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Commentary & Analysis

GE07: The Vibe of Graph Expo

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By Noel Ward
Published: September 7, 2007

There's a vibe about Graph Expo '07 that seems to run coast to coast. And that would be Atlantic to Pacific, not just across Lake Michigan. Some cynics of our industry like to call Graph Expo a "regional show," citing the large number of attendees hailing from the mid-west. I say get a grip. Is drupa regional because most of its attendees come from Europe? When you sell out the floor space, expect somewhere around 20,000 people from all over the U.S. and Canada, fill a lot of hotel rooms, and have every aspect of the industry represented, that isn't a regional show in my book. Sure, it's small compared to drupa, IPEX or some Asian shows, but so what? Graph Expo is still the biggest print show on this continent with far more square feet of floor space devoted to digital print than at any other U.S.-based print show. In fact, it is drupa, just nine months away, that is generating some of the energy around Graph Expo.

While few companies are likely to make any hugely significant announcements in Chicago, this year Graph Expo is acting as a staging area for the big product roll outs we'll see next May and June in Dusseldorf. In fact, to generate some pre-show excitement, several firms have already announced some of their new equipment and software now rather than taking the usual course of waiting until show time at McCormick Place. Others are waiting until the lights go up on Sunday. My colleagues, Cary Sherburne, Barb Pellow and Patrick Henry have already been covering some of what's in store next week and we've run interviews with various industry executives. Now it's my turn to look at some of the things you need to see in terms of applications, business development and print engines,

Let's take a look. Applications Just as Lance Armstrong said, "It's not about the bike," when talking about bicycle racing, the press is only part of the story when it comes to digital printing. As big, expensive and impressive as your NexGendigon 10000 may be, what really makes the world go 'round are the jobs that fill up the stacking bins each day. For this very reason, many key vendors are exchanging their traditional press-centric approach (sell the box, sell the box) for one that focuses on the key applications that generate the greatest revenue for print providers. The new strategy is to be more proactive about providing customers with the knowledge and skills needed grow their businesses in three or four specific horizontal markets that can then be further split into vertical niches by industry and customer mix.

Many key vendors are exchanging their traditional press-centric approach (sell the box, sell the box) for one that focuses on the key applications that generate the greatest revenue for print providers Trans-promo One of the hottest ones is trans-promo, which could well become the way a whole lot of direct marketing is done in the coming years. Most of the transactional service bureaus I work with have customers asking about trans-promo and how to transition from ordinary bills and statements to ones with targeted marketing offers. But given how transactional documents are created, this is not necessarily a simple matter, so these guys are looking for solutions. As it happens, HP, Kodak, Océ, and Xerox all have strong initiatives in this area and we'll hear a lot about this in Chicago.

These leaders will be talking about customers who've already cracked the code on trans-promo, like the recently announced HP Indigo installation at Oniya Shapira, in Asseret, Israel which has six w3250 roll-fed presses running trans-promo statements. I saw this set-up shortly before it went live and it is a definitely sight to behold. If that install is any indication, trans-promo is going to get very cool, very fast. As you listen to what the vendors are saying about trans-promo, look beyond the technology for programs that support your sales and marketing activities, and even provide turn-key solutions for bringing in new revenue from trans-promo. You want solutions that provide a road map to this new (and potentially very profitable) range of applications.

You'll hear about some of these at the show next week. Look beyond the technology for programs that support your sales and marketing activities, and even provide turn-key solutions Color is a big part of the game in trans-promo and in Chicago you'll see some compelling and surprising ways to put color on a page--often for a whole lot less than you might think. One new way comes from Nipson, which will introduce new high speed spot color capabilities for its VaryPress product line.

The new VaryPress Spot Color System (SCS) lets users add from one to four spot colors to their print production via a high-speed drop-on-demand ink jet head array while still maintaining the print speed and productivity for which Nipson is known. More on this new device from the show floor. There'll also be more on color from at least one other leading player, but mum's the word until Monday morning. Books Books are another flash point. HP, Océ and Xerox are all over the trade book market and what we'll see at Graph Expo is only a glimpse of what's coming at drupa. The solutions span cut-sheet and roll-feed devices and the associated workflows help make low volume book production a lucrative application. For example, Océ will be printing two new books, The Chinese Buffer by Anthony Rose, who will be signing his work in the Océ booth, and an anthology from the Océ-sponsored Future Authors Project of Palm Beach County, which takes high school students through the book authoring and publishing process, winding up with their works published in a publicly available book. HP and Xerox will also have book solutions running at full speed at the show. In each case, look for excellent print quality, solid finishing options and the software to make the process as efficient as possible. But just to be clear, it's not just short-run new titles and some of the volumes you see at Amazon and Borders that drive the potential for digital books. Every type of manual is a prime candidate for a digital press and the production processes are virtually identical.

