Archive for the ‘Publishing’ Category

Eye Books

Thursday, October 30th, 2014

Herein a long tale of history, technology, and media change.

Several years ago, one of the community arts organizations I am involved with—the Saratoga Film Forum, an art house movie theater in downtown Saratoga Springs, N.Y.—had on its programming committee a serious film buff. He was, essentially, a veritable walking (or sitting, as the case may be) encyclopedia of cinema. This is, of course, not surprising. What was surprising was that he was almost totally blind, suffering from severe macular degeneration and needing elaborate optics that resembled a wearable Viewmaster to watch movies or read books.

Today, optometrists and ophthalmologists understand macular degeneration thanks in large part to the work of Samuel Thomas von Sömmerring. Von Sömmerring (1755–1830) was a German physician and one of the most renowned anatomists in Germany at the time. Amongst his many contributions to our knowledge of physiology was his discovery of the macula in the retina of the human eye. The macula contains the fovea and foveola. They contain a high density of cones, which, with their partners the rods, are the photoreceptors that allow us to see. Macular degeneration, as you would expect, involves damage to these photoreceptors.

Von Sömmering was, like many men of his age, a bit of a polymath and an inventor. He designed a telescope, among other things, and in 1809 created one of the first electric telegraph systems. Based on a crude earlier design, his system used as many as 35 electrical wires, each of which represented a different letter or number. Thus:

messages could be conveyed electrically up to a few kilometers…with each of the telegraph receiver’s wires immersed in a separate glass tube of acid. An electric current was sequentially applied by the sender through the various wires representing each digit of a message; at the recipient’s end the currents electrolysed the acid in the tubes in sequence, releasing streams of hydrogen bubbles next to each associated letter or numeral (Wikipedia, 2014).

Not the most elegant of designs, but it did trigger off several decades of development to produce an effective working telegraph. The first commercially successful electric telegraph was co-developed by William Fothergill Cooke and Charles Wheatstone in the UK. In 1838, it was installed by the Great Western Railway between Paddington Station and West Drayton.

Across the pond, Samuel Morse had patented his own version of a telegraph, as well as the eponymous code (the “Morse code” was devised by Morse with his assistant, Alfred Vail). In 1844, the famous “What hath God wrought” telegram was transmitted, and the rest is history.

The legacy of the telegraph is easy to spot today; what is texting, really, but a high-tech version of the telegram? And all those texting abbreviations and emojie are not a million miles removed from the Morse code, although they’re often less comprehensible.

The telegraph did help solve a problem that had briefly plagued U.S. President Andrew Jackson. For the first 125 or so years of U.S. history, mail delivery was literally 24/7. Indeed, the postal service was the only form of communication back then, and few things were more important than the mail. Postmaster General was a Cabinet position, and until 1971, the Postmaster was in the line of Presidential succession. Post offices were also great gathering places, as people socialized, drank, and played cards or what have you while they waited for the mail to arrive (there was no home delivery until after the 1860s).

“The advance of the human race in intelligence, in virtue and religion itself depends in part, upon the speed with which…knowledge…is disseminated,” wrote Colonel Richard M. Johnson, a Kentucky Congressman who served during the Jackson presidency (he was later Martin Van Buren’s veep) (Meacham, 2008). Why did he write this?

The fact that there was mail delivery every day of the week meant, logically, that there was mail delivery on Sunday, aka the Sabbath. This didn’t sit well with some of the more religiously inclined personalities of the time—in particular, one Reverend Ezra Stiles Ely, who was a man on a mission. That mission was to end what he called “the national evil of great magnitude”: mail delivery on Sunday. (The things they worried about back then…) He took it up directly with President Jackson—one of the problems of being a populist like Jackson was that you were constantly being accosted by the public—and even though Jackson had other things to contend with (like, say, nullification), Congressman Johnson was appointed to head a committee to investigate closing the Post Office on Sunday. The committee ultimately decided, “The mail is the chief means by which intellectual light irradiates to the extremes of the republic. Stop it one day in seven, and you retard one-seventh of the advancement of our country” (Meacham, 2008). (Boy, did they have a way with words back then!) So Sunday mail delivery stayed. (Another of Johnson’s arguments was that since some religions celebrate the Sabbath on Saturday, singling out Sunday would give unfair—and unconstitutional—preference to one particular faith.)

