The market potential for other advances in web technology, such as auto transfer capability and even wider webs, remains an open question, Lamparter believes.
“You can do more versioning (with on-press auto-transfer), but I’m not sure that does any more for you than doing it on the bindery line. The technology has a place, but it’s not the same as being able to digitally print an individual catalog for every recipient,” he explains.
“What we are seeing across the markets, both for catalogs and magazines, is a continuing reduction in pages, Lamparter continues. “If paging is coming down and versioning is going up, what does that mean for wide webs?”
Dick Holliday, another industry veteran, is now a consultant with 3P Inc. in Westerly, RI, which focuses on optimizing presses with aftermarket technology. But he also has extensive experience on the new press manufacturing side of the business. He agrees that all of the forces driving web offset in 2006 are nothing new to printers in this segment.
“The industry as a whole is trying to preserve its market share against the more immediate media,” Holliday notes. “The heavy iron, to a degree, is also fighting to preserve its place against toner-based, variable data printing.
“I think the most significant single phrase for web offset is ‘run lengths declining in most market segments.’ Printers are having to do more makereadies per impressions printed, and it’s taking more presses to produce the same amount of printed matter in a year. The impact of spreading the same fixed overhead for a press across fewer good signatures sneaks up on printers,” he asserts.
Other trends that continue to buffet printers in this market include demand for more immediacy, targeting and color, along with increasing use of lighter weight papers, Holliday says. “If all that isn’t enough, there’s continuing price pressure.”