Litho press manufacturers have long been envious of their digital counterparts. Thanks to an unnamed genius in Xerox's early days, digital press users have adopted the click charge business model, first developed to make it easier to sell copiers to a market unsure of their value. Ever since printer, consumables and service have been locked together to the revenue benefit of the supplier. Even now Xerox service and consumables revenues outweigh the revenue from equipment sales.
In contrast, litho printers have been free to select whatever consumables they want to run on an increasingly sophisticated and high performance finely engineered machine, sometimes to the detriment of performance. – like fitting standard road tyres on a Formula 1 racing car. With the majority of revenue from equipment sales, the press suppliers are subject to the rollercoaster of the investment cycle. Do they gear for a median sales volume and build for stock in quiet periods and hope that extended lead times at the peak of the cycle do not deter customers, or take on people knowing that they will be laid off as sales slow?
Now Heidelberg believes it has found a way out of this spiral, adopting some of the principles of the digital print world, applying the pay as you go approach to the analogue world. The devil will always be in the detail, which we are not privy to, and therein may lie all manner of imps, gremlins and sprites, and as many for the printer to sort out as for the supplier to corral. Printers will need to understand their business very well before signing a five-year contract. Ultimately, if such deals enable printers to operate with the latest technology which might otherwise be beyond reach or delayed for another day, a fresh approach should be welcomed.