After 1844, however, the volume of mail in general—and Sunday mail in particular—started to drop thanks to the telegraph, which became a prominent tool of business communication.

Remember, too, that businesses tended to operate seven days a week back then. Reverend Ely and his successors were still eager to get the Sunday Sabbath free, so by the end of the century, religious leaders formed an alliance with organized labor, which was starting to become an influential force. Both parties, religious leaders and labor leaders, wanted the same basic thing—Sundays off—albeit for different reasons. By the early 20th century, technology had made the issue, as far as the mails were concerned, moot. The telegraph and the railroad made businesspeople less reliant on the mail, so in 1912, when Congress decided to eliminate Sunday mail delivery, a bill which President Taft signed without complaint, there really wasn’t much hue and cry.

As Dr. Joe Webb has pointed out many times, mail volumes have continued to drop thanks to all the communications revolutions of the 20th century—the telephone, radio, television, the Internet, and now all the various mobile and social media. And while debate centers around whether mail delivery should be pared back to five days a week, last year Amazon partnered with the USPS to restore Sunday delivery, if only in selected cities (at first).

One of the things you could have Amazon deliver to you on a Sunday is a new Kindle.

It was the Kindle, more than anything, that triggered off the ebook revolution. Electronic books were nothing really new; Project Gutenberg dates back to 1971, after all, and by the turn of the millennium there were at least a dozen companies and platforms jockeying for market share in the nascent ebook space, including such giants as Microsoft and Adobe. The early Palm devices—precursors to today’s smartphones—were highly touted as an ebook platform. (Have you ever read a long novel on a Palm Pilot? It was not fun.) The E Ink approach to “electronic paper”—the reflective electrophoretic technology that essentially made reading a screen as comfortable as reading ink on paper—started to gain traction, and the Sony Reader was the first commercially successful ereader. It debuted first in Japan and was introduced in the U.S. in 2006. It was a modest hit, but it wasn’t until the Amazon Kindle, based on the same E Ink technology, launched in 2007 that the ebook market took off. (The poor Sony Reader; discontinued in 2013, it is alas a mere footnote, albeit an important one, in the history of ebooks.) Although ebook growth has been flat in the past couple of years, in 2013 ebook sales still amounted to $3 billion, which ain’t nothin’. Even if ebooks aren’t exactly cannibalizing print book sales, they are still an important part of the cross media mix.

Ebooks like those available for the Kindle have found favor amongst older readers for a very basic reason: it’s easy to make the type bigger. And thus book lovers who may have failing eyesight—either from basic aging or specific problems like macular degeneration—are still able to read. And Apple’s perhaps aptly named “Retina” displays make even backlit screens easy to read.

Samuel von Sömmerring would approve.



“BookStats: Ebooks Flat in 2013,” DigitalBookWorld, June 26, 2014,

Megan Garber, “The Unlikely Alliance That Ended Sunday Mail Delivery…in 1912,” The Atlantic, November 12, 2013,

Tiffany Hsu, “U.S. Postal Service to deliver Amazon packages on Sundays,” Los Angeles Times, November 10, 2013,

Jon Meacham, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House (New York, 2008), pp. 87–88.

“About Project Gutenberg,”

“Samuel Thomas van Sömmerring,” Wikipedia, modified September 26, 2014, accessed October 29, 2014,ömmerring.

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.

Are You Selling 1:1 Printing for Its Efficiency?

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

When we think about data-driven printing, we think about elevated response and conversion rates, we should not forget to promote its benefits for cost savings, as well. These savings can come in hard costs such as the ability to reduce postal costs through co-mingling and in soft costs such as labor reduction, reductions in calls to call centers, and improving cash flow.

