Archive for the ‘Print Markets’ Category

Best Practices for Getting User Buy-In for Web-to-Print

Wednesday, October 8th, 2014

I have been surprised lately by how much traction my posts on Web-to-print have been getting lately. It tells me that I’m on to something. Currently, I’m working on an article for Printing Impressions on getting user buy-in once the system is installed. In other words, printers only make money with Web-to-print if their clients’ employees are actually using the portals you develop, so how do you ensure that happens?

You can’t guarantee anything, of course. But here are 5 of the best practices I’ve been talking about in no particular order. What would you add to this list?

1. Charge for development, template-building, and execution. If something is free, there is little perceived value.

2. Place the link to the portal in a place where employees regularly go to conduct business. Also known as, “If they can’t find it, they can’t use it.”

3. Proactively work with the customer on its launch plan. If the customer doesn’t have a plan to get its employees to buy into and use the system, then help them create one. Webinars, seminars, help desks, employee newsletters. What would you recommend?

4. Understand how people will actually use the system. For example, if they are salespeople out in the field, ordering on iPads, the site cannot use Flash. If it relies on Flash, then — newsflash — it won’t get used.

5. Keep the feedback line open and respond to user requests. If the templates are being designed by corporate and employees, distributors, or other authorized users hate them, guess what? They won’t use them. (Assuming they’ve been given a choice.) Solicit and respond to user feedback and give the users on the ground what they need, want, and will use.

There are lots of more, but it’s a great platform for discussion. What do you think of this list? What best practices would you add to it? What has worked for you in the past?

 

Web-to-Print: Selling from a User’s Point of View

Friday, October 3rd, 2014

It seems that I’m seeing user stories about Web-to-print everywhere recently. I’ve written here about best practices, the most important of which, I have argued, is getting the user buy-in.

At Graph Expo, I attended a press conference by CHILI Publisher, and one of the elements of the conference really struck me. It was the promotional video at the opening of the press conference. The video didn’t talk about the features or benefits of the solution. It showed real business owners, real distributors, real consumers using it.

The video showed a brand owner, a retailer, a product distributor, and father and his daughter all creating a variety of elements that promote different aspects of the brand. Whether logging in on a laptop while sitting behind the retail counter or sitting on a couch with an iPad, the diverse range of users logged into a portal and customized documents, sliding and resizing elements like you’d do on a touch-screen mobile device.

The brand owner created a custom catalog. The retailer created custom product labels. The distributor created signage. A father and daughter created and received branded merchandise delivered to their homes.

There were banners, displays, and mailing labels for boxes — a wide variety of products created by multiple individuals within the marketing and distribution chain, each serving a different role, all creating products with the appropriate branding.

In just a few minutes, the video showed — not told – the benefits of an online document creator and editing solution.

This focus on “how this benefits me” is what has been sorely lacking in the Web-to-print discussion for a long time. We, the industry, understand how this solution ties everything together, saves customers money, and facilitates branding (especially in a decentralized marketing environment), but how well is that being communicated to customers?

I have blogged about the Webinar produced by What They Think and how both large brand marketers (The Toro Company and LifeLock) only recently invested in W2P after having the broader content marketing, document management, and time/cost savings demonstrated to them, not by a printer, but by a software vendor.

This is another example of a software vendor doing a great job of illustrating the benefits of these solutions. It’s an example that I think many printers could benefit from.

More on my perspective on Web-to-print.

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.

Create Long Term Success with Web-to-Print

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014

Web-to-print is a valuable tool in your toolkit when it comes to creating long term success for your printing business. Web-to-print solutions offer your customers outstanding flexibility, cost effectiveness, and control over their end product, making you their go-to solution for their printing needs.

So, what are you doing wrong?

Although web-to-print poses a great opportunity for your print business, it is not a case of “if you offer the solutions, the customers will come.” The key to success with web-to-print is understanding how it meets your customers’ needs and making sure they know that.

How can you communicate the value of your web-to-print services to your customers and in turn, create a successful future for your print business? Download our article, Create Long Term Success with Web-to-Print, to learn how you can effectively market your solutions to your customers.

Please take a moment to read and share this resource at http://ilnk.me/W2PSuccess. Do you have any tips and best practices for marketing your web-to-print services? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

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!

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.

