Archive for the ‘Vertical Markets’ Category

Top Vertical Markets & Apps for QR Codes

Friday, August 26th, 2011

As QR codes go mainstream, we’re starting to see more and more data on their adoption and use. I love data. So that’s a good thing for me.

The most recent set I’ve seen come from ScanLife, which offers its own platform for 2D barcodes. According to its Q2 2011 Trend Report, 2D barcode generation is up 300% from one year ago, and scans of its codes are up from an average of 10 scans per minute to 60 scans per minute.

What are the top verticals? Retail, wireless, magazine editorial, entertainment, and consumer packaged goods — in that order.

In terms of product categories where these codes are most used . . .

  • Food and drink — 35%
  • Health & beauty — 18%
  • Books — 13%
  • DVDs — 12%
  • Electronics — 10%
  • Toys — 5%
  • Games — 4%
  • Office products — 3%

According to the ScanLife data, more than 400,000 unique UPC codes, or products, were scanned in a single month. The number of scans per user (3.2) shows the diversity of products being scanned.

What are people looking for?

  • Online prices — 61%
  • Get coupons — 17%
  • Get local prices — 4%
  • Product details — 16%
  • Product reviews — 3%

These data clearly show that QR codes are being incorporated into the regular lifestyle of mobile users. Particularly if you have clients in the categories mentioned here, you’d better be paying attention.

 

Want more about data? Download the free InfoTrends white paper entitled “Data Driven Marketing… It Requires a Desire to Act!”

Managed Print Services and Print Management Services

Thursday, August 11th, 2011

When do two seemingly similar-sounding service offerings present completely different business models? When comparing Managed Print Services to Print Management Services. These sound the same, and in a certain situations can be used interchangeably, however the industry definitions are quite distinct and different.

Managed Print Services (aka; MPS), Managed Document Services, Enterprise Printing Services, or any other variation on this theme refers to the active management of fleets or groups of hardcopy output devices and by extension the digital output, capture and/or dissemination of data and/or images which are a by-product of such technology, all of which should be a strategic component of an organization’s (enterprise) document management strategy.

Of the many goals this service represents, that of cost-effectively controlling how, when and where organizationally necessary enterprise printing is accomplished rises to the top of the heap. This is closely followed by operational efficiency, productivity, storage, retrieval and security.

Depending on the model employed, this can either be a boon or a disaster waiting to happen for an organization with a widely distributed fleet of desktop laser or inkjet printers, faxes, scanners and small-to medium MFPs (or MFDs) where the task at hand is deemed unmanageable.

The premise of MPS is that through an initial discovery phase, an entity, either internal or external to the organization can root out every localized ineffective, underutilized or overutilized print culprit, assess their individual efficiencies or inefficiencies, and implement wholesale positive change in the way the organization manages how they print on an enterprise level. This is accomplished through mandates, decommission and installation of appropriate devices, actively monitoring usage, and in some cases, outsourcing or shifting higher-quantity work to devices or outsourced facilities utilizing appropriate cost and time-effective technology.

That’s the simple explanation and it sounds great in theory, however in practice the promise may not ring so true. Just about every OEM and/or their regional resellers offer one flavor or another of this kind of service. They all tout amazing savings with the ability for the organization to concentrate on their core business activities without having to worry about managing documents. Their profit motive should be seriously considered with a cost-benefit analysis. Quite frankly in some cases it makes sense.

For the organization that does not consider enterprise document management to be strategic to their core mission, the out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach MPS provides may seem perfect. After all, the provider of this service will always do what’s in the best interest of the organization, right?

This wholesale technology alignment/replacement strategy can even extend to in-house services where “copy” centers are present organizationally or departmentally. An adept MPS provider can be very convincing, again where enterprise document management is not considered mission-critical, with reasons why they should outsource this service.

Quite frankly, this may be true where an organization doesn’t have (or anecdotally doesn’t believe they have) the economy of scale to dedicate staff to research, identify, negotiate and implement the best solution for the best interests of the enterprise, or where little or no fiscal oversight or responsibility is required or deemed to be necessary for this segment of the organization’s business for whatever reason. What a perfect customer to have! On the other hand, a well managed operation will always know where their true, fully budgeted costs are for all facets of their hard-copy output needs, and this extends to knowing what is best printed when, and where.

Depending on the complexity of the enterprise this could be all encompassing enough to include micro-run desktop-applicable printing (both monochrome and color) where local office printers or MFPs are appropriate technologies, to medium-to-large production runs (also either monochrome and/or color) where CRDs (central reproduction departments aka copy centers) are more appropriate for given run lengths, to print runs which have no business being run locally and are outsourced by the individual department or the enterprise to either an in-plant possessing the appropriate technology or to an appropriate outsourced facility.

This is where Print Management Services (which for some reason I’ve never seen the complete acronym used for, so we’ll just call it PM Services) comes in to the picture. Now not only does the enterprise have the opportunity to “control” costs through either internal or external service providers for their enterprise document needs, but they can extend this process, again either internally or externally to encompass all printed material including digital printing, offset printing, wide format, apparel, specialty, novelty, etc.

PM Services, like MPS, can be implemented by an external service provider who purports to have the resources necessary to answer any need within a certain scope of work, or by an internal (in-plant) resource, without the organization necessarily having the ability to produce everything in-house while keeping the faith to serve the organization’s core mission.