I ran across the great case study from XMPie recently that talks about these “hidden” cost savers.

Time Magazine Europe wanted to increase subscriptions, and it also wanted to improve the customer experience when subscribing to the magazine. So it partnered with Latcham Direct (UK) to drive respondents to personalized URLs where they could sign up themselves.

Thirty percent of people responding to this campaigned used the personalized URLs.

When people responded using this channel, not only did this improve their customer experience over the impersonal, disconnected process of sending back forms by direct mail, but it helped Time’s bottom line in three ways:

  1. It reduced the costs for the manual input of subscriptions coming in from direct mail cards.
  2. Conversion rate for personalized URL responders was 75%, reducing the cost of follow-ups.
  3. Cash flow is improved since the subscriptions are processed more quickly and readers get into the system earlier.

To date, this campaign has reached more than 1.6 million people. Because the response rate via personalized URL was so high (30% of people responding), the cost savings reaped by the company were significant.

How could your clients use a similar model to reduce costs?

Personalized URLs were created in XMPie PersonalEffect and metrics were tracked by UProduce Marketing Console.

Encyclopedia Britannica Ceases Print Edition After 244 Years

Friday, March 16th, 2012

The Encyclopedia Britannica made headlines earlier this week when it announced that it was “stopping the presses” and ceasing publication of its print edition after a strong 244-year run. From a business standpoint, one can understand why this inevitably needed to happen: Encyclopedia Britannica Inc. has sold just 8,000 sets of its latest 32-volume, $1,395 print edition released in 2010, with another 4,000 sitting in a warehouse waiting to be ordered. When the last set is shipped, that will be that. Sales of Britannica’s print edition peaked around 1990 at 120,000 sets, with significant decreases in volume through the 1990’s and into the 2000’s. For the company itself, the print edition represented only a small portion of revenue, with the majority derived from selling curriculum products to schools, as well as online subscriptions and other digital versions of its content.

In my view, this move is not revolutionary, but it is certainly evolutionary. It serves as a reflection point on multiple fronts, including the transformation occurring in the publishing industry and in education; it also highlights the true impact that the Internet and digital media continue to have in the way we learn, work, and play.

Is the sunsetting of Encyclopedia Britannica’s printed set just another death knell for the demise of the printed book or other printed publications? No… BUT… it does serve as a reminder that it is imperative for publishers to have a digital media strategy. Luckily for Encyclopedia Britannica, the company has been working to publish its vast repository of the world’s facts and figures to digital channels since the 1980’s. It released the first CD-ROM (remember those?) of Britannica in 1989. It put its collection online in 1994, which was seven years before Jimmy Wales launched Wikipedia in 2001.

Encyclopedia Britannica was actually ahead of its time in its digital publishing efforts, and ensured that it built up a strong digital business before deciding to end its print edition. The company reports having 500,000 subscribers to its $69.95/year premium Britannica Online service, which users can access via the Web and also through its iPad application. Think about that: what was once a 129-pound set of books now fits on a device of just over 1 pound… and it’s searchable, browsable, interactive, and constantly updated.

Some are of the opinion that more searchable and hyperlinked content, while efficient, takes away some of the serendipitous nature of perusing through a printed encyclopedia or other printed publications. Apparently those people have never gone on a Wikipedia bender, letting the hours melt away while clicking through dozens (or hundreds) of interconnected articles. Of course, there is definitely something about looking through a tome like Encyclopedia Britannica that is hard to replicate in the digital world, but the reality is that in today’s world, efficiency is paramount. Furthermore, I believe that information is power, and limiting that type of high-quality, trusted reference information to the confines of a fixed-length format is, in the end, inhibitive.

Another thing this news made me really reflect on is the impact of technology on education. While print is going to continue to play an important role in education well into the future, digital media can be used in conjunction or even on its own to more effectively help students learn new concepts and expand their knowledge. A lighthouse example of how digital media can be used as an effective teaching tool is Khan Academy, whose mission is “to provide a free world-class education to anyone anywhere.” Now that is revolutionary.

