Archive for the ‘Industry News’ Category

Inkjet Update featuring Canon Solutions America at Graph Expo 2014

Thursday, November 13th, 2014

For those of you who missed last month’s Graph Expo, you might want to check out this clip to catch up on the latest offerings from Canon Solutions America. The 5-minute overview features Michael Poulin, Director of Product Marketing at Canon Solutions America, and Mark Michelson editor of Printing Impressions Magazine. The two discuss the latest and greatest in inkjet, as well as touch on the last couple of announcements the company has made on new technologies.

Where the numbers stand now, Canon Solutions America makes up 44% of the worldwide inkjet market share. Poulin notes that the first three quarters of 2014 had a very strong close in the US and in Europe. This pattern, he predicts, will continue through the end of the fiscal year. Strengthening their case on leadership, Canon Solutions America reached 69 billion pages in global page volume according to last year’s numbers. The predicted number for 2015 has yet to be released, but Poulin is confident that his company will stay on top of the boards.

Poulin also notes that inkjet technology took the spotlight at last month’s Graph Expo, with customers and partners at the center of the company’s advancements. “Customers are the ones pushing the envelope of various applications,” credits Poulin. With new substrate combinations, Poulin predicts an expansion into the graphic arts market.

Along with showcasing the inkjet presses themselves, Canon Solutions America also featured advancements made with their paper partners. This article in particular offers further detail, highlighting how paper mills are now in the driver’s seat to advance production and to empower customers to get the best quality output from their presses. This “paper consortium” allows customers to have access to hundreds of stocks from over 30 paper mills in order to produce top quality end results.

Not only did Canon Solutions America celebrate their paper mill partnerships, but the company also hosted customer appreciation events. This article highlights details of the events themselves, but it’s safe to say that the printing community was brought together to enjoy shared successes and to build momentum for the future.

What Does the iPhone 6 Mean for Printers?

Wednesday, November 5th, 2014

As a print service provider, your services help your customers build their business and their client base. To stay competitive, it’s vital that you stay ahead of the game, keeping abreast of changing technology that can change the way you do business and the services you offer your customers. That’s why you need to know about the new iPhone 6 and its NFC (Near Field Communication) technology, brand new for this iPhone model. NFC technology offers your print customers even more opportunities to make use of mobile devices to build stronger and more profitable relationships with their customers, while adding extra value to your print and marketing services.

So, what exactly is NFC, and why do NFC and the iPhone 6 matter to your print business? Click here to find out out in my latest post on WhatTheyThink!

CEO’s – Stay Connected to the Shop Floor

Monday, November 3rd, 2014

Through my career I have worked for various CEO’s who have allowed themselves to become disconnected from the realities of working on the shop floor. Sometimes this happened by “accident”, while in some cases the CEO purposely worked to avoid developing and maintaining a relationship with those who executed the work orders and got the work out. In my opinion, this represented a lack of leadership sense and typically resulted in an organizational culture needing frequent repair. And if the chasm between senior management and shop floor workers grows too wide the results can bring a business to its knees.

I’ve heard all the excuses… “I’m too busy. There’s just not enough time”. “I hire supervisors to handle the workforce”. “If I get too close, I won’t be able to make the hard decisions about who stays and who goes”. Like most excuses, it’s not justifiable and likely represents either a lack of leadership experience, a lack of understanding, or a blatant disregard for the organization’s most valuable asset. As CEO you are responsible for creating and maintaining a positive and constructive organizational culture. This is not a responsibility you can delegate or outsource.

Some of you who lead small organizations that require your daily presence on the shop floor may think this message is not for you. Not so fast. Some of the CEO’s I referred to above actually started out being “owner operators” dividing their time between managing and operating shop floor equipment. But, as the company experienced success and grew more of their time was spent with “strategic” responsibilities until the time came when they no longer understood the challenges encountered by those who “get the work out”.

Like all critically important things, staying connected requires diligence, commitment, and a plan. Part of that plan should include the responsibility for managing the internal messaging required to keep all employees informed. Does each of your employees know the reason why your company exists, what makes it unique, why customers come and why they go, and how what they do impacts the company’s success or failure? How often do they get updates regarding the company’s performance? Do birthdays or service anniversaries get recognized? Are there celebrations to recognize individual and organizational achievements? All of this can be captured in a company newsletter, but that still falls short of what you need to do. You need to regularly communicate all this information, and more, in face-to-face periodic company-wide meetings that you organize and lead.