In either case the PM Services provided for should be in the best interests of the organization. Not based on the service the provider has available. The question then comes down to how the enterprise decides what is best for their needs. It is only in rare cases that an outsource vendor can provide all of the services most medium-to-large enterprises require, so multiple service providers are the usual order of the day.

The best approach however is to integrate all the document needs of the organization under one roof, even if it means outsourcing some services while retaining others. True MPS on the one hand, which can include printer and MFP fleets, CRDs and print centers, and PM Services which can encompass high-speed digital, conventional sheet-fed and web offset, and all of the other print-mediums out there, in a perfect world should be centrally controlled from a cost-and-operational efficiency procurement standpoint with capable internal enterprise-level oversight and expertise in place.

It is only then that the organization, whether we’re talking about you specifically, or your customer, can effectively manage (or have you help manage with integrity and trust) what arguably should be considered a strategic, core, mission-critical business activity.

Why should we care so much about data security?

Monday, August 1st, 2011

As I regularly share with employees there are two main ways I think about this question. First is being a good corporate citizen and recognize that we have a responsibility to secure the data we are entrusted with to protect the privacy of individuals. According to ITRC more than 35 million data records were compromised in corporate and government data breaches in 2008. Considering that number is 3 years old I’m sure it’s growing so our focus needs to be “do no harm.” Each of us wants those that have our personal data to protect it and we need to give others that same respect. The second consideration is core in building a strong, healthy business in today’s information based world. It’s a matter of “Trust”. We work hard every day to continue to earn our customers’ trust and in this, as well as many industries, our ability to keep our customers’ data secure is one of those “make it or break it” triggers. So it can’t be an annoyance, overhead, or an afterthought…it must be part of the business as much as quality control, hitting mail dates, or even invoicing.

So what’s the point of this blog…it’s important that we all keep the ‘why’ in mind as it’s the ‘why’ that ensures all the procedures, hardware, and people come together to achieve the goal of protecting data.

Special thanks to Sourcelink for this post. Check out their blog here.

Opportunities in Photo Publishing

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Digital printing is now mainstream for print production, and as such, print service providers and other companies are continuously looking for new opportunities to exploit the technology. A growing area where providers are looking to deliver differentiated offerings enabled through digital printing is photo publishing and, more broadly, photo merchandise.

InfoTrends actually has a service within our Consumer Imaging group that tracks trends within photo publishing and photo merchandise. Applications within photo publishing and photo merchandise (at least by InfoTrends’ definition) include photo cards, photo books, photo calendars, and specialty photo prints. These applications are typically sold in a physical or digital retail environment, targeted toward consumers. We expect that by 2014, the total U.S. market for photo merchandise will reach over $2 billion.

A number of service providers from small to large have gotten in the photo publishing and merchandise game over the past few years, creating a more competitive marketplace. Nonetheless, there are a number of areas that service providers can look at to find success and grab their piece of the billion-dollar photo publishing pie.

  • Licensed Content: According to research firm EPM Communications, consumers worldwide spend over $100 billion annually on licensed merchandise. That’s a huge market, and fits well within many of the applications in photo publishing and merchandise. Some photo publishers are forging partnerships and deals with major brands, sports organizations, and other companies to blend personal photo content with licensed content. One great example is Josten’s OurHubBub photo book business unit, which has a relationship with NASCAR to create custom photo books that blend fans’ photos with official NASCAR imagery.
  • Social Media Integration: Between Facebook and the variety of photo hosting sites like Flickr and Picasa, there are hundreds of millions of users and billions of photos that can be turned into valuable photo products. Many of these services have APIs and development kits to “plug in” or build applications to leverage users’ photos to flow them into photo publishing applications. Companies like MixBook and HotPrints can ingest photos from social networks to create high-quality photo merchandise.
  • Focus on Ease-of-use: While price and quality are the top considerations when choosing a company to purchase photo merchandise from, ease of designing and ordering those products can make or break the user’s choice of completing their product and submitting their credit card info. In addition, InfoTrends research has found that once consumers buy a photo book for the first time, it is very likely they will buy another one in the next year. Making your process as easy-to-use as possible can set your offering apart from the rest.

Photo publishing and merchandise presents a tremendous opportunity for service providers to enter adjacent markets with significant revenue potential… if the offering is strong, well thought out, and differentiated. Licensed content, social media integration, and ease-of-use are three opportunities that service providers should be actively exploring.

Electronic Use of Transaction Data a Catalyst for TransPromo Across ALL Channels

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Over the past year or two, I’ve had the impression that the term “TransPromo” is perceived outside the printing industry as being very print-centric. I have this impression because that’s what people outside of the industry that I speak with about TransPromo tell me. Perhaps because the terminology was so talked up in our own industry that the perception is warranted, although as an analyst that’s covered this area to a certain degree, I’ve always tried to emphasize that TransPromo isn’t just about print. Leveraging transactional data to drive the delivery of targeted, relevant messaging can be executed for multiple output channels to varying degrees of application and immediacy.