Through short, instructive video lessons often taught by the site’s founder, Sal Khan, students can work their way from the basics of a particular subject all the way through to the most complex applications. While the information is freely available online, the not-for-profit is piloting programs in 23 schools with its math curriculum, where the video lessons are their primary instructor and teachers are used in more of a support role. Students’ progress is tied back to analytics that help pinpoint where they are having problems and in what subject. Sal Khan and his team may have cracked the code for how to effectively use the Web and digital media to enhance learning.

In the 60 Minutes piece on Khan Academy from this past weekend, Sal Khan was asked how he approaches learning about a topic he is going to create a video for. His answer? Textbooks. “If I’m doing something that I haven’t visited for a long time, you know, since high school I’ll go buy five textbooks in it. And I’ll try to read every textbook,” says Khan. He, of course, also uses the Internet. Clearly there is still value in trustworthy, authoritative reference information, and print is a symbol of that trust. Digital media, however, is becoming just as trustworthy, and its use along with other technology can help optimize the learning experience like never before.

What do you think? Are you lamenting the loss of Encyclopedia Britannica’s print edition or is it inconsequential?

Photo Publishing Opportunities with Instagram

Monday, February 27th, 2012

For the past few years, many companies have attempted to find opportunities for the print publishing of social online content. Content-rich social networks like Twitter and Facebook have Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) that enable third-parties to, with user approval through social sign-in, flow information and graphics from your account to their service. As more consumers centralize their photos around a handful of online services, particularly in the social media realm, it becomes increasingly important for photo publishers to offer integration with these sites. How much does social matter? According to an InfoTrends study from 2010, close to 60% of consumers that upload photos to the Internet reported using Facebook most often to accomplish this task (up from just 30% in 2009, and continuing on a growth trajectory).

While networks like Facebook are critically important due to their sheer size of user base (i.e., potential opportunity), niche social networks that revolve around photo sharing are making a big splash. Specifically, photo sharing network Instagram has garnered a lot of attention recently. If you’re not familiar with Instagram, it is an iOS app that lets users take photos, apply different filters to those photos, and share them with other Instagram friends or with other networks like Facebook and Twitter. Social sign-on is tenet of Instagram’s popularity: users connect their existing social network accounts to Instagram to find friends, share photos, and build a following.

Instagram has experienced incredible growth over the past year-plus. At the end of 2010, the network had around 100,000 users; at the end of 2012, it surpassed 15 million users… not bad for a start-up with 10 employees. Social integration, filter types, and the quality of iOS cameras (ranging from 5 megapixels to 8 megapixels, depending on the version) are all success factors for Instagram. That quality level is also important for photo publishers looking to tap into the Instagram opportunity.

Around this time last year, Instagram launched an API for developers looking for new and interesting ways to tap into the photo sharing network’s content. One result of this launch was the proliferation of a number of tools and services that enable Instagram users to print their photos in a variety of different formats. All users have to do to use most of these services is login with their Instagram account (again, the power of social sign-on); depending on service, different methods will be provided for selecting and printing your photos. A number of existing services include:

  • Postagram: This service, which is available through iOS and Android mobile apps, lets users send personalized print postcards with a photo of their choice to friends and family. While there are many similar services available (including Apple’s own “Cards” app), what’s unique is that the photo area is die-cut, enabling photos to be popped out of the postcard and posted elsewhere. While Postagram takes its namesake from Instagram, the app also lets users send postcards including their Facebook photos, as well as photos residing on their mobile device.
  • Blurb: As many of you may know, Blurb is a prominent photo publisher, primarily with its photo book offerings. To complement its existing services, Blurb launched its Instagram integration in July last year, providing templates that easily let people turn their Instagram albums into long-lasting physical keepsakes.
  • CanvasPop: CanvasPop specializes in providing online services for canvas printing, and its Instagram integration was activated just before Christmas last year, enabling people to order 12″ x 12″ or 20″ x 20″ canvas prints of their Instagram photos.
  • Stickygram: A project birthed from digital ad agency MintDigital, Stickygram provides an interface for people to order a pack of 9 magnets that include different Instagram photos on it for just $14.99, and also lets users buy them as gifts for people. This company markets its product particularly well, with lots of different promotions and a strong social media presence.
  • Other Instagram-inspired printing services include Instagoodies (1″ stickers), Instamaker (photo merchandise), (various photo products), and Casetagram (iPhone cases).

