealt with the principles of mathematics used in the printing industry, the CD complemented the text perfectly, in that learners could verify their understanding of a given mathematical problem by using the interactive programs contained on the CD.

On a personal note, I have learned computer programming mostly from books with inserted CDs, because the sample code provided on them eliminates the tedious task of typing intricate and exacting code, which allows learners to concentrate on the more important task of grasping the principles of programming. The huge following and success of certain computer programming books, such as the "For Dummies" brand is probably in large part attributable to their continuing practice of inserting CDs into their books. An idea that could deliver digital content in a more cost-effective manner than physical CDs is the generation of a unique alphanumeric buyer code, or better yet a unique QR code, by way of variable-data printing, if the book is printed or imprinted by a digital printing device. This will allow buyers of the book to download the digital content from the publisher's server.

2nd example—For me, a stroll through the aisles of a greeting card store is as entertaining as browsing through a bookstore, especially if I don't actually have to make the agonizing decision to find the perfect card for a loved one. The messages on these cards ranges from inspiring to hilarious, and of course, being a printer, the print, finishing, and decorating technology used to create ever-surprising visual effects always catches my attention. Greeting cards with sound chips have been around for some time, but the last time I went to a greeting card store I was surprised to find cards with recordable sound chips. I bought one for the birthday of my eldest grandchild. When she opened the card, all present had a good laugh by my slightly out-of-tune rendition of "Happy Birthday."

To see what is doable in print I would encourage printers to pay close attention to what the greeting card industry produces.

How receptive do you think printers are to developing campaigns that involve the integration of print with other media?

Among industries, the printing industry was first out of the starting blocks to adopt digital technology. For example, when few people knew what Photoshop software was and what it could do, printers already had a firm grip on this type of technology, and while Photoshop use is now common and widespread, especially in the electronic media, others are relative Johnnies-come-lately. With this type of track record there is reason to believe that many printers have the enterprising spirit and wherewithal to move into non-traditional areas of communication.

If you were talking to an ink-on-paper sheetfed litho printer who was interested in expanding into additional services, what advice would you give as far as where and how to begin?

Photography must rank up there as the all-time popular leisure activity, but the advent of digital photography in general and camera-enabled smartphones in particular has taken photography to a still greater level of popularity. Photo book publishers cleverly tapped into this market, and in the process created a thriving and previously nonexistent self-publishing industry. As an avid photographer myself, I, and my entire extended family, frequently use the online tools provided by these companies to create photo books that rival commercial reproduction quality. The technological infrastructure of the photo book industry is probably an indicator of how the business of printing will be conducted in the future, yet surprisingly these trendsetters are not commercial printers, but almost exclusively IT, Internet, or photography enterprises.

Ink-on-paper sheetfed litho printers should heed the example set by photo book publishers. Specifically, printers should not define themselves by the printing process they employ, as this tends to limit opportunities to expand into new markets. For example, the success of products such as photo books is entirely dependent on the existence of a Web-to-print platform and digital printing devices. 

Can you describe any instances in which you saw truly innovative, outside-the-box 3-D printing examples?

If the purpose of using novel imaging technology is simply because it is new, or it is used for trivial reasons, it is doomed to fail. 3-D imaging techniques serve their purpose best if the message one wants to convey or the information one wants to extract is enhanced by three-dimensionality. For example, 3-D elements of a vacation resort brochure or flyer could highlight a resort's facilities against the backdrop of a stunning scenery of a lake and mountain peaks with great realism, or a microchip manufacturer could show the intricate profile of an electronic circuit, or aerial photographs of archeological digs could reproduce depth levels, which in turn reveal important details that would otherwise be missed.

Are there any areas in which 3-D printing could have a great impact that haven't been explored yet? What about areas where 3-D printing is being employed but not quite meeting its potential?

I don't thing the existing 3-D techniques in print and motion pictures will replace conventional imaging technology, because of the somewhat cumbersome viewing devices needed to perceive images in 3-D. Unless one day it will be possible to reproduce true autostereoscopic images cost effectively with such technology as lenticular foils or holograms, 3-D will probably remain a niche product. 

What kind of learning curve is associated with, say, a typical lithographic press crew when it comes to using special inks or substrates, especially in terms of value-added practices involving electronics (such as printed circuits or RFID technology) or security printing?

When I said in an earlier question that printing management must not let itself be defined by a given printing process, it applies to press crews as well. These types of products are invariably produced on hybrid printing presses that incorporate multiple printing and finishing processes that go beyond the skill set of a typical lithographic press crew.

More and more people seem to be embracing e-readers as a means of keeping up with their favorite magazines or authors. Are there any services printers can offer or strategies they can employ to complement this growing trend?

E-readers are one of those disruptive technologies that have the potential to replace books, newspapers, and magazines in the same way that fuel lamps and horse-drawn carriages were replaced by lightbulbs and motor vehicles respectively. But all is not lost yet for physical reading materials, because certain ink-on-paper advantages could stem the tide of e-reader proliferation. The strength of physical books, etc., is paradoxically their "low-tech" architecture, which makes them usable without a power source, robust, durable, and intuitively user friendly. Provided that books are rigorously recycled and papermaking raw material is harvested responsibly, environmental sustainability is one other important advantage that physical reading materials have over e-readers.

These electronic devices consume power, the aggregate of which amounts to staggering energy requirements. As well, their in-built obsolescence causes them to have a relatively short life cycle. Disposing of electronic waste is a major environmental concern because of myriad toxic materials they contain. The papermaking and processing industries need to drive this point home, because in this environment-conscious era we live in, it is not only smart business to do so, but it is also the right thing to do.

Having said this, history tells us that the success or failure of new technology is largely governed by economic factors. Given the fact that the investment for electronic content is comprised only of creative, editorial, and digital preparation costs, they will always be cheaper than material-based reading materials. We don't know what the exact cost differential threshold is, but we can be sure that most consumers will not tolerate physical book, newspaper, and magazine prices that are significantly more expensive than their electronic counterparts.

Can you describe some of the more interesting Web-to-print applications you've come across, either on your own time or as you did research for Adding Value to Print?

In addition to the aforementioned photo book publishers and printers, one of the most successful printers using a Web-to-print platform is Vistaprint. According to their annual report on Form 10-k for the fiscal year ended June 30, 2006, Vistaprint increased its customer base from 500 in the year 2000 to over 7 million in the year 2006. They received orders from more than 120 countries with revenues of $152.1 million. Who would have thought that the printing of stationery products, which many printers consider to be loss leaders, could generate such enormous volumes of print and revenues?

The main reason for Vistaprint's success is their presence on the Internet by way of a sophisticated and proprietary Web-to-print platform, which made it possible to solicit orders from around the globe and to print business cards, to name but one product they are noted for, in aggregate print runs of 143 separate customer orders on 40-inch multicolor offset presses.

What are the key lessons you hope readers of Adding Value to Print come away with?

The primary messages I wanted to convey with this book can be summarized in four points.

  1. Do not think of the higher conventional printing manufacturing cost vis-à-vis electronic media as a liability, but justify these higher costs with the inherent advantages of material-based products.
  2. Where possible and appropriate, integrate ink on paper with electronic media.
  3. Do not limit yourself to typical printing products, but seek markets and products that are not normally associated with the printing industry.
  4. Enhance the value of print with processes and materials in order to produce printed pieces that attract attention and bring about the pride of ownership that only material things can induce.

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Published on Wednesday, April 27, 2011 (updated 06/20/2016)