Digital Print Industry Makes Its Move, The

Littrell, Rick

It was clear from walking the aisles at the recently completed OnDemand Conference and Exposition that the promise of digital printing and personalized communications is gathering momentum in the marketplace. Everyone was excited about the opportunities offered by this technology and the challenges that were presented for an organization to successfully leverage personalized communications. From the marketing suite of a large international corporation to the press-room of your local commercial printer, everyone was trying to figure out how to take advantage of what is now readily available in the marketplace.

We will need to look at the industry on three different levels to fully understand the present status of the digital printing marketplace: vendors, technologies and end users. The market dynamics of the three levels are all converging to create a very interesting reference point for the printing industry. Record attendance at the OnDemand Conference was strongly influenced by the concurrent running of the the AIIM Conference and the Digital Marketing Symposium.

This wise grouping of conferences is a very telling sign for how the future will unfold. OnDemand is focused on the production side of digital printing, while AIIM is primarily IT and software focused, and the Digital Marketing Symposium provides strategies to marketers for their integrated digital customer communications implementations. Do you think that digital printing, IT and marketing belong together? You bet your sweet….Oops, can’t get too carried away with the unfolding story yet. Follow me as we look into what is really going on around us.

Digital Print Vendors: Is there a changing of the guard?

As we look at the vendor landscape for the traditional commercial printer, there is a significant transition. Those that are interested in implementing a digital print workflow are dealing outside their traditional vendor base. The new major players are Xerox, Hewlett-Packard, Canon, Epson, Oce and – now – Kodak. These are the companies that commercial printers will have to establish a relationship with to purchase the key imaging components for their systems. all of these vendor companies come from a consumer-oriented sector into an industrial sector.

These vendors all have strong IT understanding, except perhaps Kodak, and they all have significant manufacturing and distribution channels. But Kodak has become a significant player in digital-printing and established one of the broadest ranges of imaging capabilities with both inkjet (VersaMark/Digit) and electro photography (NexPress). This will provide them with an edge in producing and supporting these new digital-printing systems. Their biggest challenge will be to bring in the human talent that can understand and readily relate day-to-day issues to the commercial printers. They are going to have to understand the workflow requirements for imposition, trapping (is this going away in a digital-printing environment?), spot colours, and binding and finishing. It will be important that these outsiders do not get lost in our industry’s language or requirements during discussions on the production of a printed piece.

Meanwhile, the traditional vendors to the commercial printing market are struggling to make the transition into digital printing. The recent announcement – long-time speculation – that Heidelberg is selling their interest in the NexPress to Kodak clearly demonstrates the struggles that a traditional, heavy-metal graphic arts supplier has in developing and supporting a digital printing business. Heidelberg was never able to successfully integrate the digital printing business with their offset business. They are not the first, nor will they be the last, to exit this business.

Agfa, in the mid-90s, got out of the digital printing business when they discontinued their distribution agreement and ownership of the Chromapress product line from Xeikon. Agfa’s recent announcement of their purchase of the Belgium digital-press manufacturer Dotrix shows their intention to re-enter the market. Additionally, Agfa has a strategic agreement with Xaar, a leading UK inkjet printhead developer, to jointly research, develop and manufacture inkjet imaging systems across market segments. Agfa is clearly placing its bets on inkjet as opposed to liquid ink (toner)-based systems.

The other key traditional graphic arts manufacturers are still developing their vision for their future in digital printing. MAN Roland with its DICOweb and KBA with its Karat product line have been working with digital printing systems for over five years, with limited success. Screen is beginning to develop on-press, polyester-based plate imaging with its TruePress 544. Fuji Film has not clearly announced their intentions in the high-end digital printing space.

Creo has its on-press imaging systems and the Spire colour servers and Darwin software to begin a foray into digital printing. They are better positioned with their workflows than the other traditional vendors to take advantage of this growing market. With the recent announcement that Creo is going to sell the Xerox DocuColor 3535, 5252 and 6060 digital colour presses combined with the Spire colour server and other prepress software into the commercial printing market, Creo’s emphasis on the digital printing market is apparent. They will leverage their workflow, including Networked Graphic Production, and consulting services to provide mid-range printers with a complete digital printing solution. This relationship developed after Xerox and KPG terminated their distribution agreement for KPG to sell the Xerox mid-range and entry-level production equipment with their related products into the commercial printing marketplace. These series of events and relationships are interesting to watch because the scene highlights those challenges that traditional graphic arts vendors have in implementing a sales and support organization for digital printing requirements.