It is important to note that integrating with the API is just the first step; in other words, if you build it, they will not necessarily come. The aforementioned companies all do a fair amount of marketing, especially on social networks and through daily deal sites like Groupon. Additionally, these sites are dealing with user-generated content, and even though most people use Instagram to take and share their own photos, they can also post third-party, non-original content, which could run afoul of copyright laws. These types of factors need to be considered before embarking on your quest to capture print volume from Instagram.

Clearly, there is a lot of interest and potential opportunity by leveraging Instagram (and other online social content) to drive photo publishing services. That opportunity will likely increase dramatically, as Instagram plans to release an Android version of its app at some point this year (date still TBA); this move will bring millions more users to the photo sharing network, especially considering Android’s market share dominance in the smartphone space.

The ultimate point is that today, Internet start-ups can gain user traction extremely rapidly (just look at Pinterest… that topic is for another blog, though). Additionally, to promote growth, these services inevitably offer sharing and integration capabilities, providing opportunities for third-parties to utilize content in new and interesting ways. Building useful services around these new platforms, especially around photo publishing and on-demand printing, can open the door to new customers and more volume.

Understanding Different Applications for Personalization

Tuesday, January 24th, 2012

“Personalization” continues to be a prominent topic in a number of different circles: marketing, publishing, eCommerce, social networking, and search. It’s no wonder why: personalization helps boost response rates and profitability in cross-media campaigns, helps marketers drive conversion on their Websites & landing pages, and much more.

Wikipedia provides a very broad definition of personalization, which I do like: “using technology to accommodate the differences between individuals.” Specific to the groups that I am referring to, I believe that personalization can be more precisely defined as leveraging data to deliver relevant content to specific individuals.

That’s still pretty broad; what kind of data? what kind of content? what channels are being used? With this many constituencies looking to use personalization in their own ways to meet specific goals, those answers can range extensively. Furthermore, when these groups end up talking to each other about personalization, it can cause confusion and miscommunication. To clear the air, so-to-speak, I wanted to shed some light on the different ways personalization is being employed by these different groups.

