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Commentary & Analysis

The Next Big Thing!


By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: May 8, 2007

--- Special Feature - John Giles' Digital Directions The Next Big Thing! By John Giles May 8, 2007 -- What’s the next big thing for printers? Automation. And it will ultimately be crucial to survival. Some printers are reeling at VistaPrint.com’s announcement it is launching a web-based service aimed at “providing customized and consistently branded marketing materials for customers that have branches spread across the country.” The emphasis on business-to-business sales by the well-known (and aggressively marketed) printer has some printers worried that their customer’s will migrate to the web for their printing. Printers really shouldn’t worry if they are making sales calls, creating new business and servicing existing customers. The ones who have the most to lose are the printers whose entire marketing plan is to mail a newsletter occasionally to customers and have an easy-to-find physical location. Those printers are going to see their business go away as more aggressive printers actually steal their customers by making sales calls and learning their real needs. Everything from color correction to pagination is automated so two employees can push work to the presses. VistaPrint and other web-based print providers can afford to spend more on marketing and sales because they have automated their production process to squeeze out higher profits. The brick-and-mortar printers can easily do the same if they take advantage of existing technology. I recently met with a New York printer who has spent the last 5 years automating his prepress department. In 2003, he was doing just over $500,000 in sales with 9 employees. Today, after a focused process to automate, the company does $1.5 million in sales with 11 employees. He expects to see even more grow in the coming year. He has plenty of capacity because of the automation. Now he just goes out and sells. The Importance of Standards Automation doesn’t work without customer training. This printer said the majority of his time is spent making “technological calls” after the initial sales call. He has to train the customer to provide him with a PDF created by an automatic PDF creation driver. He helps the customer set document standards so the job will look the same each time it is sent to him. Once the customer understands how the production process works, entering the file into the workflow becomes easy. The PDF is automatically sent to certain “hot folders” based on the type of job and which customer is submitting the job. The printer uses Enfocus Pitstop Server to interface with his Heidelberg prepress system to automatically correct and manage incoming files. Everything from color correction to pagination is automated so two employees can push work to the presses. According to the printer, he wouldn’t have been able to grow profitably if it hadn’t been for automation. He has his standards and is able to find work that falls within those standards and grow his business. What's Wrong with this Picture? That story is the opposite of another printer who wants automation but hasn’t achieved it. This $4 million printer has a prepress system build for automation. He has a automated PDF creation driver he can put on customers’ computers to assure he gets good PDFs. Yet with all the firepower he has in his prepress department, he has yet to use the automation. He is too busy. The key to his failure is that he refuses to believe that printing work can be standardized. He sees each job as a custom order and doesn’t look for the commonality in his work and how production standards can be implemented. In his case, even jobs done on a monthly basis have to be treated differently each time because he changes which press is used. Perhaps unbelievably, some jobs will be re-plated two or three times because the production manager changes the press after the original plates are made. Because the owner can’t make a decision about what his production standards should be, only basic features in the high-end prepress equipment are being used. Another printer wants automation but hasn’t achieved it because he refuses to believe that printing work can be standardized. Sadly, this printer is attempting to price his work based on using the production capabilities of his equipment. He prices as if the work is being produced in an optimal way rather than as a custom job requiring special handling. He doesn’t have time to grow his company because he is too busy just trying to get the work out that he has now. It will cost money to automate. The Pitstop Server does cost more than Pitstop Professional and you will need a RIP that supports an automatic workflow. Vendors understand the need for automation and are building features into their systems. Now even RIPs such as RIP-IT offer a front-end that can take a lot of steps out of the prepress staff’s hands. But costs for equipment and software with automation build in are falling and almost any size printer can take advantage of some of the automation savings. The same automation being seen for RIPs running presses is being introduced for digital printers. Every digital print engine vendor now has some sort of automation package to make it easy to for a customer to place an order via the web and have it be produced. Frank Romano recently commented on Whattheythink.com that it is going to be difficult using “the dream of JDF” to run a printing company in “lights out mode.” I agree when he says if we cannot get designers to make InDesign or Quark files work correctly, how can we expect them to drive all the other production processes automatically? Romano believes that the concept will work if there is a “contract relationship between the printer and the customer” that “defines the standards, checks and balances, and procedures that work best for the both of them.” You don’t have to be a web-based printing giant to make it easier for customers to buy printing from you. The key is for printers to define the standards and procedures for specific jobs Automation will work with the right customers. The key is for printers to define the standards and procedures for specific jobs, find that type of work, and then train the customers about those standards and procedures. With standards and procedures, a printer can lock in a customer and develop a solution that will provide the customer with a competitive price with a realistic delivery time. The printer will get higher profit margins and more production capacity. If you want to automate, stop chasing the one-time print buyer and go after customers with a volume of print buying needs. With the right customers, all the questions will be answered before the job is entered into production. Prepress people won’t have to be digital detectives and guess about files and formats. You don’t have to be a web-based printing giant to make it easier for customers to buy printing from you. The communications necessary to make sure automation works is going to be the same process that keeps your customer buying from you and not from a faceless Internet vendor. Please offer your feedback to John. He can be reached at: john@johngiles.com. See More Exclusive Articles John Giles is an industry consultant who specializes in digital issues for quick and small commercial printers. Giles is currently conducting digital audits for quick printers around the country to assure the companies can accept digital files easily and price profitably. He also conducts training seminars for printing customers on how to prepare files properly for a commercial printer. He is the author of Digital Directions: a digital workflow guide for customer-created files and the Digital Original, a CD which focuses on teaching customers to create Postscript files as well as the other functions required to get a file to print properly. He is also the technology director of CPrint (r) (Certified Printers International). He can be reached at 304.552.5363 or john@johngiles.com.



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