1:1 Printing Isn’t a Fix-All

By | August 5, 2014

Last week, I posted my nutshell summary of the state of 1:1 printing. My summary has solicited some reactions around the industry — some of them quite strong.

One printer represents many others when he writes,

Your summary of the past year may be valid in the digital info world in general, but absolutely off the mark regards the printing industry, 1:1, or any other voguish way you wish to call it. My experience, and those of all the printers I know, is that URL, VDP, and all this stuff about surveys and “long-term commitments,” is just so much fluff and smoke-and-mirrors. In the real, shrinking world of offset and digital print, what still counts are the traditional values of good design and cheap pricing. Case studies, white papers, etc., are all interesting to read, but far from the reality of what we do.

Reading through the lines, we hear that because they, XYZ Printing, can’t sell 1:1 printing, because their business is struggling and 1:1 printing has not proven to be the life raft to save them, it must be nothing but hype.

I hear lots of reasons my assessment of 1:1 printing is incorrect. Printers are losing business to in-house print shops. Their quick response and aggressive delivery no longer win clients. Their clients are returning to lowest cost bidder situations and they are losing business.

I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but what, exactly, does this have to do with the state of 1:1 printing?

Case studies tell us what printers and their clients are actually producing. By watching the types of campaigns that are actually being printed and mailed, we can watch this marketing approach evolve. By reading the market surveys and research studies on where marketers are spending their money, where they are placing their priorities, and how they are addressing their challenges (and what challenges they are addressing), we can watch the evolution of data-driven marketing, including print.

The state of 1:1 printing is exactly that — the state of 1:1 printing — not the state of the commercial printing industry in adopting 1:1 printing. “The state of” includes the types of campaigns produced, the level of complexity at which they are being produced, and the best practices being used by those who produce them. If an individual printer cannot print and sell 1:1 printing, even if they and every printer they know cannot sell 1:1 printing, this is not a reflection on “the state of” for those can and who can and do produce these campaigns on a regular basis.

1:1 printing isn’t the fix-all for the challenges facing the commercial printing industry. It’s just a solid, well-established marketing channel for those whose business models are set up to do so.


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7 thoughts on “1:1 Printing Isn’t a Fix-All

  1. Duncan Newton

    Everyone, take a deep breath because we are going down memory lane. Once upon a time in Rochester a color printer was introduced that was an instant success, the DocuColor 60. The problem was that there weren’t any applications for digitally produced color pages. Sure, there was a market for transparencies, but they went the way of the SyQuest drive.

    The real problem underlying it all was that it was just too expensive to use. The per page cost was frightening. Sensing a disaster the Marketing guys took a look at variable date printing for transactional work. Voilá! There is was! Victory! OOPS! Not so fast. Variable data work at the time required programming skills – well beyond the ability of commercial printers who were the target market.

    Everybody knew how to use QuarkXPress so a way to make the picture elements variable was the first go-to solution. It worked – sorta.

    And so the quest began. Find an application that requires color printing and is so compelling that 25 cents per page makes sense.

    As time went on more apps came to market and costs went down. But let’s not forget that this all began with trying to find a niche that would justify buying an expensive color printer that kicks out pages 5 times more expensive than monochrome.

    Inkjets? Maybe… but the variable data market just hasn’t materialized. Transactional work is disappearing at an alarming rate and used continuous feed monochrome machines are dirt cheap.
    But the funny thing is that the inkjets do things that couldn’t be done in the past and have opened a whole new world where one didn’t exist. Short run books. Unthinkable even 5 years ago and yet this is the fastest growing printing market on the planet.

    The price of entry is steep and the big boys have already invested heavily. The growth continues and with the addition of Kindles and tablets the pressure is on the offset book printers – print runs are falling rapidly and turnaround times are shrinking.

    It’s almost like books have bought into the old value proposition of all digital production – lower inventory, quick production times and market responsiveness. On demand printing meets one-to-one marketing. Buy a book on line today and get it via FedEx tomorrow.

  2. Gerhard Maertterer

    I started in the digital printing market in 2003 when I launched AlphaPicture’s image personalization. But electrostatical digital printing was expensive and slow at that time. Since Drupa 2012, HighSpeed Inkjet Presses tremendously increased in quality and speed – at decreasing costs.

    Now I am Director One-to-One Services at one of Germany’s biggest web-offset printing companies with 1.200 employees and 300 Million EUROs turnover. We are now producing catalogues and magazines in hybrid combination: The content inside is printed in a cost-effective way by offset. The cover around is printed by variable data in inkjet. The print-runs range from 30.000 to 3 million – and it works. Inkjet quality and production time perfectly fit to offset quality and production time.