Here is a typical agenda for a company-wide meeting that should take place at least once a quarter and can be accomplished in 90 – 120 minutes –

  • Review of company mission, purpose, goals and objectives…
  • Review of progress against all goals and objectives –
  • Review of simplified P&L, balance sheet, and cash flow (this represents a great teaching opportunity).
  • Review of new customers and lost customers with explanations about why they came and why they left.
  • Review of critically important initiatives and projects being introduced in the coming quarter.
  • Introduction of new employees.
  • Recognition of service anniversaries.
  • Q&A.

This represents an investment of 8 hours of communication and connection time over the course of a year. Few commitments will provide a greater return on investment. What should you expect? How about higher morale, higher productivity, less employee turnover, and higher levels of customer satisfaction?

Wait, you’re not done. Paying attention to employee communication and education should not only happen four times a year. Get up from behind that desk and spend some time on the shop floor. Be seen. Talk to folks during breaks and in between shifts. Try and learn a little about their families and interests away from the plant. Show your “human” side. Let them know they are more than just cogs in a wheel.

Does it make the tough decisions about staffing easier? No. But that’s why you get paid “the big bucks”

The Right Data and the Right Time

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Fall is here and the holiday season is upon us. For many businesses, this season correlates to the most profitable quarter of the fiscal year. Every year holiday spending numbers continue to grow as buyers become more and more informed on what businesses offer. It’s no coincidence that consumer spending has increased; the proliferation of marketing media—both print and digital—has become more prevalent in the customer experience than ever before. This enhanced customer experience directly equates to an increase ‘buy-in’, producing larger financial returns.

The Canon Solutions America PressGo! webinar, The Right Data at the Right Time, unpacks how this trend has surfaced and offers advice on how to take advantage of the opportunities it presents. InfoTrends’ Lisa Cross discusses the importance of data collection and analysis in the advancement of an enhanced customer experience. Cross defines the customer experience today, explains the value of the right data, and offers tips on how to harness the right data to drive results.

One key take-away Cross highlights early in the webinar surrounds the concept of “me-marketing”. With stark competition vying for consumers’ attention, me-marketing plays an intricate role in appealing to an individual customer’s wants, needs and values. “If you want to get someone’s attention, make it about them,” says Cross. Personalized and targeted messaging creates a stronger line of communication, which in turn fosters a stronger relationship with the individual consumer.

So what kind of data drives me-marketing? Data that quantifies and qualifies consumers’ likes, interests, purchasing behaviors, lifestyle, and so on. Data can be structured, i.e. numbers that fit into a spreadsheet nicely, or unstructured, i.e. text and multimedia data that require extra steps for organization and analysis. It is not difficult to collect these types of data. Rather, the challenge lies in identifying which data have meaning and in deciding how to effectively apply this information to improve returns and advance consumer engagement. According to a recent study, 66% of marketers believe data-driven marketing promotes positive value to companies today. By collecting customer and sales data, marketers are able to consolidate, profile, rate and analyze the information in order to create the most appropriate marketing campaign for their target audience. There are a number of technologies available to achieve data collection and analysis: analytics, infrastructure, open-source, to name a few.

Keeping true to the trends, the print industry as well has entered the data-driven marketing space. Printers are in the mix of providing data services in management and analytics. Not only does the printer provide the means—or channel—of a communications piece, but also the printer is able to actively participate in running the marketing campaign. Clients now partner with print providers for data list acquisition, programming, campaign dashboard creation and response tracking & management. These services are vital towards achieving a client’s marketing goals, and thus, larger returns.

As the trend continues to emerge, it will be interesting to follow how print providers respond to the call for data services. If you want to learn more about data-driven marketing and the challenges in executing personalized campaigns, be sure to check out the full webinar here!

 

The Future of Print

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Everyone has an opinion about it. But we’re most interested in what the people closest to the action—owners and managers of companies that print—have to say. So last month we launched the Future of Print Survey. Early results are in. Among the key numbers:

• 53.9% expect the total demand for print (all products, all processes) to stay around current levels over the next three years. In comparison, 26.9% expect demand to decrease, 15.4% expect demand to increase, and 3.8% aren’t sure what to expect.

