OPUS Group CEO Cliff Brigstocke reflects on the changing world of printing services

Ligare Pty Ltd is the largest specialist book and journal printer?????? in NSW, and has been in business since 1979. Part of the OPUS Group, an Asian-Pacific business services and communication solutions company, Ligare provides specialised, integrated and environmentally-friendly printing solutions and value added services across Australia and New Zealand. Offering world class pre-press, printing and binding facilities, the business is an Australian leader in the printing of short to medium size book and journal runs. 

Ligare has a long-standing relationship with the Australian Publishers Association, and has been a major partner of the Educational Publishing Awards for over ten years. For the 2014 awards, Ligare is sponsoring the opus_transparentTertiary Education (Wholly Australian) award and once again printing the event catalogue. Ahead of the event, OPUS Group CEO Cliff Brigstocke reflects on how local printing services have evolved, and the changing demands of educational publishers.

Cliff, why does OPUS Group continue to support the Educational Publishing Awards?

OPUS Group’s heritage started with the acquisition of Ligare, so for us the educational market is a big part of where we started and we’re very proud of our association with it. We have set our equipment needs around onshore production for the education market, but have grown in the same way as publishers who now work with global siblings to offer broader content delivery back into Australia. With Ligare’s 35 years in the business, we have a long history and a legacy we are proud of in the education market.

How has the Australian printing industry and your business had to evolve?

The biggest change we’ve seen, and a big part of our business strategy, is around speed to market. On projects where publishers and ourselves would previously have had weeks in the schedule, the turnaround times are now speeding up very dramatically, whether for local content, for simultaneous global releases, or global content coming into the local mix. The big advantage from our perspective is to be more flexible and faster to market, so we have invested in new technology to take out the costs associated with that and are working closely with publishers to manage files. We have in-house capability for the majority of production processes, which is an absolute must to enable the fastest turnaround times. We also house specialist finishing equipment that complements and enables the speed of digital printing to be realised to the benefit of our customers and end users.

impika

OPUS is partnering with Fuji Xerox to install an Impika Evolution 20 inch Colour Inkjet system at Ligare in Sydney

We have an inkjet facility in Canberra, and are installing another in Sydney where most of the education business is done. This new Sydney inkjet facility will allow for section sewn binding, which means we can produce digitally printed section sewn bound books or journals. Importantly these inkjets can also handle colour. This technology allows us to compete with offshore quotes for shorter colour runs. We can now cater for the very low run colour and mono in digital toner, and inkjet to the conventional offset, in both print and finishing.

So with the demand for speed, we’re at a crossover point for publishers to look to print locally. We have invested in proven printing and binding technology, and are using the skillsets of our staff and years of experience to fully realise the potential of our equipment, and that is the key to our specialisation in the market.

I think the other big trend is that publishers have an increasing understanding of the real costs in producing offshore versus onshore. A large print run done in China or the UK has a certain cash component tied up. You might be able to get an effective unit price, which is ok if you have a long run, but as those runs come down, costs go up for airfreight, warehousing and distribution, and you risk lost opportunities if stock is not in the country. The saddest part is the potential risk of obsolescence.

 “…now it’s a dynamic order process. We’re seeing more orders at lower quantities done more often.”

Strategically, we’ve made sure we’re much more nimble than ever. In the trade market we’re doing print runs on titles of 1,000 and then reprinting 750 in a week, which is a very different world from even just a few years ago where you’d build up to a reprint quantity in the thousands, but now it’s just a dynamic order process. We’re seeing more orders at lower quantity done more often.

Are there any challenges specific to the education market?

There are a number of parallels with trade of course. From a printer’s perspective we’re seeing more titles but less volume, and we’re seeing how adoptions are changing – we don’t get the big orders we used to, instead it’s multiple orders and customised orders, even right down to a customised order for a class of 30. These orders really require the publisher and printer to work much more closely together than they have done in the past. It does mean – and I say this in a positive sense – that we’ve got to challenge the old models almost weekly, as they have costs associated, and part of that is that you have to trust each other in terms of files and reduce the touchpoints. The old days of three quotes and hard copy proofs, that costs money neither publisher nor printer can afford any more. So that’s the big one for education, operating much more cohesively and with a partnership approach rather than customer-supplier all the time.

 “OPUS Group is well positioned to bridge the gap between traditional and digital content distribution by providing a full suite of complementary services to deliver content faster and smarter for our Publishing customers.”

Is print on demand for the education market growing?

Absolutely. And it’s multilayer – there’s print on demand, which coexists with virtual warehousing (print to demand). Done well (and this is where we try and blend the new technology with the printing world) these models can ensure neither party carries stock, remove costs such as logistics, storage and handling, and can be a much safer and more cost-effective model. The other area we’ve seen take off is that we’re sending a lot more drop shipments directly to the students, and I can see that being a big trend in the future.

Do your global alliances offer benefits to Australian publishers?

We can offer a menu of choice. From an Australian publishing perspective we’ve set our strategy around print on demand, but we’ve strengthened that with our acquisition of a large printer in Singapore which sits in our network of choice. So if there is lead time on medium to long run titles, we are able to deploy our Singapore facility and offer a cheaper set up price combined with onshore top-ups. Further to that, we’ve recently been joined by 1010 Printing, a very large Chinese printer which will be a significant shareholder in our group, operating as a family. This means that we have a fabulous colour offering from China, so if you’ve got the run size and the lead time it’ll give a very competitive price. So we can offer services for large runs in China, medium runs in Singapore, and then for short to medium time sensitive orders we can work over here in Australia. Beyond that we have strategic alliance partners in North America and in the UK. The concept there, and we’re only really at the beginning of this, is that there’s one file held by the alliance partner and then depending on the publisher’s desire that can be produced to the set standard by our network in America, Europe or Asia.

 “Our unique group of companies combines scale, speed and specialisation with extensive capabilities and expertise across Asia pacific and beyond. Together, we deliver leading technology and smart integrated solutions to the publishing industry.”

Do you think more printing suppliers will start to look to operate this way? 

They’ll have to or they won’t survive. You can’t just be a local printer now with a single offering, you won’t be competitive. We’re a very proud local manufacturer with a long history here in Australia, but the reality is we’re in a global environment now and the boundaries of Australia afford no pprotection, nor should we expect them to, so you do need to think globally. If you don’t the writing will be on the wall.

Additionally, from our perspective, we’ve had a very successful recapitalisation. Like most in our industry we’ve tended to be limited by our debt but that is now in the past, and we’ve got a committed trade investor in 1010 Printing. Our future is assured and we’re going to be much more aggressively leveraging our network going forward.

Cliff Brigstocke is CEO and a foundation shareholder of OPUS. He has led OPUS since its inception and has been instrumental in acquiring, integrating and developing each of the businesses in the Group. He is actively engaged in the printing industry, playing a lead role in industry initiatives and government relations. Cliff has extensive publishing industry experience, including 10 years in operational and sales and marketing roles, and as a member of the senior executive team, with Thomson Reuters in Australia.