Whether or not the “TransPromo” term sticks around is not really of my concern; what I can say with great confidence is that it’s happening today, especially in the electronic/digital world, and it’s only going to grow over time. Why? There have been a number of recent developments and announcements that highlight how transactional data is being analyzed and utilized to drive highly-targeted and relevant messaging, with many signs pointing to increased investment in this area in the near future:

  • A number of companies are either starting up or creating new offerings that enable real-time digital transaction- and behavior-based marketing. Cardlytics is a provider of inline targeted advertising for financial institutions and currently partners with the likes of Fiserv and others to deliver coupons, rewards, and ads to recipients. CLOVR Media promotes a similar offering that it calls “Card Linked Offers”, which are tied in with financial institutions’ loyalty programs. Cartera provides eCommerce solutions to industries that have loyalty programs and is also getting in the game with analytics-driven digital marketing and offer management services.
  • Online consolidator services that help consumers aggregate their online financial accounts and provide tools for tracking and budgeting (e.g., Mint.com, Pageonce, etc.) are becoming more popular due to ease-of-use and value delivered. These offerings have access to thousands of peoples’ consolidated transaction information and the companies that run them are using this data to deliver targeted, relevant messaging, marketing, and advertising to users.
  • Last week, Google announced its foray into the world of mobile payments with “Wallet”, a service that leverages up-and-coming Near-Field Communications (NFC) technology embedded in smartphones to enable “contactless” point-of-sale payments at retail merchants. What does this mean for Google? The ability to access, mine, and analyze your transaction data virtually in real-time, enabling them to deliver targeted, relevant marketing and advertising, including coupons, loyalty reward points, and more. It’s highly likely that Google will implement a marketplace where advertisers of all sizes conduct real-time ad buys to instantly reach users.

Many of these developments are happening strictly on the digital technology side, but I still consider the application to be of the transpromotional variety. Furthermore, I believe that these developments, despite being digitally-focused, will ultimately bode well for print communications. Many of the issues that have plagued the push toward achieving TransPromo for print communications, including organizational alignment and technology infrastructure, may receive a thrust toward resolution with the new era of real-time transaction-based messaging, marketing, and advertising being touted by the likes of Cardlytics, Google, and others.

There’s a wealth of information that can be gleaned from this type of data, and if pure-play digital tech innovation is the catalyst for increased use and awareness across all channels, I’d say that’s step in the right direction.

Yurchak – Taking Care of “Book Business”

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Yurchak Printing, Inc. was founded in 1998 in the heart of Amish country (Landisville, Pennsylvania). Its goal was to offer high-quality, short-run digital book manufacturing services to the publishing industry, manufacturing and service companies, professional associations, government agencies, and colleges and universities. The company sought to provide a service portfolio that managed the document lifecycle and extended the value of publications.

Yurchak Printing’s service offerings were created to fulfill a need brought about by the digital age. By creating innovative solutions, Founder and CEO John Yurchak, Jr. has built an organization that is a leader in digital short-run book manufacturing. The company specializes in solutions for the production of directories, periodicals, journals, reference books, fine edition books, illustrated books, bibles, children’s books, bound galleys, and university press books. Yurchak Printing deals with run lengths from 1 to 1,500.

It Starts with a Vision

With over 40 years of observing the marketplace, John Yurchak had great intuition about market trends. He notes, “beginning in the mid-1980s, I saw that print runs were getting shorter and shorter. As volumes got smaller, the equipment I used – along with the associated plates, negatives, presses, and high labor and finishing costs – got to be very cumbersome. With the advent of digital printing in the 1990s, I saw a new opportunity to compete with short-run offset work. I saw a new market opening in short-run book publishing.”

Keeping Up with the Changing Market

End-users of hardcopy reference materials include colleges, universities, accounting firms, attorneys, and the medical field. Publishers want to print smaller quantities on demand to eliminate costly storage. There is also intense pressure to keep content up-to-date, requiring continual content modifications and driving shorter runs. According to Yurchak, “Even with all the information available on the Internet, there is a niche market for quantities ranging from 10 to 1,000 that require a short turnaround time. People want loose-leaf, hard-bound, and perfect bound reference materials.”

Lightweight Stocks with Blazing Speed

Yurchak went on to say, “We partnered with Océ for a number of reasons. With our focus on reference materials, printing on lightweight paper has become our specialty. For continuous printing on lightweight paper, Océ was the unquestionable choice.”

A flexible and powerful workflow was key for the quick delivery of a variety of jobs. Océ automated the book production software capabilities, providing Yurchak with a more hands-free, lower-cost approach. This translated into fewer errors, less manual handling, greater service consistency, and more accurate monitoring.

 The best print quality is critical for Yurchak customers. The company uses a variety of Océ devices, including the ColorStream 10000 Flex with Hunkeler Finishing, VarioPrint 6250, and VarioStream 9230 with Hunkeler Finishing. Yurchak explained, “Charts and graphs are important for scientific materials, but math books require clear images for formulas. We need quality without compromise, and Océ has delivered.”

 John Yurchak, Jr. had a tremendous vision when digital print was still in its infancy, but Océ has helped his company move to the next level. He concludes, “Océ hardware and software solutions have helped us create an exceptional business in the highly competitive world of digital publishing.”

Learn more about Yurchak, Printing Inc. by watching the video below!

Making Print Consistent with Online Experience? Priceless!

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011

Andrew Gerry, SVP Operations, Intersections Inc.By Andy Gerry

I work at a company that is heavily focused on the online user experience for consumer and corporate identity risk management services – and I’m also a print guy. You might think that print wouldn’t be that important of a competency for us, but you would be wrong. Intersections Inc.  is recognized as the preferred partner of major financial institutions providing custom identity management solutions. Clients leverage Intersections’ identity management solutions, offered under their own privately branded labels.

Private labeling. Branding. Corporate Identity– –just a few reasons print is important.

Supporting our customers’ unique brands online is relatively straight forward; doing the same in print is more complex and expensive.  While many of our customers are serviced online for monitoring, alerts and extensive drill-down reports, the majority of our customers still prefer printed fulfillment kits.   