Building Your Web-to-Print Relationships

Wednesday, May 14th, 2014

Having a web-to-print storefront can be extremely beneficial for businesses. Through setting one up, a printer can save time and resources when it comes to the process of taking orders. However, while an online storefront may accomplish the goal of reducing the printer’s workload, could it end up meaning less business in the end?

Is the online-only bride too narrow?

As more and more of our interactions with businesses, friends, and other associates move online, service providers must still seek to develop relationships with customers that simply order online. Not only will this help us open up the communication lines when it comes to customer service, but it may also lead to conversations that generate additional business opportunities.

How can you make sure each customer who orders from you online feels just as appreciate and acknowledged as the rest? Download our article, Web-to-Print and Relationships, to learn 5 ways to build greater relationships with online-only customers.

Please take a moment to read and share this resource at http://ilink.me/OnlineOnly. Do you find your company running across this issue with online storefronts? What solutions have you found? I’d love to hear in the comments below!

Utilizing Multi-Channel Marketing, the Right Way

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

What is Multi-Channel?

Multi-channel marketing is the use of many different channels, such as direct mail, print, digital, and social media platforms, to spread one consistent, comprehensive, and effective marketing campaign. As a marketing or print service provider, it is important to promote the solutions that enhance the life of your brand as well as your printing services throughout a variety of channels.

If your business is still around in 2014, chances are you have realized that multi-channel marketing is not the secret formula to success, but rather a necessary component to the continual transformation of your print-centric business. In fact, you’re probably reading this and thinking, well… duh! So the real question now has become, what is the secret to successfully establishing a printer’s role as a marketing service provider (MSP) in this rapidly changing industry?

The Success in the Solutions

When thinking about marketing your business and the services you provide, remember that with Internet at every professional’s fingertips, finding a service they need is as easy as the click of a mouse or touch of a finger. That’s why your marketing message needs to reach prospects on a variety of channels while promoting what your services can do for each individual prospect. Knowing your target audience means knowing what they need, even if they do not. Make your marketing customer-centric. Try to stay away from promoting what your service is, and focus on what it does for your customers. Keep in mind that in order to sell solutions in a multi-channel market, developing a plan and strategy is paramount.

Planning for Multi-Channel

So we’ve established the need for marketing your solutions as well as your customers’ solutions on multiple channels. The roadblock now is managing the time and effort that this kind of inbound approach requires. A lot of MSPs that I work with or consult for are not struggling to wrap their heads around what must be done, but rather how to possibly accomplish such layered campaigns, without running their marketing into the ground.

The most important component, and I cannot stress this enough, is developing a multi-channel strategy that incorporates both marketing and sales. Have your teams work together to establish the bottom line of your multi-channel efforts, define:

  • Who you want to reach; the target audience you want to stay in front of.
  • What you want to say; what makes your company the best choice? Why are you different from your competitors?
  • When will your multi-channel efforts be most effective?
  • Where will your multi-channel efforts be most effective?
  • Why are the tactics you have chosen the best path for success?
  • How can you establish an execution strategy to market not only your brand and solutions, but also your customers’?

Once you have answered these questions, map out your marketing campaigns with visual charts and calendars. Keep in mind that multi-channel marketing is not a sprint, but rather a carefully executed relay race between sales and marketing, which requires orchestrated and practiced handoffs, that when done right will drive your prospects down the funnel.

Fortunately for MSPs struggling to handle the volume of multi-channel marketing and communications, several technological advances in customer communications management have emerged.

Objects in the Mirror

If you drive a car, even if you don’t, chances are you know the classic warning, “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear.” These words, which we see daily, are a prevalent theme in the problems that printers and MSPs are presently facing. The classic predicament of knowing that something was coming, but not realizing it would approach so quickly, has left many businesses stuck in the dust of the industry leaders racing by.

My advice to you is to dedicate your time to developing a plan that will accomplish maintaining the standard of multi-channel marketing, which has pushed your top competitors to the head of the pack. Once you’ve mapped out your goals, tactics and execution strategy, stay tuned to my blog for insight and advice on the tools and best practices your business can implement to achieve positive recognition and grow your business in this multi-channel era.

To learn more about multi-channel marketing strategies, see my previous post, The Dos and Don’ts of Multi-Channel Marketing!

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!