  • Cross-media Direct Marketing: You’re likely familiar with the personalization model for cross-media campaigns: a digitally-printed direct mail piece (or e-mail) with variable text and graphic elements and a personalized URL, which links to a personalized microsite with variable text and graphic elements, often highlighting the recipient’s name in some way. Personal and demographic data is primarily used to drive the personalization in these applications. Depending on the client/campaign, additional data may be used for more granular, relevant content.
  • Digital Marketing: Personalization is popular with digital marketers. E-mail is a popular spot for personalization: according to a 2011 study by marketing technology provider Alterian, 72% of marketing professionals surveyed reported using personalization for their e-mail campaigns. E-mail marketing complexity ranges from mass blasts to segmentation to real-time individualization, typically using customer data and purchase history data to make recommendations. Another prominent personalization tactic for marketers is retargeting, which involves serving ads to a specific user after they have left a Website in efforts to raise brand awareness, recapture their attention, and drive people back to their Website.
  • eCommerce: Business-to-consumer eCommerce was and still is a center of innovation in Web personalization, driven by and other eTailers looking to provide a custom-tailored experience for each individual user in hopes of getting them to buy more. For these sites, personalization often comes in the form of a recommendation engine, which tracks your browsing habits, shopping cart, wish list, reviews, purchase history, and other facets to deliver personalized recommendations on what the system thinks you would like. It should be noted that digital marketing goes hand-in-hand with eCommerce; real-time individualized e-mail marketing is common for eCommerce companies, and retargeting helps bring back shoppers that left the conversion funnel.
  • Publishing: For print publishing, personalization often means mass customization, specifically in the print-on-demand model for books, where eCommerce orders trigger specific books to be printed, often in one-off fashion. Services like MagCloud and Time Inc’s Mine Magazine endeavor represent personalization efforts for magazines. On the Web and in digital media, personalization is geared more toward delivering relevant content based on an individual’s specific interests or preferences. Sometimes meeting this objective requires readers to input specific information about their tastes; other times, information like a Twitter, Facebook, or Google Reader account may be analyzed to assess your interests and deliver content based on who you’re friends with, who you follow, or what news you already read. A great example of this method is exhibited through Zite, a “personalized digital magazine” mobile app.
  • Social Networking: Social networks are rife with different types of individuals’ data, making them ideal for personalization. Social networks typically employ personalization to deliver relevant content feeds from a user’s friends or connections on a network, as well as to deliver highly-targeted display advertising. For content delivery, networks may use algorithms to interpret connections, interactions, and profile information among users and deliver content based on what it believes is most relevant to each user. For advertising, networks typically act a facilitator between advertisers and users, presenting key profile characteristics of users that advertisers can choose to target.  Facebook generated over $3.5 billion in revenue through this type of advertising.
  • Search: Search engines have always utilized algorithms to determine the display results of a user’s query, but these algorithms have recently started to take user information, such as profile or location data, into consideration before displaying results. Just recently, Google stepped up its game in this area, launching “Search, plus Your World“, which integrates a user’s Google+ data into everyday search queries. Advertising is a critical component to search, and generated over $35 billion in revenue worldwide for Google in 2011. Up until now, most search ads have been delivered based on the content of users’ search queries, but location information and even personal information are starting to be used to deliver more targeted search ads to users.

At its core, all that is needed to enable personalization is data, content, and a mechanism to have one drive the other. As has been covered, applying personalization for different use cases has a substantial impact on the type of data being used, the content that is being tied to that data, and the types of delivery mechanisms that enable that personalization. Understanding these differences and requirements for each application can help different stakeholders communicate more effectively when pursuing personalization, as well as open the door to new opportunities

Adobe Refocuses on Digital Media, Digital Marketing

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Adobe has been making waves with its series of acquisitions over the past few years, including Web analytics provider Omniture and content management provider Day Software. More recently, Adobe acquired web font specialist Typekit, electronic signature provider EchoSign, and video enhancement software provider Iridas Technology.

At a financial analyst briefing in November, Adobe made a number of announcements about what it is doing with those acquisitions, and more broadly, the direction in which the company is headed. Most of the news coverage in the tech community that surrounded this briefing was Adobe’s intention to stop any future development of its Flash for mobile platform. Instead, the company is opting to focus on leveraging HTML5 and other standard Web technologies in the mobile arena. Adobe is also putting more emphasis on these technologies in general, as showcased by some of its concept products it has released for testing, including Muse (aimed at helping users design and publish HTML websites without the need to write code) and Edge (an application that is meant to help people create animated Web content using HTML5, CSS3, and JavaScript).

Some noted the scaling back of Flash as a posthumous win for the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who was adamantly opposed to putting Flash on Apple’s iDevices because of what he felt were flaws that made Flash inferior in the mobile realm. What was substantially under-reported in the tech world was Adobe’s clear shift in direction, as highlighted by a reorganization that re-targets the company to focus on two main areas: digital media and digital marketing.

The company is also pushing its users to get out of a perpetual licensing model of buying and upgrading its Creative Suite product line to a cloud-based subscription pricing model that lets users pay for access to Creative Suite tools on a monthly basis. To do this, Adobe has developed the Creative Cloud, a Web-based community and portal for users to manage their Creative Suite applications and connect with other creative professionals. While the company will continue to sell perpetual licenses in the near future, it has very clear plans to fully migrate 100% of Creative Suite users to the Creative Cloud over time.

