Canon sees the future of book publishing in smart books

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Published 28 February 2021 by Paul McDonagh
Digitalisation in publishing is not just about ebooks. Trends in printing technology are revolutionising printed books too.
“Many people think of ebooks when talk turns to digital books,” says Frank Huigen, Canon Benelux’s Director Production Printing Products. “But for Canon, digital printing is much more than that,” he continues. “Our inkjet printing technology has enabled book publishers to adopt new business models that improve their efficiency and customer service and that keep paper books competitive.”

Roll over offset

Offset printing is time consuming to set up and so is best suited for large print runs. Publishers estimate the number of books to be printed and then hold stocks of books so they can respond quickly to customer demand. This incurs warehousing and distribution costs, and there is the risk of overstocking. Unsold books mean additional transporting and pulping costs.

Digital inkjet printing on the other hand is much faster to set up, so printing in response to demand is feasible. According to Huigen, inkjet printing offers publishers faster times to market for smaller print runs – even a copy of one! The concept underpinning this approach is “first sell, then print”.

“With inkjet printing, not only can cost effective print runs be much shorter, but waste is dramatically reduced,” says Huigen. In addition, he explains, Canon’s offer enables workflows to be automated to a large degree, thus eliminating manual stages in the workflow that have low levels of productivity.

Adding value throughout the chain

Efficiency gains and waste reduction is only the start of the story though. “Our end-customer is the reader of a book,” states Huigen. “We are part of a value chain that starts with the author and ends with the reader. Our technology enables book publishers and printers to add value for readers.”

Huigen continues with some examples. “We can bring books back to life. I read books of cowboy stories when I was a child and I recently found a couple of them reprinted and bought them for my son. These low volume reprints of old books use inkjet printing and provide readers with books they might otherwise not have access to, as well as providing additional income to the book publishers and printers.”

The story does not stop there. Inkjet printing does not require setup prior to printing so changing content is very fast, it requires just changing electronic signals and printing continues even when print jobs change. It can be economic to print a run of single copies of different books, and the rise in self-publishing is one result of this technology.

Books are getting smart

Huigen also sees other new opportunities in the world of digitalisation for books. “Reading can be interactive. You can scan a QR code in a book with your smart phone and open a video or music file for example. This opens up a variety of applications,” he continues. “Reading a novel can be a multimedia experience,” he says. Educational books are another example. “Basic theories in many subjects do not change much over time, so a book could present the basic material and then have QR codes which link to a video or some other file that presents the latest developments in that field,” he explains. “These files can be updated at any time, so the same QR code always leads to up-to-date examples.”

The concept of the “smart book” does not just cover the multimedia features. The ability to print profitably in short runs means that content of a book could be mixed and matched to meet the needs of the reader in much the same way as it is with services such as Spotify and Netflix.

The ebook challenge?

Huigen comes back to ebooks. “Ebooks’ market share in Europe has remained fairly constant at about 10 per cent. Many people saw ebooks as a threat, but in fact people often prefer to read a book rather than a screen, so there is still ample space in the market for printed books,” he says. “In fact, at Canon we are not too concerned when an ebook edition is published as this reduces the demand for the printed book and makes inkjet printing a competitive printing option instead of offset.”

Inkjet papers by Stora Enso

Inkjet treated WFU papers (can also run book applications)


In focus

Canon's Frank Huigen

“With inkjet printing, not only can cost effective print runs be much shorter, but waste is dramatically reduced.”

Frank Huigen


  • Headquartered in Tokyo, Japan 
  • Employs over 180 000 people, over 23 000 in Europe 
  • A leading company in inkjet printing technology 
  • A partner to publishers and book printers for over two decades 
  • Has more than 40 digital book printing sites in Europe 
  • Has been running the Future Book Forum, which brings together players in the book printing value chain, since 2013 
  • Has sponsored the Room to Read literacy programme since 2017 

Part of the bioeconomy, Stora Enso is a leading global provider of renewable solutions in packaging, biomaterials, wooden construction and paper. We employ some 23 000 people and have sales in more than 50 countries and our shares are listed on the Helsinki (STEAV, STERV) and Stockholm (STE A, STE R) stock exchanges.

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