Printing Is Easy, Marketing Is Hard

Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

“Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read. —Groucho Marx

It has been said, by whom, I’m not entirely sure, that everyone has a book inside them (insert your own “Marxist” joke here), or at least everyone thinks they do. I am regularly asked by friends and colleagues, both inside and especially outside the printing industry, about how to self-publish a book. Almost universally, the questions are about the physical production and printing process (“how many pages/words do I need I need to write?” “How expensive is it?”, etc.) or how ebooks work. However, from my experience, the questions one asks about self-publishing should focus less on production and more on marketing—and even whether there is an audience at all for the book you want to write.

There are success stories, of course. The 50 Shades of Gray franchise (to my horror, I discovered too late that it had nothing to do with color management) is perhaps the emblematic example of the self-publishing experiment that was enough of a hit to lead to mainstream publishing success. (Imagine, erotica being a saleable commodity. Who’d’a thunk it?)

Regular WhatTheyThink readers may know (or be in denial about the fact that) that Dr. Joe Webb and I have co-written and self-published almost half a dozen books (see in particular here, as well as here, here, here, and here), and the half-dozenth is on the drawing board—and, no, will not be called 128 Levels of Gray and will not chronicle the erotic adventures of a prepress department manager. The one thing that we have learned in our self-publishing adventures is that production, printing, and even writing all comprise the easy part of the self-publishing process. Today’s digital and on-demand printing technologies make it easy and inexpensive to publish your own books, and services like Amazon and Lulu, to name two that we have used, handle both the physical production and offer an online storefront for a book. But that is, again, only the smallest of first steps.

Some serious questions and considerations to ponder before even setting finger to keyboard include:

  • What is the real market for the book? Be honest. What is the competition like? Do your due diligence. Search Amazon, Barnes & Noble—even venture to the nearest physical bookstore to see what books may exist on your topic. You may very well be entering a very crowded or even saturated market—even if you have a unique take on a well-trodden topic—and being self-published is one major strike against you if your closest competition is from an established publishing company.
  • Is there a lot of free competition? Our recent book is The Home Office That Works!, about setting up a productive home office, and while there are few published titles (that we found) that cover the topic the way we did (most are about launching a specific home business), but we discovered after the fact that there are a lot of blogs and online articles about various aspects of running a home office. It’s strewn piecemeal all over the Internet, but a challenge is getting people to buy something they can probably search out and get for free. If I were to write a book offering tips for prospective self-publishers, I would be in trouble because of blogposts like this one.
  • Do you have a promotional/marketing apparatus already in place? That is, are you a fairly well-known speaker in your industry and can use speaking gigs as marketing tools for the book (and/or vice versa)? When we published Disrupting the Future in 2010, it hit enough of a nerve in the industry that it led to Joe and I getting speaking gigs that, in turn, promoted the book. It helped that we were known quantities (for better or worse) in the industry.
  • How popular are you on social media? I’ll get in trouble for saying this, but I think social media has become vastly overrated as a marketing and publicity tool, but that’s not to say it is not without value. Are you active enough in these areas or do you—like me, I hasten to add—have to be dragged kicking and screaming into social media? If you are like me (and my thoughts and prayers go out to you), do you know someone who can do your social media stuff for you?

Self-publishing is not as looked down upon as the old vanity publishers of yore, but there is still a stigma attached to it, as in “you couldn’t get a real publisher, could you”—even though all the questions you should ask yourself before self-publishing are the same as you should ask before seeking out any publisher.

Digital printing technology has truly enabled the small, independent, or self-publisher—but that really is only the beginning of the process.

Why Your Clients Should Be Offering Email Couponing

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

If you’re a printer, you want clients to spend more money on print. So why should you encourage them to offer email coupons? Because email coupons are trackable, and they tell your clients what their customers are buying. That tells your clients a lot about those customers they can use for higher value print personalization later.

Experian Marketing Services’ 2013 4th Quarter email trends and analysis found a 50% year-over-year increase in the number of email campaigns offering coupons. As reported by MediaPost, whether the coupons were redeemable in-store, online, or both, email blasts with coupons outperformed other promotional mailings on open, click, and transaction rates. They also had 48% higher revenue per email ($0.10 for coupon mailings compared to $0.07 for other promotional mailings) in Q4 2013.

That’s a very active, engaged audience that can feed you a lot of information. Let’s say your customer is a specialty retailer offering a variety of pet products. It doesn’t have a loyalty program and isn’t large enough to track data at the point of sale. But you start sending email campaigns with coupons. The coupons that get printed, clicked through, or downloaded tell that customer which households have what types of pets. This allows you to help the store craft targeted campaigns directed at their specific pet needs.