Each customer who successfully enrolls in one of our credit and identity risk management services, either through one of our corporate partners or directly with Intersections, is sent a printed guide for using the services. It is a welcome kit, a user guide, and almost always contains their personal credit data and scores.  This welcome kit sets the tone for the quality of the service that they have enrolled in.

In the past, Intersections created these guides by matching offset printed covers with dynamically produced booklet content. The covers were on heavy, die-cut stock in full color and the booklets were dynamically generated using Group1’s DOC1 and printed in black and white on an IBM 4100 with near-line booklet maker.  While the content was informative and the covers were produced using our clients’ brand colors, the inside didn’t offer a customer experience that was comparable to what Intersections delivers online. For those customers who preferred print to online, there was a tangible lack of color and brand palate inside the guide.

We are always trying to deliver greater flexibility and value to our direct clients – the financial institutions who private label our products – as well as the end consumers of those products. By early 2009 we were convinced that going to a dynamic, full-color environment was the way to remain the leader in our industry. After an exhaustive evaluation of technologies on the market, considering both toner and inkjet solutions from a variety of manufacturers, in 2009 we selected the Océ JetStream 1000 system for printing and GMC PrintNet to compose the documents.

The redesign, reengineering and redeployment of our guides and other documents on the new platform has been tremendously successful. Not only can we support dynamic branding with ease, but we can use color dynamically to highlight key information for consumers and draw their attention to personalized information, much the same way that we do online.  This is not to gloss over the complexity and the hard work it took to architect a high integrity solution that supports multiple partners in a true white paper environment.  It took longer than originally scoped and we learned many lessons on the way.

The good news is that originally we knew we needed two engines for redundancy and failover, but were unsure if enough of our clients would be willing to adopt color to warrant the two engines.  The best case has happened and by the end of the year the majority of our materials will now be printed in full on demand color in our new environment.  Along the way we’ve eliminated the risk of managing preprinted inventories, eliminated the matching process and are able to deliver a superior product to clients and our end customers in a very cost-effective way. Making the printed experience consistent with the online experience – priceless!

Since the conversion to full color, Intersections’ financial services product was rated “Best in Class” by Javelin Strategy & Research (September 2010) and we were ranked among the 500 Top Technology Innovators Across America (2010 InformationWeek 500, September 2010). I’d like to think that us print guys (and gals) had something to do with that!


Andy Gerry is the Senior Vice President of Operations at Intersections Inc. in Chantilly VA.

Writing the Book on Workflow

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

While the needs of on demand book printers vary widely based on order size, overall volume and platform, arguably, high volume on demand book printing requires some of the most complex workflow automation of any printing environment. Even transaction printers and direct mailers could learn some interesting tricks from visiting a dedicated on demand book printing site. Even with relatively standardized book sizes, there are many variations in book sizes and types:

  • Monochrome books with color covers
  • Color books with color covers
  • Different finished sizes for books with perfect binding, case binding, or saddle stitching

The books themselves may use one or more presses to create the book block and another type to create the cover. There are laminators, trimmers, multiple types of binders and camera devices to integrate between the trimmers and binders to verify quality throughout the process. At the end of the production line, regardless of printing type or finish size, the completed book order must come together for packing and shipping in the most efficient manner.

The goal of book printing workflow is to allow each order to navigate through the complete production, finishing and shipping process with the minimum amount of human intervention and the highest level of productivity and quality. In addition, there is a need for tight integration with MIS, web-to-print and JDF/JMF communications protocols.

Like many well-orchestrated processes, the true beauty in book printing workflow often is found in the front end planning. Like a chess master, the workflow solution needs to be able to look at the whole board (the book order) and see 15 moves ahead to know what sorting, grouping and batching is going to enable the highest productivity for that day’s orders. An effective solution will allow batch management of all jobs prior to the start of printing grouped efficiently by size, imposition, run length and color and finishing requirements.

Real time quality control and reporting is critical as well. Bar codes are used to identify and track each job from start to finish, matching book blocks with covers and enabling routing through finishing, fulfillment and delivery. If any part of a job is damaged or produced at lower than acceptable quality, the barcode can be scanned and a reprint of the necessary components or the complete book itself can be automatically generated. Meanwhile the order entry system is continually updated so that inventory levels, order status and even the end customer can be kept informed. When book printing workflow is fully tuned to the production environment, it delivers thorough and integrated job management resulting in significantly increased productivity and cost savings. In fact, many book printers compete mainly on the strength of their workflow management capabilities.

Consider too that all of this complex choreography may be conducted using devices from completely disparate manufacturers to produce orders coming from a myriad of sources. In some ways, book printing may seem simpler than the complexities faced with data-driven transaction print or personalized direct mail – but when it comes to workflow, they wrote the book.

The Brewing Battle Over Paid Content Models

Monday, February 21st, 2011

There’s been a bit of resurgence in interest regarding the rapidly changing dynamics in the publishing business as of late. While the talk of paywalls in front of currently-free content on news sites has been discussed (and sometimes implemented), paid content just got a whole lot more interesting.