    The problem is no longer about technology – but about the brains of the decision makers among our customers. Most of my time I invest in “One-to-One Evangelization” of potential purchasers. Unlike selling offset, you first must deeply immerge into the needs and communication problems of your customer. Not until then you can offer a digital solution and convince your customer about the advantages.

    Thinking of solutions, before starting to sell – that’s our challenge. That’s our chance!

    Gerhard Maertterer from Eversfrank, Germany

  3. jacob aizikowitz

    Was surprised reading the “representative” reaction to 1:1 Print, as well as the somewhat cynical evolution-of-digital account from the DC 60 onward.

    Only to find relief in reading Gerhard’s comment.

    Many people in the print industry would prefer to stay in the manufacturing business. Someone needs to print something, and they will be the best in manufacturing and fulfilling it perfectly (cost, reliability, substrate, timeliness, quality).

    Becoming a service provider that can use their print technologies in order to provide 1:1 Printing Jobs to their customers is not a manufacturing business. In many ways its a marketing service business with a printing expertise at the backroom.

    Being from XMPie I am naturally more familiar with businesses in the print industry that made the leap jump, changed their thinking about who they are, and shifted from print factory thinking to communications projects / programs (and associated services) thinking.

    Not everyone succeeds, and while technology (the right technology, of course…) is an enabler it can not replace the individual, the team, the leaders of the business changing their vision, focus, and, ultimately, Who We Are, thinking. Those that transformed their business — venturing outside their traditional comfort zone — succeeded. And quite a few of them succeeded very visibly commercially.

    Gerhard — for me — represents this breed of individuals that are critically needed for initiating and making such transitions. Our leading customers all have people like Gerhard who knew that they need to change the definition of who they are as a business and go make it happen.

    Let me close by clearly stating that there is no problem in being a print business with a vision of excellence in manufacturing. It’s just that print as a standalone media is declining, and, hence, without either changing the business or partnering with marketing/services businesses, a manufacturing focused print business must find narrower niche markets where such type of print services are still needed (Books is a good example).

  4. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    I remember a conversation I had with someone at Daniels Graphics a number of years ago. He recounted a conversation he had with a client (for whom they were developing some type of campaign at the time), and the client asked where the company did its printing. It had no idea that Daniels was, in fact, a printer. They thought it was a marketing company.

    I can’t tell you how often I go into LinkedIn groups talking about different marketing applications and get my head handed to me for promoting technologies that are just hype. Happens all the time. I have learned to take the time to strap on my hard hat before going in. 🙂

    It just reflects the differences in business models between printing companies: the ones who see these technologies as hype, can’t sell them, and most likely struggle in a cost-driven, shrinking margin marketplace (and cannot envision things being any other way) and those who see them as tools as part of a larger, more comprehensive, marketing-driven print environment.

  5. Bill Fechner

    Let’s simplify this. It was never about print. It never was. It’s always been about helping your clients find ways to make personal, relevant, profitable connections. Print just happened to be one of the few avenues to do that.
    Focus on your client’s sales and your future path will be clear. Data gathering, data analysis and targeted, focused marketing will help your client’s and your own sales grow.

  6. Bill Fechner

    Heidi, this is a great post. Really shows the different mindsets during transition. Also reinforces the belief that with great transition comes great opportunity.

  7. Heidi Tolliver-Walker Post author

    To follow up on Jacob’s surprise, here is another comment from around the industry along the same lines as the one in the post above. It’s a tale of two perspectives:

    “It is becoming even harder to retain customers. We used to do printing for multiple locations of large corporations. One by one they have brought all print purchasing inside and given it to an agency or a large printer. Our quick response and aggressive delivery was our primary tool. Now the clients I used to work for and with are forced to go through multiple channels and what I used to design in a day and ship in a week all over the country now takes two weeks to get artwork and another two weeks for printing and delivery. There are probably cost savings, but how can a sales person say to a customer of his that he can no longer get him POS in a week. It will now take a month. I have had two of my largest clients go this way and it is hard to replace 45% of your business in today’s marketplace.”

    Keep in mind that this is in response to a post about the state of the 1:1 printing marketplace. The focus is entirely on lost business in general.

    It’s not that 1:1 printing saves a business. Not at all. But rather that the same perspective that allows a print shop to rise above the cost-driven, margin-squeezing commodity marketplace and thrive in today’s marketing-driven business environment is the same perspective that allows them to succeed with 1:1 printing (or, if they don’t see it as part of their business model, not choose not to go this direction from a sound business perspective).

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