Over time, it can alert the store to changes in pet ownership, too. Suddenly, the Smith, Jones, and Gordon families are downloading coupons for puppy chow. It’s a pretty good bet they just purchased a puppy. This can prompt mailings for grooming services, puppy beds, crates, and a variety of other products they are likely to need. In six to eight months, puppies grow into nearly full sized dogs, and those families will need larger beds, larger crates, training classes, flea and tick control for larger dogs, and so on.

One of the big hurdles to detailed targeting for small and mid-sized businesses is the lack of tracking at the point of sale. It’s great to talk about targeting and personalizing based on past purchase behavior, but most small and mid-sized marketers don’t know what their customers are buying. Email couponing gives insight into those behaviors in a way that’s realistic and affordable even for small businesses.

Are in-plants up to speed on offering cross-media marketing services?

Monday, March 17th, 2014

Although cross-media marketing services are becoming more prevalent amongst print and communications partner providers, we in the print industry have yet to discuss how this evolution affects in-house, or in-plant, offerings. Last week, Canon Solutions America sponsored an InPlantGraphics webinar surrounding the question at hand: How are in-plants making the cross-media connection? Barbara Pellow, Group Director at InfoTrends, offers key background information on how in-plants are moving up the value chain and provides a breakdown of planned market investments for 2014. This overview could not have been more appropriately complemented by the examples of leading edge solutions from one of the industry’s most progressive in-plants at The World Bank. Both David Leonard, Manager of Printing & Multimedia Services, and Jimmy Vainstein, Printing Facility Manager, pose important questions and review a business model in transforming a print-focused in-plant to a full service, cross-media solutions provider.

We know having a broad range of services and capabilities, price point, and speedy turnaround time are at the top of everyone’s vendor criteria wish list. But the kicker surrounds what types of services are provided to connect with the 2014 target audience. In an InfoTrends survey, mobile marketing, multi-channel integrated marketing, web hosting, and web design services trump that wish list. This by no means comes as a surprise given the direction of communications trends and increased digital access. Barbara drives home the point: “This market is in transition. It’s an evolution, not a revolution.” The winners in this evolving market are going to figure out how to make paper interactive, how to extend value of media, and how to create solutions that are easily measurable.

That might sound like a complicated process, but really it boils down to first understanding what options are out there. For example, four ways to make print interactive include:

  1. Mobile codes – example: QR code, which links to web address
  2. Mobile messaging – example: text message containing discount receipt instructions
  3. NFC Tags – example: printed poster containing tag, which links to mobile web offer
  4. Augmented Reality – example: printed brochure, which links to digital expanded version

Knowing these channels, understanding a client’s needs, and investing in the proper software and print solutions will make for a seamless transition.

There is tremendous room for growth in most in-plants. InfoTrends highlights that the majority of in-plants foresee a stable or increase in overall revenue thanks to strategic software purchases and a re-vamped business model. As Dave and Jim explain, these investments strengthen the goal of knowledge sharing while delivering cutting edge, multi-channel communications solutions. Their business model explanation and examples successful communications pieces drive home the fact that in-plants can provide equally—if not more-so—competitive solutions.

For more insight and key questions to consider from Dave and Jim, be sure to check out the full webinar:

 

Your News Now

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

In the great 1990s sci-fi series Babylon 5, set in the late 2250s, print newspapers still exist 200+ years in the future, but with a (to us) familiar twist. In one particular episode, the captain of the titular space station walks up to a kiosk and requests specific newspaper sections and topics. When he’s done, the kiosk spits out an instantly—presumably digitally—printed, customized newspaper.

A bit of science-fiction futuriana, to be sure, but that’s not far removed from the idea of digitally printed on-demand newspapers that the industry has been talking about since at least the 1990s. Or, in other words, using technology to deliver us the news we want, not what some editor thinks we want. (Yes, this is also the idea of the Google News Alert.)

I bring this up because I happened across an interesting experiment conducted by a social media aggregation site called NewsWhip which thought it would be interesting to see what major newspapers’ front pages would look like if they included the top stories from those publications that were trending on social media. That is, what stories were readers sharing vs. what was on the front page of the print edition?

