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Commentary & Analysis

The Greatest Threat to the Printing Industry

By Ed Crowley October 13,

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: October 13, 2003

By Ed Crowley October 13, 2003 -- No, we aren't talking about a hot roll like those great hot yeast rolls available in Lambert's café in Southeast Missouri! No, the title of this column refers to the “hot roller” which is part of the fusing / imaging system on many workgroup laser printers. So what is this column about? My goal each month is to highlight some of the major events happening in the printer market. Not the Printing market (you know, the market for Indigo, NexPress and iGen presses–those digital presses that cost more than most people's houses) but rather the printer market (where products cost about the same as that deluxe family tent you take on your camping trip). So why would a web site focusing on the “digital printing” industry (i.e. houses) care about the printer market (i.e. tents)? In a word, convergence! What is the greatest threat to the printing industry? Consolidation, the cost of paper, in-house printing plants in corporate accounts? None of these! The greatest threat to the printing industry is the convergence of three key technologies to provide a complete distribute then print environment that can replace the traditional print then distribute environment. The first technology is the universal availability of low cost high quality printers. There are over 50 million laser printers installed in homes and offices worldwide. There are another 300+ million inkjets in homes and business worldwide. So, users have a relatively inexpensive way to print a high quality document . The second technology is the adoption of universal file sharing formats that allow a document to retain its original look and feel without requiring that the recipient have the original software producing the document. The Web Browser is obviously one ‘standard' as are Adobe PDF files. This gives users a universal (and basically free) way to share high quality documents without loosing the documents format. The third technology is email and the Internet. Email and Internet usage is pervasive today in all developed countries, and in most developing countries as well. Anyone who is a likely target for a document printed on an offset or digital press probably has an email account and access to the Internet. So companies have a way of distributing high quality documents to almost any location in the world free of charge (or at least without paying postage!) The new paradigm is to distribute and print, not print and distribute. This trend is impacting everything from newspapers to collateral materials to coupons. Look at this publication for an example that is close to home. Think about how OnDemandJournal.com and Whattheythink.com are distributed and used. Twenty years ago this industry leading publication would have been printed on an offset press and then mailed (print and distribute). Today, it's published electronically, and any ‘hardcopy' associated with the publication is from you, the reader, printing off an article on your desktop or workgroup printer to read later or to pass along to an associate (distribute and print). Does this mean that nothing will be printed on offset presses? Will everyone move from houses to tents? Absolutely not, but, it certainly means there will be a lot few houses built!



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