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Only the fast one wins

Machinery manufacturer Kolbus expects growth from drupa / Interview with Kai Büntemeyer

(PresseBox) (Frankfurt, ) Mr Büntemeyer is the CEO of Kolbus GmbH & Co. KG. This long-established company based in Rahden in Westphalia manufactures bookbinding machines. Among other things, Mr Büntemeyer talks about the changes taking place in the printing industry and the effects of the euro crisis on this industry.

Mr Büntemeyer, more and more people use e-books. The number of suppliers of reading devices is also rising, like, for instance, Amazon with the Kindle or Apple with its iPad. What does this development mean for Kolbus?

Kai Büntemeyer: The e-book will probably be of low importance for us. As a luxury consumer good, it is in a category of its own. It is utterly unsuitable for the exploitation of text and image copyrights. Until very recently, it was the explicit strategy of Amazon that Kindle had to be a pure reading device in order to fulfil its purpose. The new device, however, has iPad features and, therefore, marks the surrender of the e-book to print and paper.

Digital printing is up and coming. How will it change the business of Kolbus? Does Kolbus develop special machines for digital printing?

Büntemeyer: Of course no complete machines for digital printing; books had the form which they have now even before Gutenberg and can also be used for digital printing. However, it goes without saying that we must offer our customers substantial modifications, especially as regards machine control. The photo book business has already become one of our largest business segments. One can say that they are books published by the consumer as author's editions. This business model is successful and will outgrow the photo book.

Building on our experience, we are also capable of making highly efficient industrial book production for digital printing a reality. This is what we will present at drupa 2012.

Is this the reason why Kolbus advertises with the slogan "Simply press >Book<"?

Büntemeyer: With this slogan, we want to make clear what is required for profitable digital printing. Digital printing is loss-making business if it requires more than pressing a button in order to produce an output of a file as a book. A book case consists of at least three components. Each component causes scheduling costs of ten euros per job. Where these components may be freely determined for a single book, they add up to 30 euros of management costs for the book case - still not including procurement, stocks and processing. If you wish to make money in this sector, it is essential that those responsible for procurement just need one single "Book" button.

The printing industry is changing - not only due to digital printing. How must Kolbus adapt its strategy?

Büntemeyer: It can be reduced to one phenomenon. Everything is getting faster and faster. Formerly, in good times, we had delivery times of two years; nowadays you cannot afford to have delivery times of more than four to five months. In addition, a capacity adjustment needs to be made. Formerly, developments often took many years; nowadays they take only months. When I was a young professional, I sold machines stressing the advantage of a better resale value after ten years; today, you must provide proof of amortisation in two years. There is definitely a market which will not only remain constant, but even grow. But only the fast ones will get a slice of the pie.

Are you afraid of competition from China? There, a huge market is emerging for print products, and the Chinese machinery manufacturers attach more and more importance to quality.

Büntemeyer: There are only two suppliers that offer a product range everywhere on a global scale: us and a large company from Switzerland. Due to the extreme specialization, it is to be expected that the Chinese, too, will prefer using our services instead of making their own developments for such low quantities.

The printing machinery manufacturers have gone through hard times. How is the development at Kolbus as a supplier to this industry?

Büntemeyer: We are quite satisfied with the development of our business. In 2010, group sales amounted to just under 120 million euros. For the current year, we expect a similar figure. 2012 will consist of a weaker first six-month period and a stronger second six-month period. This is due to the famous "drupa effect".

Mr Büntemeyer, you are also the chairman of the Printing and Paper Technology sector within VDMA. How do you assess the effects of the present euro crises for the printing industry from this point of view? Is the industry in danger of sliding into a new recession?

Büntemeyer: The euro crisis has devastating effects. It causes a delay in investments with absolute perfection. Postponement for four months is already a very, very painful burden for the industry's capability to adjust. We are already in the midst of the recession.

Key questions

Why is there a future for printing?

Büntemeyer: Mainly for two reasons. The cultural development would not have been possible without printed products. Print has a future, because culture has a future. Print products are necessary in order to bring the flattening of culture to a halt.

The second reason has something to do with reasoning. People think about this and that. As soon as these thoughts are a bit more complex and are put down, all media except the printed word will be insufficient, hence not suitable.

The drupa is now 60 years old. Will there still be a drupa in 60 years from now on?

Büntemeyer: The technical development will not come to a standstill. Therefore, the printing industry will continue to develop. This is why it needs trade fairs - a marketplace which enables to compare and exchange. And it needs a flagship trade fair. There, you will often find something that you weren't even looking for. I am sure that Messe Düsseldorf will continue to develop the drupa in such a way that it will be the flagship trade fair even in 60 years. The Association of German Printing and Paper Technology Manufacturers as a sponsor will support this to the best of its ability.

Which further development was the most important one since the invention of letterpress printing?

Büntemeyer: From my point of view, this is not a product. The most important development is the change in communication conditions. Data availability is now global and inexpensive. This process started in the middle of last century, when telegrams, tele-typing or the telephone became affordable communication means for a growing number of people. Contrary to what many say, the internet did not trigger this development. It has only expanded the scope.

The drupa trade fair takes place in Düsseldorf from 3 to 16 May 2012. A trade show organized every four years, it is by far the largest event of the printing industry world-wide. This is where trends are set for the years to come.

The German printing machinery industry is the global market leader and will continue to maintain this status in future as well. Every month in the run-up to the drupa, the VDMA will offer an interview with one exhibitor of the industry in the form of a press release.

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