• 73.9% expect print’s share of their company revenue to decrease between now and 2017, 8.7% expect print’s share to increase, and 17.4% expect it to stay around current levels. Among all companies surveyed, print is expected to decline, on average, from 73.9% to 64.6% of revenue.

• 57.7% believe direct mail has the most growth potential of any printed product, followed by promotion (other than direct mail), wraps and banners, and packaging, each cited by 38.5%.

Many we’ve surveyed emphasize that the future of print will ultimately be determined by its ability to deliver value. The comparisons they draw between what print was and what it is show that ability is hardly static:

• Generic direct mail compared with highly personalized direct mail carrying “QR codes or pURLS that allow you immediate feedback on the success/failure of the piece.”

• Mass-market catalogs compared with “on-demand, evergreen catalogs with variable-data processing tailored to individual needs and delivered very quickly.”

• Traditional business cards compared with cards with “QR codes on the back to scan contact information directly into the phone without error.”

Of course the innovation will continue, with print incorporating new ways to create value over the next three years, just as it has over the past three years. But understanding only the technology side of the innovation, the “bells and whistles,” isn’t going to be enough. The opportunity for every company in our industry is to understand how our clients and prospects can benefit from the innovation—how it can help them get noticed, whether in the mail box or the retail aisle, attract and retain business, better understand their target markets, increase revenue, decrease costs and waste, etc.—and then to communicate those benefits to them, never assuming they just get it.

Rate and Pace Will Win the Race

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

By now, the failed experiment of Ron Johnson as CEO of major retailer JC Penney has been well chronicled.  Until the April 7 issue of Fortune magazine, however, much of the detail about what happened had not been made quite so public.  What was revealed in the article, titled, “How to Fail in Business While Really, Really Trying,” was not simply corporate hubris or even CEO ego run amuck.  Rather, it demonstrated quite simply how difficult business transformation can really be (even for really smart people).

So here we have Ron Johnson, former head of Apple’s retail division, widely hailed as a genius for making his vision for Apple retail stores a reality.  If you have ever visited an Apple store (and you probably have), you know that they continue to be busy, buzzing, bustling (and very profitable) places.  Innovative in design, layout, lighting, and staffing, there is nothing traditional, stodgy, or boring about an Apple retail store.  The same could not be said for JC Penney.  In fact, the big retailer had plateaued and was going nowhere fast.  Who better to transform this traditional, boring, also-ran into a lively, exciting, youthful destination?

Clearly, Johnson had his own ideas and his own ways of doing things.  And he did what many in his position do when beginning a new challenge: he surrounded himself with his own people.  The holdover JC Penney team members were made to feel as though they were outsiders, especially when they challenged some of Johnson’s ideas.  No more coupons or sales?  JC Penney customers had come to rely on them and scheduled their visits to the store to align with the timing of these special offers.  The offers stopped coming―and so did the customers.

There are certainly enough Penney holdovers who lamented the fact that rather than selling “cool technology to ‘20 somethings’,” Penney was selling “dresses and flannel sheets to women in their 50s!” Clearly the same retailing prowess that fueled Apple’s growth could not work at JC Penney.  Looking back, that argument seems to make sense now.  But here’s the insight.

The fact is that no one knows whether Ron Johnson had it right or not, and that is the real tragedy of the JC Penney story.  What was clearly wrong was not the idea of radical transformation and change (Penney needed both), but the rate and pace of that change.  That’s what makes transformation so challenging and so daunting.  We need to hold on to what we have now, while simultaneously creating something new and better.

For executives and owners in the printing, mailing, graphic communications business who themselves are seeking to transform their businesses, the JC Penney story (as far away as that seems from our industry) can and should provide a stark and valuable lesson.  Business transformation requires parallel paths; keeping what (and who) we have in the near term while creating something new and different for the long term.  It isn’t that we are wrong to transform and change our business; it is the rate and pace of that change that will go a long way in determining our success.

It’s About TIME

Thursday, August 14th, 2014

The newest old company, Time Inc., was very busy in June. The venerable publisher of magazines, including household names such as Time, Fortune, People, and Sports Illustrated, was spun off from Time Warner, separating the aging print-centric parent from its progeny’s profitable entertainment and programming businesses. As its retirement gift, the new Time Inc. has been saddled with $1.3 billion of debt, as well as responsibility for a group of underperforming British magazines. With more than 90 titles in print, Time Inc. is challenged by the continuing and steady decline in magazine circulation which in turn has driven revenue down for 22 of the last 24 quarters.