Beyond books and manuals are photo books --the new low volume, high margin darlings of the new business of books. HP, Kodak and Xerox are actively carving out share in the market for these user-created, highly personalized books that are streaming off full color digital presses in ever-growing numbers. To advance the market, vendors are offering up the secrets of the trade and supporting customers with the software, sales and marketing tools printers need to get a piece of this promising market.

In Chicago I'll see what they're doing and report back. It's not just short-run new titles and some of the volumes you see at Amazon and Borders that drive the potential for digital books Web-to-Print Another area we'll see a lot happening in is Web-to-Print (W2P). Most of the majors have home-grown products or partnered with others to roll out offerings in this area. In my opinion, within the next 2-3 years, customers are going to expect print providers to have a W2P option just as they expect them to have email and a phone today. If you don't have some kind of W2P capability (well beyond simply emailing a file), you'll be wondering why the similar-sized shop in the next zip code is pulling customers away from you. At Graph Expo we'll see what some of the print engine guys are doing to make it easier for your customers to get more jobs on their presses with just a few clicks.

I'll cover some of it and Cary and Barb will bring in the rest. Within the next 2-3 years, customers are going to expect print providers to have a W2P option just as they expect them to have email and a phone today Direct Mail And then there's direct mail, which presently accounts for a significant portion of all that's printed, both offset and digital. Still, there are moves afoot in Congress to institute a Do Not Mail list, and while this is probably a ways off, the likelihood of any legislation passing can be reduced if direct mail is done right. Targeted, compelling, and relevant are the keys to doing it right and leading software and equipment vendors have ways to help printers learn the ins and outs of effective direct mail.

The leaders have programs to help customers grow their mail business and we'll see some of these in detail at the show. Once the jobs are sold, though, direct mail is all about productivity. Xeikon, for instance, will show an in-line system for variable-sized direct mail postcards complete with two-sided UV-coating, die-cutting, stacking, and batching. Other times it's about connecting on multiple media, so I'll fit that in, too. Targeted, compelling, and relevant are the keys to doing it right and leading software and equipment vendors have ways to help printers learn the ins and outs of effective direct mail. Business Development All the application-oriented programs the vendors are releasing are closely related to their respective business development programs. Xerox, for example, is leveraging its already successful, multi-faceted Profit Accelerator program to roll out "Print Shop in a Box," a new set of tools aimed at helping commercial printers establish a successful digital printing business. Provided at no cost to customers, the CD- and Web-based guides walk them through the first months of operating a digital business, covering topics including equipment implementation, sales staff training and sales and marketing initiatives. Having such tools in one comprehensive, easy-to-use resource makes it easy for printers to find the information they are looking for without having to search for help from several separate sources. Other new offerings from Xerox are taking the biz dev activities a big step further.

I saw this stuff a couple of months ago and I think you'll like what you see. I'll also be taking a look at Kodak's latest MarketMover tools designed to help printers build their own businesses and hearing more about the Print Ambassador program the company is running to also help drive business to customers. Kodak has been especially assertive for the past year or so in promoting print and exploring new ways to drive business to its customers, often tying these efforts to the capabilities of its NexPress devices. For example, recent announcements highlight capabilities of the new NexPress S3000 and the ability to achieve the look and feel of textured paper at a fraction of the cost. Kodak says the texture can be added to all or part of a print and multiple textures can be selectively applied on one printed sheet, letting photo services providers differentiate the appearance of their output and increase the perceived value of the photographic prints. It will be interesting to see this and learn how it fits the burgeoning photobook market.

I'll get a look at both the new press and the texturizing (yes, that is a new word!) at the show and report back. And of course there's lots more. There's all kinds of interesting new equipment and software from the players mentioned above, plus I'll be hearing from Canon, Epson, Fuji, Inca, Vutek, and more on the wide format front. Coming to you almost live will be our video coverage, with interviews, maybe some booth tours, and a closer look at the show in case you're not one of the milling hordes that find their way to Chicago next week. Hope to see you there. Stay tuned.

 

 

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