Last week, Apple announced its long-awaited content subscription model that can be deployed in apps sold on its App Store. Previously, if publishers wanted to post a new issue of a magazine, they would have to do a traditional “newsstand” model where a new app was posted to the App Store each month. Now, new issues can be purchased inside a central app through subscriptions… for a price. The controversy that comes along with Apple’s announcement is that they plan to take 30% of each subscription if it is sold through Apple’s system (it will not require a piece of the action if the subscription was generated outside of Apple’s system, such as on publisher’s or content provider’s direct Website). Apple will also require publishers to use uniform subscription pricing, meaning that if a subscription costs $9.99/month direct, it needs to be priced at $9.99/month through Apple, despite the 30% charge. This model affects not only newspaper and magazine publishers, but other paid subscription providers like Netflix, Hulu, Rhapsody, and even Amazon.com.

The day after Apple’s announcement, Google announced the launch of One Pass, its own subscription model for selling content on smartphones and tablets. With One Pass, Google aims to create a “pay once, view anywhere” model, where a user has access to all subscriptions via one account that can be viewed in a browser or in a mobile application. Payments will be administered through the Google Checkout online wallet service. In contrast to Apple’s 30% rake, Google plans to retain around 10% of each subscription depending on the publisher, although further information on how the share is determined is not currently available. Instead of just a straight subscription option, Google plans to offer more flexibility in its payment models, including micropayment services like pay-per-article, metered access, and more. While Apple’s model is exclusive to Apple product users, it remains to be seen how this model will be adopted outside of Google Android phones (after all, access via Web browser has no App Store approval barriers to break through).

There has been a healthy dose of criticism regarding the Apple model and a great deal of praise for Google’s model in response, although the reality is not that simple. In the view of many, it may be a brazen attempt by Apple to demand 30% of each subscription; many have in fact called it anti-competitive and have pointed to Apple’s stronghold in the music industry with iTunes as a potential result of what could happen. With Apple as an intermediary, publishers may fear losing a direct relationship with readers and further commoditization of the content they provide (publishers would receive high-level personal details of Apple-driven subscribers only if they opt-in to share that information).

Nevertheless, look at what Apple provides: access to millions of users that have already proven they have no problem dropping anywhere from a few dollars to hundreds of dollars on mobile apps. Ever since iTunes, the key for Apple has been to make these models as easy and seamless to participate in as possible, to which it still holds an advantage. In the end, especially for publishers, a 30% share to Apple might still be cheaper than the existing cost of new subscriber acquisition and even renewal. By offering premium content to existing subscribers on the iPhone or iPad, it may give readers one more crucial reason to renew. There is no doubt that Apple’s iAd platform fits within these subscriptions in some way, which have yielded impressive results for the advertisers that have participated thus far.

So what about Google? While One Pass can be tied to either the Web or a mobile application, there is obviously a strong play with enabling subscriptions for Android-based mobile devices. According to most recent estimates, Android phones have well-outpaced other mobile operating systems in market share due to Google’s strategy of making the OS available on a very wide variety of phones. While this strategy has led to a massive base for Google, it has also led to inconsistent experiences for users depending on the device used, as well as headaches for developers to try and account for the sheer variety of handsets supported. Could the experience be the Achilles’ heel for Google’s One Pass? Furthermore, newspaper publishers in particular have been hostile toward Google in general due to its news aggregation services. While Google brings thousands or even millions of eyeballs to their pages (and subsequently, ad revenue), many feel that aggregation has prevented paid content models from being employed for fear of losing those eyeballs. Perhaps this move coupled with Apple’s announcement will be cause for publishers to truly evaluate what models and partners are in their best interests to utilize.

Of course, these announcements within the past week are just the first steps in what will likely be the shift to legitimate paid content models for publishers and other content providers. While companies like Netflix have a good hold on how their models are effective (they started online with a paid model), it has been a bumpy road for magazine and newspaper publishers to figure out how to provide enough digital value for users to fork over money for something that was originally put online for free. Will a streamlined experience, instant updates, interactive features, and ubiquitous access to subscribed content finally solve this problem? Furthermore, if it does, how much are publishers willing to share for that access? These answers to these questions could lead to success for Apple or Google, but also hopefully to those publishers that have been struggling to find digital success.

Update: I noted earlier that Google’s subscription share would only consist of a 2% transaction fee associated with Google Checkout purchases. After further investigation, this information has been found to be incorrect. The post has been updated to reflect that Google has been quoted as saying that its subscription share will be around 10% depending on the publisher, but it did not elaborate on those plans. Additional details are not yet available.

Our Customer Metrics May Not Have Changed But Our Customer Relationships Must!

Friday, January 28th, 2011

In Dr. Ronnie Davis’ latest PIA Economic and Print Market and Flash Report,   he points out two interesting marketing metrics.  First, our largest single customer accounts for nearly 19% of our total business and our largest 5 customers provide nearly 40% of our business.  And second, over 60% of printers in the US have a market focus of less than 100 miles.  So we continue to be an industry that does business fairly locally and where we rely on large accounts which are close to our manufacturing facilities.  But while our customers may still prefer to be near their print suppliers, how they want to manage their print communications and what we need to know about them is definitely not as it once was.

We all know the importance of having great customer service.  But today great customer service also means providing an easy way to store, design, change, order, and pay for print communications material with an online web-to-print capability that is easy for our customers to use.  I recently spoke with a VP of Sales and Marketing at a large NE printing company.  He said that they want their customers to call or email them about everything.  Ordering online was anathema to them as it eliminated the contact with their customers that they so religiously sought out.  But customers today, whether local or not, want to simplify their lives, reduce unnecessary communication, speed up the production process, and see results quicker.  Providing an online print products management solution for your best customers is part of the new definition of great customer service.