Prompted by Time Inc.’s decision to cut off shipment of its magazines, magazine wholesaler Source Interlink Distribution filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy in June, announcing that the company will cease operations. Time Inc. apparently had good reason to withhold further shipments, reporting that it will be unable to collect $26 million due from Source Interlink. As Time Inc. switches to another distributor, it will likely lose sales and possibly readership loyalty as its newsstand slots sit empty for up to 12 weeks.

Time Inc. wasted no time in diversifying away from the legacy print business, announcing on June 2nd that it was acquiring Cozi. The Seattle-based company is a purely digital company that offers a mobile app and website that families use to coordinate shopping, schedules and to-do lists. No print involved.

Time Inc. wrapped up the month by divesting its Latin-American subsidiary, magazine publisher Grupo Expansión. Headquartered in Mexico City, with 16 titles in print, the company was purchased by Southern Cross Group, a private equity firm with investments throughout Central and South America.

In my recent article in NAPL’s new publication, Bottom Line, “M&A: Still a Buyer’s Market?” I postulated that the market for commercial printing companies is improving and smart buyers with well-defined strategies are returning to the market, and that we may be at an inflection point between a buyer’s and seller’s market. Recent transactions suggest that acquirers of companies in the commercial printing segment may be less reliant on the “tuck-in” growth strategy, in which a healthy commercial printer picks up the sales of a distressed printer on a pure earnout basis, leaving the seller to close down operations and sell off the excess equipment.

In a transaction that appears more strategic than predatory, two commercial printing/mailing companies in the Seattle area with combined revenues in excess of $50 million, DCG West and CCS Printing, announced that they are joining forces, moving into a new 140,000 square-foot facility, and re-branding the new entity as DCG ONE. In another separate transaction in the Pacific Northwest region, Wright Business Graphics, based in Portland, Oregon acquired Sunset Press in Kent, Washington. Both companies sell only to the trade, and the combined operations reportedly will have $55 million in revenues.

Despite recent positive signs in the commercial printing segment, the “tuck-in” is not completely dead, and commercial printing companies continue to seek out opportunities to absorb the sales of smaller companies. Cedar Graphics in Hiawatha, Iowa tucked-in the sales of local competitor The Brandt Company which itself ceased operations. In a deal put together by my firm, the NAPL Business Advisory Group, J.S. McCarthy of Augusta, Maine, purchased the customer base and certain assets of Printech, a commercial printer located in Stamford, Connecticut.

Block Communications shuttered two downtown newspaper print operations. The company’s Pittsburgh Post-Gazette will be printed at a newly leased 245,000 square-foot facility outfitted with new printing equipment. Block’s Ohio paper, The Blade of Toledo, will be outsourced to a yet-to-be-announced more efficient plant that is within distance to meet the daily schedule, consistent with the trend occurring throughout the newspaper industry. Phoenix Media Communications in Boston announced the closure of newspaper and circular printer Mass Web Printing in Auburn, Massachusetts. The Seventh-day Adventist church is closing its Hagerstown, Maryland printing company, transferring the printing to its west coast printing operation in Nampa, Idaho.

The Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Virginia, is back on our deal log, now exiting its Chapter 11 bankruptcy in a 363 asset sale to distressed debt fund Sandton Capital Partners. In addition to the paper and radio stations, the purchase included the Print Innovators division which prints the newspaper, circulars and commercial printing products.

You can find The Target Report at http://targetreport.blogspot.com with the complete deal logs and links to sources.

Hearing the Voice of Our Best Customers

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

In his blog “How to Protect Market Share,” burnsattitude.wordpress.com, Kevin Burns writes the following: “A recent survey of senior executives showed 80% believed that their organizations offered a superior customer experience. When surveyed, only 8% of their customers actually agreed.”

Maybe those executives are in industries that are growing rapidly, have work to spare, and only limited competition, so they can get away with being so out of touch. We aren’t. Every one of us is in a pitched battle for market share. We don’t win by assuming we know what clients think of us or what they value most. We win by verifying—by hearing clearly and regularly the voice of our best clients.