New vendors, along with some of the traditional graphic arts vendors, are now presenting the standards that the commercial printing market will use for frontend workflows. This list includes names like XMPie, EFI, Exstream Software, GMC Software Technology, Group 1 Software, Atlas Software, DataLogics, Techno-Design, Document Sciences Corporation, Printable Technologies, PrintSolf Systems, Meadows Publishing Solutions and Pageflex.

Many of these companies have been around for several years, but the average commercial printer has never had a relationship with them. Now, with more emphasis being placed on the growth of digital printing, these companies are becoming increasingly important to a printer’s success. Implementing a variable-data, digital-printing workflow requires that the existing workflow be supplemented and expanded to support these new requirements (Web enablement, content management, database management, PPML,1VDX,1]DF).

There have been some tremendous moves by major companies to establish themselves as a long-term player in the printing market (see Events of the recent past reveal the near future). Come drupa, we will see additional announcements on new relationships and acquisitions/mergers within our industry. all the companies will need to expand and shift their focus to fully participate in this growing market. And this can only be good for the end user in the long term! Stronger companies will make better partners in this transition. When investigating the options available in the market to expand your business, do not forget to understand the long-term strategy of the vendor company, as well as their technology. The proof is in knowing where the vendors arc spending their money and when they are only talking about it.

Web-enabled workflows and automation will require the vendors to have a story when potential customers ask for one. Marc Raad, Hewlett-Packard’s commercial account manager for Canada’s Imaging and Printing Group, says, “With the increasing emphasis on Web-enabled workflows, JDF becomes huge. Supporting it will be a requirement for an automated workflow.” Standards supported by the vendors should be in all discussions on how to work together to expand your business opportunities.

Commercial business is changing

The requirements for a commercial printer to expand into a variable-data printing environment are significant. The key areas that have to be addressed:

Database skills: A commercial printer can begin using digital printing without significant database knowledge with print-on-demand (POD) applications. Eventually, they will have to expand into variable-data printing which by definition requires a working, if not in-depth, knowledge of how to develop and maintain a database.

IT expertise: With the increasing emphasis on Web-enabled workflows and automation, an internal IT resource becomes critical. Integration of the various components on the network and developing hooks for automation becomes a core expertise for the commercial printer. The need to establish workflows that support and integrate JDF, XML, PPML and VDX forces an organization to increase its IT structure.

Marketing savvy: Commercial printers are no longer just competing with other printers. Their product is also competing against other media, such as websites, email, text messaging and e-books, as well as TV and radio. Their role is expanding into providing marketing communications production solutions, not just printing. How can a commercial printer discuss marketing solutions with a marketer if they do not have a marketing person on staff?

Solution selling: As the complexity of the workflow increases, so does the selling cycle. It becomes more important to sell a program, as opposed to selling a project. A program entails defining a problem and developing a solution that provides measurable results (potentially an ROI has to be developed).

Printers have traditionally been excellent at establishing an infrastructure to support a manufacturing process to a specific media – print, of course. Now they are required to develop systems that can transform information (content) into the appropriate format for a media in which the customer wants it delivered: websites, email, e-books, PDAs and cell phones, as well as both variable and static print. Are printers going to make the same mistake as the railroads, which arguably fell because they always viewed themselves as railway companies and not as transportation companies? Does this pattern fit printers that do not consider themselves as communications production solutions providers?

The relationship with the creative and corporate businesses is changing. The evaluation of strategic versus tactical services becomes the guiding principle to evaluate business opportunities. Outsourcing of the tactical services that support the organization’s core business is coming under increasing pressure. As corporations require faster turnaround, production solutions are more tightly integrated into the creative environment. The goal is to automate the entire process from creation to final delivery of the content. This is difficult and complex at best, but also doable in many situations. But agencies and the commercial printers will not become one right away.

“Agencies are going to be more focused on image and campaign strategies, not the final execution of those strategies,” says Helene Blanchette, Xerox Canada’s national graphic arts industry manager. This idea supports the trend that agencies will increasingly focus on the marketing communication strategies for the corporation communications, while the commercial printers will focus on the tactics and execution of the strategy. To support these newer strategies, it requires an infrastructure that is not typically available from the commercial printers today.

Copyright Youngblood Communications Co., Ltd. Apr 2004

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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