Second, in the past it was enough for us to understand the nature of the jobs that our largest customers wanted us to print: sizes, number of pages, stock, frequency, delivery requirements, etc.  Today we need to know not only what they want to print but why.  We should be learning first about the industries that our customers are in and second about how our customers do business in that industry.  How do they generate revenue, who is their competition, who are their customers and how do they find more of them, what is the nature and purpose of their marketing communications, etc.?  By becoming an expert in their businesses, we are then in a position to be not just an order-taking sales person but an advisor in providing the print and marketing solutions that we offer. 

While the metrics about our customers may not have changed, how we service them and what we need to know about them certainly has.  The companies who are growing today are those that recognize this and have developed the technology and the sales mindset to make these adaptations.  Their 5 largest customers have recognized this also and are providing them even more business than ever.

How Responsible Sourcing Will Impact Printers in 2011

Friday, January 21st, 2011

If you were in the storefront printing industry in the early-to-mid Eighties, the sign “We Accept Disks” means something to you. It was the beginning of the digital and “desktop” printing revolution. “We Accept Disks”. It meant you had a PC and/or maybe a MAC, and would accept customer floppys in order to print out copies to paste up and shoot to a neg or output an analog poly plate, or maybe run copies (not files) on your copier. But it didn’t mean there was any compatibility with what your clients were bringing in. All you knew was that you had to do it because everybody else was.

Let’s get one thing out of the way right now. This is not going to be a crystal ball article. The rhetoric surrounding “green”, “sustainability” and “corporate social responsibility” has cooled a bit. This means we are now in the normalization phase. Between 2005 and 2008, literally everything gained a greenish tinge. It’s the same with every standard business practice bubble. First there were the early adopters, and then market acceptance comes along. This is typically followed by market saturation, and finally normalization. Many shops claimed to be a “Green Printer”. Maybe you got FSC certified, increased your recycling efforts, switched to low VOC chemistry or replaced or upgraded offset equipment, or implemented higher efficiency digital.

2009 capped the trend by becoming the year of the “green printing trade show”. Again, everything had a greenish tinge to it. It didn’t matter what the product or service was. It was either “green” or “sustainable”. Then the inevitable happened. The Six (or Seven) Sins of Greenwashing hit the print industry airwaves and uncertainty about the message and its credibility crept in. Trade shows in 2010 had a diminished green presence. Not that it completely disappeared; Green now has earned a secured place in Print’s message. Now the FTC is releasing new green claim guidelines.

So here we are in 2011. Responsible sourcing/procurement is fast becoming the driving realization that encompasses everything green and sustainable. Business Green offers 11 (as in 2011) things to look for in the next 12 months. Number 7 is “Ethical consumer spending will keep rising”. To quote a portion of the Business Green statement: “Every indication suggests this market will grow substantially this year even as other areas of the economy falter. It is time to stop treating green industries as a niche and appreciate them for the robust and fast-growing success stories they are”.

Let’s take a closer look at what this means to the printing industry.

Paper is most likely to be thought of first. Chain of Custody certification, whether it’s FSC, SFI or PEFC puts third-part verification of at the very least legal and ethical sourcing. The credibility of the certifying bodies, who themselves are validated by independent accreditation organizations provides transparency as well as credibility. Supplies, whether for offset, digital, or for infrastructure (janitorial, facilities) also have their certification and third-party certifying body counterparts.

Green computing is going to have a large presence this year as the IT industry takes sustainable computing mainstream. The Climate Savers Computing Initiative is a nonprofit group of consumers, businesses and conservation organizations dedicated to promoting smart technologies that can improve the power efficiency and reduce the energy consumption of computers.

Formalized waste-stream reduction strategies have become profit centers for many organizations. Harmon Recycling, a division of Georgia Pacific is one of many organizations offering full-service programs to both manufacturing and office environments. Everything that can be recycled should, including strapping, containers of all types and other shipping material. In short, a zero manufacturing and office waste program is more of a reality now than ever as the reclamation industry matures.

A life cycle assessment (LCA, also known as life cycle analysis, ecobalance, and cradle-to-grave analysis) is a technique used by organizations to assess each and every impact associated with all the stages of a particular process from raw material sourcing through materials processing, manufacture, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling). LCA’s can help avoid a narrow outlook on environmental, social and economic concerns which can validate both responsible sourcing and responsible disposal methodology.

Then there are all the other infrastructure improvements that also have their ethical, responsible and or sustainable components. This includes everything from buildings, HVAC, lighting, logistics and production equipment, to transportation and facilities management operations.

The end-game is that professional purchasers are embracing responsible sourcing. Organizations like The National Association of State Procurement Officials, the Responsible Purchasing Network, and The International Society of Sustainability Professionals are serious about responsible sourcing and many options are considered in choosing suppliers, based at least in part on their ethical sourcing policies. Don’t be caught out in the cold because you cannot quantify and provide objective evidence pertaining to where your raw materials, products and services came from, and where your waste and by-products are going.

Responsible sourcing is the new green.

Vic Barkin

Paper Still Works!

Friday, January 14th, 2011

In 2011, more than ever we live in a technology driven society. Communication has become instant and it can be said it can be better. It is much different than say 10 years ago but is it still better than print on paper?  Does paper based communication still have a place in the world? Well let’s look at some facts.