We recently asked the heads of some of our industry’s most successful companies how they hear the voice of their best clients. Here’s some of what they told us:

• Meet frequently on an owner-to-owner/executive-to-executive basis—“meeting and meeting, listening and listening,” is how one owner puts it—to hear the client’s voice directly and unfiltered by anyone—including sales reps.

• Team selling, subject matter expert selling, and consultative selling to keep the sales process focused on what’s most important to the client, not the sales rep.

• Hang out physically where clients hang out. Attend their trade shows and industry events, read their business and trade press, joint their associations, etc.

  •  Hang out physically where clients hang out. Attend their trade shows and industry events, read their business and trade press, joint their associations, etc.

• Hang out virtually where clients hang out. Know where in the social media world clients hang out—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, a forum or list serve—and hang out there, too.

• Use the NAPL eKG Competitive Edge Profile™ (http://napl.org/ekg/ekg-competitive-profile-more-info/) to measure how they rate compared to the competition in the areas most important to their customers, to identify competitive strengths and weaknesses, and to aggressively build on the former and correct the latter.

Leaders agree that there is no single best approach to hearing the voice of the client. To the contrary, different clients will be responsive to different approaches. The one thing they agree we can’t do: Sit back and assume we have it all figured out.

What are you doing to hear the voice of your best clients?

How to Utilize NFC for Print Marketing

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014

Near field communication, or more commonly referred to as NFC, is a current and fast-growing technology that can be extremely beneficial for marketing and in particular, print campaigns.

Are you looking for new ways to make your print materials more engaging? NFC poses a great opportunity for you.

Watch the video below to learn all about NFC – what it is, examples, and how you can use it to bring your print campaigns to life.

Have you tried out NFC yet or do you have any questions? Let me know in the comments below!

What’s Missing from Your Omni-Channel Marketing Strategy?”

Tuesday, July 22nd, 2014

Canon Solutions America will host an “Ask the Experts Roundtable” entitled “What’s Missing from Your Omni-Channel Marketing Strategy” on Oct 27th at 12:30 PM at the Direct Marketing Association Conference being held in San Diego, CA. The roundtable Group Leaders will be Elizabeth Gooding, President, Gooding Communications Group, and Sheri Jammallo, Corporate Enterprise Segment Marketing Manager, Canon Solutions America.  Both Elizabeth and Sheri will lead the group through a discussion you won’t want to miss.  In this session you will learn:

What’s Missing from Your Omni-Channel Marketing Strategy?   When marketers compare the MROI of the various direct marketing channels they use the conversation tends to follow the lines of “digital versus traditional” or “online and offline” but rarely is it a true “omni-channel” discussion. One of the most overlooked channels is statement marketing, which is a critical anchor point in customer retention and cross-selling initiatives. With recent advances in full-color inkjet printing, statement marketing is poised to become one of the most cost efficient and effective tools in the marketer’s palette – particularly when used in conjunction with an overall multi-channel customer experience strategy. Come to this session to learn how statement marketing can drive value on its own, add value to other channels, and the key factors to consider when developing statement marketing initiatives.

For more information on this session, go to: http://dma14.org/conference/ask-the-experts/

Elizabeth Gooding helps clients in highly regulated industries to optimize the designs, processes and production technology used for multi-channel communications. She conducts research on trends, technology and opportunities related to the marketing services value-chain while sharing her experience through industry white papers, blogs and speaking engagements. She is a recognized thought-leader in the optimization of transaction communications and hosts the Transpromo Professionals Network on LinkedIn and other business communications related groups. Having worked extensively with a wide spectrum of clients from print manufacturers and print service providers to in-plant printers and corporate print buyers she has a unique perspective on the application of technology to specific vertical industries and business development strategies that drive results.

Get Your (Augmented) Reality Check!

Friday, June 13th, 2014

You’ve heard about Google Glass(es) before, right? But have you seen those magazine advertisements that come to life on your smart phone? You might be thinking of QR codes, which isn’t too far off, but I’m referring specifically to a leading-edge technology that facilitates the most digitally enhanced communication pieces. The technology, Augmented Reality (AR), consists of software integrations to marketing pieces that add layers of digital content (photos, videos, sound effects, games) to a printed advertisement. With AR, a traditional print ad becomes an interactive communications tool that can be used to further inform consumers, gather consumer information, offer promotions, and create deeper brand experiences. At the end of the day, AR helps maximize ad shelf-life and foster consumer dialogue.