With the Creative Cloud on the Digital Media side, there is also Adobe’s cloud-based Digital Marketing Suite, which is geared toward the company’s solutions for digital marketing, including Web and social analytics, content management, digital asset management, eCommerce, display advertising, e-mail marketing, and customer relationship management. Adobe’s goal is to provide a suite of solutions for marketing professionals that can help them compete effectively in the online channel.

Furthermore, Adobe is shifting its business strategy from simply being a technology provider to a company that also provides services to help businesses with things like content monetization. In this sense, Adobe’s transformation pushes it closer to competing with some of its customers and partners; it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the near future. Just weeks after its financial analyst briefing, the company announced the acquisition of Efficient Frontier, a provider of digital ad buying and performance management solutions. This acquisition is further proof that Adobe is intent on not just providing tools to create content, but that it fully wants to provide solutions to help its customer monetize the content they are creating.

All in all, Adobe’s changes are much more substantial than no longer developing Flash for mobile; the company is totally revamping its strategy to focus on digital media and digital marketing, and expanding its scope to offer companies help with content monetization. As an unfortunate by-product of this reorganization, Adobe is also laying off about 750 people, or around 7% of its workforce. Layoffs aside, the company is, of course, painting a compelling future for itself, as well as digital media and marketing in general. With the marketing and media landscapes still undergoing a high degree of transformation, it may not be a bad bet.

What do you think of Adobe’s recent moves? Can it refocus its business while maintaining trust and good relationships with its long-standing customer base? Have you already moved from a perpetual licensing model to a monthly subscription via the Creative Cloud? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

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.

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.

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!

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

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.

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

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

Magazine Publishers of America: Minus the Publishing?

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

Yesterday, the Magazine Publishers of America (MPA)  unveiled a new name, tagline and logo for their trade group: MPA – The Association of Magazine Media. By keeping the well-established initials, MPA, as the organization’s formal name and dropping “publishers” from its tagline, MPA is underscoring the fact that magazine media content engages consumers across multiple platforms, including websites, tablets, smartphones, books, live events and more. One could say that they are embracing new media – or one could say that they are distancing themselves from print.

“Magazine media companies are rapidly embracing cross-platform business models that incorporate print, digital and other ways of providing content to consumers,” said Jack Griffin, incoming Chair of MPA, and CEO of Time Inc. “MPA’s new identity expresses our strong belief that, together, all of these forms collectively express what it means to be a magazine media company.”

Added Nina Link, MPA President and CEO, “The essence of what consumers love about magazines – the immersive experience, the curated content, the sense of community and the award-winning photography and design – is now being enhanced by technologies and devices that support high definition imagery, video animation, mobile e-reading and Web access. The future of magazine reading is undergoing a transformation; audiences and advertisers now interact with magazine brands on so many different levels and platforms. MPA’s identity simply had to reflect this fact.”  

MPA will officially launch its new name and logo to its membership at the annual American Magazine Conference (AMC) on Monday, October 4, in Chicago – the same week as GraphExpo descends on Chicago.

MPA will also premiere a new series of videos at AMC called “Magazine Media Minutes.” Produced by the editors of various magazine titles, these mini-documentaries spotlight how innovative magazine titles are creating content and brand experiences across a variety of media platforms.  Participating magazines include Food & Wine, Glamour, GQ, Men’s Health, More, Natural Home, People, Popular Mechanics, Real Simple, Runner’s World and Yoga Journal. The videos are available on a special MPA YouTube channel at Most of these videos talk about how new media is better than print – can you find me one that doesn’t?

“In defining our business as magazine media we are explicitly focusing MPA’s leadership agenda on promoting magazine brands and their unique relationships with consumers across all platforms,” said John Q. Griffin, outgoing MPA Chair and President of National Geographic Publishing Group.

All platforms, including print? Hmmmm. Maybe we should take a bunch of GraphExpo folks on a  field trip over to the AMC next week . . .