Paper communication can’t be deleted, lost because of a power outage. Paper documents can be read no matter whether or not your monitor can display it. Because print and paper is a physical form it can be copied then stored in different locations! It doesn’t have to be charged.  You don’t need to reboot it and when done with it you can shread it or recycle it fairly easy and it is used again in some other product.

Paper can be fun, personal and important. Paper if you think about has a value in our lives. Paper based communication can’t be hacked. Your paper based bank and credit card statement won’t be compromised. Think about it how many of your important documents are on paper. Paper’s serious side can be the important letter from a college letting you know that you have been accepted. Paper can be that refund check from the tax man. Paper can be that birthday card from a friend or a love letter from someone important. It is still a very personal way to communicate.

Try sending your resume out on paper today. It will get noticed! Paper and print have a feel to it. It can be portable, taken with you and looked at whenever. On a plane they don’t ask you to turn off your book do they ! E Readers are all the rage but do you really curl up next to a fire with it  like that favorite book you have? When we look around us pape ris every where. Paper companies have made great efforts to lower their “footprint” in sourcing, production and transporting paper. Forest certification has helped insure things are being done right in the forest where raw material is sourced. Recycled material is at it’s all time high being used in many different paper based products. Renewable energy usage is on the rise and less water also is being used.

Paper also is sustainable.

So look at that piece of paper with informantion differently next tme. Print and paper is the original “wireless” communication. Paper Still Works!

An Economic View from a Different Perspective

Monday, December 6th, 2010

For this post, I’m offering my own unscientific perspectives based on a unique window I get to peek into through – my experience actively consulting with or for organizations of all sizes and in all sectors of the industry. This includes everyone from pulp and paper mills to paper merchants to printers to print brokers and finally, print buyers.

My travels take me from coast to coast and north to south here in North America working with over 100 clients in 200 locations per year. From ten-employee in-plants to billion dollar corporations, there are common themes that seem from my perspective to permeate every facet of the paper and print-space.

Necessity may be the Mother of invention, but it’s also the Mother of reduction, the Mother of consolidation and ultimately, the Mother of efficiency. The past few years of recessionary behavior has proven to be a Petri dish of sorts that prove this hypothesis.

Common to every nearly enterprise is the realization that certain functions have had to be reduced or eliminated in order to survive. On the M&A level this means economy of scale and centralization of management, marketing, accounting and human resource functions. Within the same organization, lower level elimination of redundant or non-value added positions has become the norm. I’ve walked in the door of many a facility where “ring the bell/buzzer/phone” for front desk service is now in force where before, the duty of the receptionist was just that; to receive.

If there is a front desk person it is frequently a CSR or AR/AP employee whose new workspace happens to be visibly at the front door of the establishment. The same goes with many other positions where value is perceived as being intangible and can therefore be eliminated and delegated internally to the wearers of many hats who are any enterprise’s new survivor class.

The other trend I’ve seen is that along with staff reduction coinciding with the amount of work coming through the door, where say a full 3 shift operation has been forced down to 2, a new and interesting problem has arisen. When the workload is steady, which is a lowered expectation these days, the available labor pool is being tailored to be able to handle the volume, however now there seems to be more of an optimistic trend among print buyers and advertisers.

It’s what I call the “loosening of the purse-strings syndrome.” As the economy and consumer confidence levels elevate slightly, print buyers are a bit more confident and optimistic. Over the past six to twelve months, my clients, generically now have the problem of not having labor available for those spikes in volume when they occur. In a way this is a good problem to have, since they now feel like they have weathered the economic storm and are now emerging as a more efficient enterprise through all their tribulations.

In some markets an interesting phenomenon is taking place. Where similar facilities with similar capabilities and equipment have either survived or failed, there is a glut of skilled labor. In some cases these spikes are handled by employees working for more than one company-  not that this hasn’t always happened to some degree. It just seems that now there are a lot more skilled operators willing and/or able to be engaged on-call. The problem here is that this is usually more of a mature labor pool, so with regard to longevity, an arrangement such as this is not self-sustaining. No one seems to want to be so optimistic as to ramp back up to former levels, so this conundrum will continue for the foreseeable future.

I don’t pretend to be an economist. I’ll leave that job to Dr. Joe. That said, I do ask the same basic questions wherever I go. How’s business? Have you had layoffs or reductions in the past year and if so, by how much? Have things stabilized? Are you bringing staff back on? Are your customers a bit more optimistic? Are you?

Of course the answers vary, but on average they are: tolerable; yes; yes; yes; yes; yes. It is encouraging if anything, that there is a pervasive optimism out there. In my book optimism equals confidence. Confidence equals risk-taking, albeit cautiously, risk-taking equals spending. Spending of course raises the economic tide overall, and a rising tide lifts all boats.

So ultimately in the printing industry, especially in the areas of growth such as digital printing and integrated media, I’d like to believe that because of all this spending on infrastructure, equipment and new labor, i.e. emerging skill sets, are about to take a quantum leap based on the demand for printing in our brave new world. A renaissance if you will.

To move forward and be the cause of change, mills, merchants, printers and brokers must again refocus their marketing efforts on a now more optimistic print-buying public, who will have a bit more money to spend as long as they are convinced of the ROI once they have been educated, again, by their vendors of the benefits of print.

So, in the end, you can talk about GDP, unemployment, print shipments and the calculated risks of either doing or not doing something to change the game all day long. All I’m saying to sum this all up is that anecdotally, we seem to collectively be climbing out of a casualty-ridden hole, a bit wiser, a bit stronger, but non-the-less gun-shy. In many cases the casualties have been necessary. It got rid of some of the low-ballers to hopefully create a more level playing field where the survivors can compete fairly on a level playing field, charge a fair price and continue to continue on now that the ball is rolling again.