To get a better understanding of key applications and examples of AR, I encourage you to check out the recent webinar sponsored by Canon Solutions America titled “A Reality Check: Augmented Reality.” The webinar defines and exemplifies how AR interacts within both print and marketing communities. Barbara Pellow of Info Trends leads a conversation with Martin Ahe (Partnerships Manager at Layer) and Deborah Haskel (VP of Marketing at IWCO Direct) surrounding AR value and its implementation process.

Today, there are five critical trends associated with AR technology. The first involves an embedment of AR technology in ‘wearables’. Google Glass(es) are just one example, where the ‘wearer’ issues a verbal command to scan and perform a certain task. The second and third trends leverage AR to enhance the brand experience in retail and at live-events, like concerts. The fourth surrounds AR involvement in the educational space with do-it-yourself learning tools, like books and student projects. Lastly, AR has patterns of success in the automobile industry specifically. From sales brochures to owner’s manuals, brands like Ford, Volvo, Nissan, and Audi are using AR to interact, inform, educate, and strengthen relationships with their customers.

With AR growing in popularity in a variety of fields, you might be asking: “How do I start the implementation process today? And what does that process look like in conjunction with direct mail or printed communications pieces?” One way to start is by consulting the firm Layer, who is at the forefront of the AR industry. Ahe explains that the implementation process unfolds in a couple of simple, user-friendly steps:
1. In Layer Creator, upload a page that you wish to make interactive
2. Drag, drop and specify what you would like to link
3. Click publish

It’s important to remember, however, that the majority of customers are new AR technology. Thus, make sure to keep your blends simple, intuitive, and user-friendly. Haskel highlights: “In order to make effective use of AR, you have to help your clients understand the best way to use it. Think quality over quantity.” Content size (video, imaging, etc.) and the appropriate ‘call to action’ are two major components in creating a successful AR experience. And be sure to educate your audience. Many consumers are used to scanning QR codes where you only scan the small square with your smart phone. But with AR, you scan a larger area, usually the entire printed area, with your smart phone. Since this is a relatively new technology, it’s helpful to provide some direction on your printed piece for the consumer.

Get started today by checking out the webinar for classic examples and further details on the implementation process. It’s no wonder AR is here to stay when a brand can tell a story like this! Consider this your (augmented) reality check!

Raising the Standards with the Océ ImageStream 3500

Thursday, June 5th, 2014

The end of May marked a turning point in inkjet printing history with Canon’s announcement of the Océ ImageStream 3500. This continuous feed color inkjet press is the first of its kind with the ability to print on standard offset paper stocks. With both digital and offset capabilities, the technology of the Océ ImageStream 3500 removes the need for two different types of paper. Thus, high-quality inkjet printing is more streamline than ever before. Print Service Providers no longer need to rely on treated paper or add-ons to achieve high-quality print production. In coordination with paper mill partners, Canon has tested the print and image quality on a range of paper sources from uncoated to gloss. Notably, all have yielded positive results.

For commercial printers aiming to make the transition into digital printing, this could be your solution. With dual-functionality, the press handles a digital or conventional run up to 160m/min at 1200 x 600 dpi and features a flexible droptlet modulation for higher perceived image resolution. In terms of applications, the Océ ImageStream 3500 is fit for high-end book production, brochures, magazines, personalized catalogues, as well as direct mail pieces. The press itself is the most compact in its class: 10-50% smaller than other production system, which translates to a major save on floor space.

That transition from offset printing to digital, or even inkjet, printing… it just got a little bit more tempting.

All in all, the standards have been raised with the announcement of the Océ ImageStream 3500. We will just have to wait patiently until 2015 for its launch. For further details, check out the recent posts on WhatTheyThink? and InfoTrends.

Big Game Hunting

Friday, May 16th, 2014

Next week, Enfocus Software will be hosting a “Virtual Safari” which, for me, has much greater appeal than an actual safari in that it avoids bugs, malaria, snakes, and crocodile and hippopotamus attacks. (Yes, it is actually true that more people are killed by hippopotami than lions, tigers, crocodiles, or even sharks. A traumatic childhood experience involving Henrietta Hippo from The New Zoo Revue adds only psychological scars.)

What was I saying?