What if front pages were selected by newspapers’ readers instead of their editors?  At NewsWhip, we’re always interested in the news stories people are choosing to share – and how those stories differ from the normal news stories editors put on the front pages of big newspapers. So we ran a little experiment.

A little work at our end, and we used those most shared stories to make new “people powered” front pages for each newspaper – giving the most shared story the most prominence, the second most shared the second most prominence, etc.

We replaced headlines and pictures, though did not get into replacing story text and bylines. The results are pretty neat – maybe even thought provoking.

Actually, the “people power” papers are not as frivolous as one would be inclined to think, and actually aren’t a million miles removed from what the papers chose for their actual front-page stories. The only real differences were less foreign policy (i.e., few Ukraine stories) and more diet and health, especially in the British papers.

Now, mind you, focusing on the stories that are most shared via social media doesn’t necessarily give the best sense of what is being read, or even what readers find personally important. For example, there is a lot of food being shared on social media, but seldom is it one’s everyday humdrum breakfasts and dinners, but is instead some remarkable feast out at a restaurant or slaved over at home for a special occasion. So focusing on the meals one shares on social media doesn’t necessarily give the best sense of what people typically eat on a daily basis. Otherwise, get thee to a gym!

Back to the news, though. Speaking for myself, what I read for my own edification of what is going on the world is very different from what I would tend to share on Twitter or Facebook—I tend to pass along more whimsical, humorous, absurd technology kinds of things, rather than the more prosaic news stories one needs to function in a democratic society. I dare say most people are pretty much the same.

Back in 1993, I took several courses at NYU on the emerging “multimedia technology” (remember the “interactive CD-ROM” and how it was gong to be a billion-dollar industry? Ha!) just as the Internet was ramping up in earnest, and friends of mine and I would sit around—as college students are wont to do—anticipating and solving all the problems of the world. One of us had remarked that there was a real danger in a media landscape in which we could all pick and choose our own news, having it served up to us exactly as we like it, as if it were a restaurant serving us the food we now post on Facebook. The last 20 years, and the fact that a disturbing number of people seem to get their news solely from e-mails forwarded from their crazy uncle, suggests that perhaps the danger was not entirely overstated.

There is also a danger in relying too much on having the “crowd” decide the editorial content of newspapers, magazines, or other news sources. What people want to know and what they need to know can often be two different things.

Perhaps it’s the journalistic equivalent of being made to eat our vegetables, but I’m perfectly happy to have the “media elite”—editors and publishers—decide what’s important, or what they think is important. Could they do a better job sometimes? Of course. But there is still a great value in having an objective “curator” of the news—and I say this having been a printing industry writer for 20 years and worked very closely with—and even been—those curators.

Personalization technology—be it newspapers or anything else—has given us the unprecedented ability to only seek out and receive the content we want whenever we want it. However, we need to be certain that it’s what we really want.

Stay Ahead of the Curve with Automated Web-to-Print Solutions

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Want to learn how to keep your print services on top within the fast-paced marketing community? If so, InfoTrends’ Kate Dunn offers insight and recommendations on how to adapt and automate print services for your clients. Sponsored by the PressGo program of Canon Solutions America, this webinar gives you the information needed to bolster your online business.

You might be asking, “What are some of the web-based market models out there?” For starters, there is the standard Ad-hoc Send-and-Print, which most printers already have in place. This allows the customer to upload a single file, receive a cost estimate, and send the file to print. The Catalog and Template based models mainly surround business communications, sales and marketing collateral, and direct mail, which are customizable to certain degrees. The holy grail of models is Process Automation, which integrates an enhanced supply chain with fully customizable print ordering.

OK, let’s apply a model to a real-life scenario. With an automated template process system, a realtor can sign-in online, choose a business card template, select copy that pertains to his property sales pitch, send the card to print, as well as have the business cards packaged, postmarked, and mailed to recipients. Accomplished all in a series of clicks without having to juggle communications with a number of service providers.

Let’s review: why are automated print services so important? Well, InfoTrends predicts that 40% of all printed materials will be procured over the Internet in the coming year. Customers are asking for automation services in order to streamline their supply-chain and maximize profits. In short, web-based automation adds value for both you and your clients. Today’s marketing supply chain consists of multiple, interconnected suppliers that an organization relies on to produce materials (print, promotional, and point-of-sale) to market their products and services. It’s astonishing, however, that 70% of businesses surveyed have no way to track or predict obsolescence within their supply chain. The last thing any client wants is a loss of control over their brand! That’s where a web-based approach is applied to fix the gap. Some of the benefits include: customer access 24/7, increased print accuracy, reduced customer service workloads, and enhanced volume production. Sounds like a nicely packaged offer to me.