What do you think?

Vic Barkin

Does Direct Mail work for Recruiting?

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Direct mail works for a recruiter when it’s contained, targeted, and ready-to-roll when the phones ring.

Chris Taylor is vice president at Davis Advertising in Philadelphia. Awhile back, Chris posted on LinkedIn’s Direct Mail Group, commenting that “From the perspective of recruitment (help wanted) advertising, direct mail has significant advantages over other advertising media.”

Chris acknowledges that direct mail has an image problem among some employers. “Our clients — human resource professionals planning recruitment advertising campaigns — regard direct mail as old-fashioned.” But Chris is still a believer. “We just launched http://www.talentmap.jobs/. This site actively promotes the use of direct mail to health care employers.”

Chris’ endorsement intrigued me, so I checked out TalentMaps, which is quite an interesting approach to recruiting (you should take a look). Then I checked in with Chris to find out more about how his company uses direct mail to recruit.

How is direct mail being used to recruit?

“Our clients are primarily human resource professionals who are looking to recruit prospective employees who live within a reasonable commuting distance of their facility. We use mailing lists because no other medium reaches a higher concentration of our geo-targeted audience than direct mail. Typically, the number of recipients to a direct mail campaign is small, often less than 3,000 to 5,000.”

Imagine that! “No other medium reaches a higher concentration of our geo-targeted audience than direct mail.” Who knew? (Well, okay, you knew, and you, and you, and you…)

Chris says the degree of personalization that Davis employs in the direct mail depends upon the client, budget, and recruiting situation. “In my experience direct mail is the best resource for recruiting passive prospects. Generally, an employer’s first attempt at recruiting/sourcing candidates is done via job boards. But job boards only reach a small percent of the overall workforce. Typically, people who are not actively looking for jobs are not visiting job boards. When job boards fail, employers look for other ways to recruit (including staffing firms).”

Chris acknowledges that successfully marketing to passive prospects is much more difficult than marketing to active job seekers. No surprise there. But the reason isn’t that direct mail doesn’t produce.

“From our perspective, the problem is that employers use the same process to capture response from ‘passive job seekers’ that they do with ‘active job seekers.’ Passive prospects are not ready to be ‘candidates’ or ‘applicants’… they need a bit more persuading …. Moreover, most large employers funnel all applicants through their Web-based applicant tracking system. The process is (1) very cumbersome and (2) doesn’t have a process to handle individuals who would like to have a few questions answered before they apply.

Would an automated/trigger response system help HR departments manage incoming direct mail inquiries? I bet it would. And, yes, direct marketers can do that, too.

Vertical Stuff Transaction Printers Should Know

Monday, October 11th, 2010

A quick note on some regulations that are impacting transaction documents in the Financial Services Vertical:

1. Cost Basis Reporting

2. 401(k) Fee Disclosure

The Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 is best known for the $700 billion bailout provision – but also includes new requirements for financial intermediaries  to report adjusted cost basis  to investors and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for securities transactions. The stated goal of the legislation is to provide investors with the means to accurately report gains or losses on the sale of securities for their annual tax filings. However – a more realistic perspective would be that the government wants a way to ensure that investors are accurately reporting gains and losses (particularly the gains!) on their annual tax filings. In 2005, the IRS estimated that the US federal government was losing approximately $11 billion in tax revenues due to the failure of investors to accurately report adjusted cost basis information and it has likely gotten worse since then.

While adjusted cost basis will be required to be reported on the 1099-B, many firms are also preparing to include  it on customer statements so that their customers are aware of the tax consequences of their trading activity. At minimum, firms are preparing messaging strategy around this issue. This legislation will impact Equity holdings (brokerage) in 2011, Mutual Funds (held directly or through brokerage) in 2012 and debt investments and options holdings in 2013. The DTCC provides a good overview of the reporting requirements and open questions. This will make statements and possibly trade confirmations and 1099-B forms longer – significantly longer for firmst that do not currently report holdings at the tax lot level.

Next on the list of regulations making envelopes fatter is the US Department of Labor who will be issuing new guidelines in the next 30 days to require 401(k) plan sponsors (employers offering 401(k) plans) to provide plan-participants (employees invested in the plan) with more-detailed information on the fees and expenses associated with the investments in their retirement portfolios. While the legislation talks about the plan sponsors, in reality, the process changes will fall on the backs of the recordkeepers who support them – companies like Fidelity Investments, T. Rowe Price, Schwab, TIAA-CREF – who are the same companies dealing with the cost basis changes as well. Investment News is a pretty good source to keep on track of changes for the 401k market – however they are more concerned with the potential litigation aspects of the issue than the impact on customer communications.

What does this all mean to you? Well, if you are a service provider, this is a great opportunity to help your clients out with redesign and plain language services to minimize the impact of providing the new information. In situations like this, the impact on page count is a concern, but the phone ringing off the hook due to new and confusing information can be even more costly in the short term. If you don’t have the expertise in-house to provide this type of vertical market redesign and consultation – now would be a good time to find a partner because the regulatory changes aren’t going to stop any time soon. With the right partner – you have a chance to be a real hero to customers struggling with these regulations – and that’s the kind of relationship you want to build right?

So keep up with the “vertical stuff transaction printers should know” and have a real conversation with your next customer or prospect.