Oh, right: the Virtual Safari. Five days, 25 speakers, and 28 sessions covering the virtual waterfront of the graphic arts market. I will be conducting a session on Wednesday called “Troubleshooting Big Game: 9 big mistakes that would-be wide-format printers can make.” (Why 9? Well, it’s a nice number, it’s the lowest odd number that is not a prime number, and reminds me of Dante’s “9 circles of hell” in the Inferno, which was kind of a safari. Or, in other words, I picked it at random.)

From buying equipment, to dealing with customers, to preflighting files, to sustainability, to finishing, I’ll be pointing out some traps and pitfalls to avoid, some obvious, some not so much. I also think it gives a pretty good overview (if I do say so myself) of the current state of the wide-format market, and what shops should know if they want to get involved in it. Last year, Dr. Joe Webb had commented, in a project we were working on for a wide-format output service provider, that “The wide-format market is like Florida: everyone is from somewhere else.” That is, today’s wide-format printing market is comprised of companies that moved from other places—photolabs, for example, transitioned over to wide-format printing. Some commercial printers have also moved—or at least gotten a time-share—there as well.

And one could hardly blame them. The troubles of the printing industry are not unknown to anyone reading this, and when one looks at how specialty graphics and wide-format printing applications have been growing—and are continuing to experience solid double-digit growth—well, it’s no surprise that others are eager to get a piece of the action. And why not? The state of the technology now is such that the barriers to entry have been drastically lowered from even what they were a decade ago. So it doesn’t take a mammoth investment to start-up a specialty printing business.

Not that this has made everyone happy. Some wide-format veterans have expressed a kind of “there goes the neighborhood” attitude, and some even worry—not wrongly—about certain wide-format printing applications becoming commoditized and spawning the kind of cutthroat pricing that has plagued small-format commercial printing. And certainly things like banners or even some types of garment printing don’t command the margins they once did.

The advantage to specialty printing, though, is that it rapidly changes. This may be a little scary, but there will always be new types of printing technologies that allow for the creation of new, exotic, high-value, high-margin printed items. It won’t be the same items from year to year, but that hasn’t been true for a long time, even in small-format printing. The market for print—or any type of communication—is just that, a market. It’s dynamic and fast-changing. Certain products become popular, they peak, plateau, then become less popular. Kind of like most celebrities. Therefore, it pays to know what new products/services are enabled by new technology, and what is in demand.

It can be a challenge and require no small amount of effort to keep up with everything—“stop the world, I want to get off!”—but actually it makes it all that much more exciting—as exciting as, say, a safari, but minus the malaria. And the hippos.

Book Publishing Made Easy with Inkjet Technology

Monday, April 28th, 2014

When we talk about inkjet technology and its benefits, the conversation tends to revolve around transaction (invoices, bills, statements) and promotional (direct mail) pieces. But in this webinar titled Inkjet: Implications for Book Printing Manufacturers and Publishers, InfoTrends’ Group Directors Barbra Pellow and Jim Hamilton bring book printing into the conversation. As they highlight, book printing now makes up roughly 20% of the inkjet marketplace, and is one of the fastest growing sectors towards adopting this technology. The webinar explores why the shift is occurring, defines emerging technologies, and discusses the financial implications of adopting a high-speed inkjet digital business model.

To understand any industry shift, it is important to consider social and financial factors that contribute to the changes in trends. In 2010, Hamilton cites three key conclusions about the changing dynamics of the book publishing industry. These include: “content is king, publishing is becoming more of a service than a product, and the days of high-volume book manufacturing are coming to an end.” By 2014, Hamilton affirms these conclusions are more prevalent than ever before with 1st mode publishing, just-in-time manufacturing, and print-on-demand services. In fact, with the onset of e-delivery, Hamilton proposes that the entire definition of a book is evolving. Now books are also electronic, on-demand, interactive, contain personal content and are delivered via multiple channels.

Although digital channels are rising in popularity, print remains one of the most effective delivery methods. In a recent PEW research study, it was found that 7 out of 10 adults read printed books. Only 4% of readers are ‘e-book only’, where as the majority alternate amongst digital, print, and audio channels. Likewise, print remains a significant source of publishers’ revenue. All of these trends, grounded in research, highlight the need for digital print solutions that can get personalized product to market in order to meet the needs of both publisher and consumer.