If you want the complete list of benefits, the stats, and further insight into web-to-print solutions, view the webinar here:

New Tech Takes Print Books Into New Directions

Monday, January 13th, 2014

For the second year in a row, a critical mass of friends and colleagues reported that they received a Kindle or the like for Christmas. (My policy for the past couple of years has been to only give people print books as gifts.) Still, recent trends in ebook sales show a slowdown, which is actually being greeted as somewhat good news by an industry that never was all that enthused by ebooks to begin with. And Forbes tells us that last year hardcover sales rebounded and outpaced ebook sales.

So it doesn’t appear that books need anything in particular to breathe new life into them. Still, new printing technologies—or creative approaches to printing—can make books exciting in new ways. Two recent titles show that you don’t really need electronic media to make books interactive. One was a bestseller last fall, a novel conceived by J.J. Abrams, creator of Lost, Fringe, and the Star Trek reboots (don’t get me started…), among many other projects for screens both large and small, and written by Doug Dorst. The result of their collaboration, S., is an elaborate “story within a story” that masquerades as a well-thumbed old library book, a surreal literary novel called Ship of Theseus, ostensibly authored by the fictional V.M. Straka and purportedly published in 1949. The plot of Ship of Theseus is somewhat beside the point, as the real story of S. is told in the margins—literally—as two avid Straka readers meet within the pages of the book and strike up a relationship that starts off intellectual and soon becomes romantic. The colors of the ink they use become an important means of following their timeline. A seemingly low-tech effect, but not that long ago having color throughout a book for such a “prosaic” (pun intended) purpose would have been prohibitively expensive and impractical.

In addition to the marginal notes, the two characters also pass other items back and forth to each other—maps, letters, postcards, photographs, a kind of code wheel, even a page from their school newspaper—that are physically inserted at relevant points in the book. As a result, the book has become loathed by librarians: it’s easy for these items to fall out of the book and get lost or damaged. (Actually, at times reading S. brought back memories of reading magazines and having blow-in cards fall out in my lap. Annoying at the time but rather quaint these days.)

Another recent title is what is said to have the first 3D-printed book cover—or, more correctly, slipcover. Chang-rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea, published by Riverhead Books, is available in two print editions: the everyday hardcover, which retails for $27.95, and one featuring the 3D-printed slipcase, which is a steal at $150.

The idea is to turn books into “art objects”—or objets d’art, if you want to sound pretentious about it—which is not a new concept; actually it predates the printed book; remember all those illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages? Admittedly, both these strategies seem like gimmicks, and they are, but the gimmick used in S. functions as part of the narrative itself, offering a unique way to tell a story. The 3D cover is really just plumage. Plumage is fine, of course; after all, book covers have long boasted spot varnishes, embossing, foil stamping and other effects to stand out on a crowded bookshelf. Even a hardcover itself (vs. a paperback) is more art than necessity. But these days maybe we could all use a bit more art in our lives.

I contrast these titles with an elaborate graphic novel that the publisher sent a while ago called Anomaly, which implemented the latest in augmented reality (AR) to bring some of the pages alive. I was more impressed with the print edition—it’s an all-full-color, hardcover, coffee-table-esque book—than the AR components, which required downloading an iPhone app, going to a Web page to find out what pages had AR content, and adjusting the ambient lighting and camera angle meticulously to get the AR to work. I like the idea but, like QR codes, I await a more elegant, seamless solution (which already exists).

Intermingling print with electronic content can enhance the reading experience, and it really doesn’t need to be anything especially exotic. As a Christopher Moore fan, I found the author’s blog posts (delivered via a smartphone app) that complemented his last novel, Sacre Bleu, provided interesting behind-the-scenes info and added content that would have bogged down the book’s narrative, but functioned rather like those “deleted scenes” or “making of” features on movie DVDs.

Still, I find the best “bonus features” of books to be those that are self-contained within the book itself. And that means “print.” And it means unleashing the imaginations of authors, designers, publishers, and printers—and even equipment manufacturers. And that’s always a good thing.