Book printers and publishers are realizing that production digital print provides a more effective method of manufacturing. Shifting from offset, the biggest growth opportunity now lies within inkjet color continuous feed technologies. From wharehousing and distribution to the integration with cross-media and interactive components, digital inkjet solutions provide the capacity to fulfill publishers’ demands. Essentially, the digital printer becomes a virtual document wharehouse, in which inventory is produced at the click of a button within a given workflow. And it all comes at a reasonable price with inkjet. The final portion of the webinar lays out the impact of print volume over cost distribution. In the projection, fixed costs like equipment and monthly service fees decrease per unit as volume increases, but the cost component from click charges and ink increase as volume increases. These numerical relationships are important to consider once you’ve determined how ‘long’ your run should be.

“Technology is becoming your friend in the publishing market,” claims Pellow. Inkjet technology in particular seems to provide the highest quality solution and workflow to meet the end goal. For more on cost factors, black versus color printing breakdowns, and the full list of benefits of inkjet, be sure to check out the full webinar here!

All the Signs Are There

Monday, April 28th, 2014

Last week, I was in Orlando for the International Sign Association’s Sign Expo 2014, which was only the second Sign Expo I had covered (last year in Las Vegas was the first). It’s an exciting show, with the printing and electronic technologies I normally cover being presented from a bit of a different angle. An interesting comment I got from a few people I spoke with was that the show was “losing its identity” as a show dedicated specifically to signage. Granted, I don’t have the years of experience in that space to necessarily agree or disagree, but I mulled this over as I made my last reconnaissance mission to the show floor Saturday morning. As I wandered around, I kept coming back to the thought that the show’s identity seemed to me perfectly intact, at least as far as what it aims to focus on; it just seems that the nature of signage itself has been changing.

Last year, one of the show’s organizers told me that a major growth area of the show was print. Now, that’s one of those statements that, had I been drinking something, would have done a spit-take, as I haven’t been accustomed to thinking of print as being a big growth area anywhere these days. And yet today’s crop of wide-format printers—the big flatbed UVs and the textile printers, to name but two of the biggest categories of print equipment in the signage market today—were easily edging out channel letters, traditional wooden signs, exotic 3D lettering, and all the things we usually think of as “signs.” In fact, there were even some comments from the “old school” sign folks along the lines of print (at least in the context of signage) being some “new fad that will end as soon as people come to their senses”—kind of like what many commercial printers thought (and a few still think) about the Internet. I love it: print as a disruptive, upstart technology! We haven’t seen that since the 15th century.

And then there’s Maude: the substantial growth of dynamic digital signage, which everyone is trying to figure out what to do with, if anything.

“Signs” are many things these days. They are, yes, old-fashioned channel letters. They are beautifully engraved wooden signs such as you’d see outside an antique store. They are chalk boards. They are adhesive vinyl graphics. The are lighted exit signs and other types of wayfinding. But they’re also printed banners and so-called “soft signage.” They are, in some ways, vehicle wraps. And, increasingly, they are digital displays. (When one is trapped in an airport, trying to get home from shows like the Sign Expo, one has little else to do but wander about looking at all the myriad signage on display, if only to try to determine the latest trends in what gate you are departing out of.)

The challenges faced by today’s signmakers involve not only keeping up with rapidly changing technology—especially, but not only, where digital signage is concerned—but also how to integrate new types of signs with older ones to best serve the practical and aesthetic needs of the customer. A fast food franchise, an antiquarian bookseller, a law office, and a high-end retail establishment will all have completely different signage needs and require different technologies. More importantly, signage graphics very often need to be integrated, or at the very least be consistent, with other graphic elements and components of a larger campaign, like marketing collateral materials, advertising, and online elements. If you are producing wayfinding signage (a massive, byzantine topic all on its own), there are reams of regulations (the Americans with Disabilities Act, building codes, etc.) that need to be digested before a single sign can be output. Then there is the perennial challenge of how to sell new technologies, like digital signage, without cannibalizing old business.

New technologies are taking signs in completely new directions, and new pitfalls abound. If shows like the Sign Expo seem like an eclectic, often chaotic mix of crafted, printed, and electronic media (and, in many ways, reminiscent of other shows like SGIA) it’s only because signage itself has evolved into an eclectic, often chaotic mix of crafted, printed, and electronic media. The question now is, how do we make it all work together?