Commentary & Analysis
It's an on-demand world after all
By Frank J.
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: April 26, 2004
By Frank J. Romano April 26, 2004 -- Sure, we know about print on demand or POD. It is a euphemism for digital printing in all its guises. Because digital printing has neither make-ready nor drying time, it can produce a job faster than offset litho. But the concept of on demand permeates every aspect of our society. You could say that it began with fast food and while-you-wait services. Pumping your own gas is an on-demand activity. New self check-out stations at supermarkets fall into this area. An ATM machine is on-demand banking, if you will. I heard the CEO of Comcast talk about on-demand cable TV. There are no schedules as such. You missed "Law and Order"--no problem. Just run it when you want, on demand. And skip those pesky commercials. You can do the same thing by recording the show on your TiVo or DVD recorder. You are no longer a slave to a television schedule; you watch what you want, when you want. Now those commercials have no value. Cable and broadcast television have siphoned billion of dollars from print over the decades. It is time to turn the tables. Print advertising (in magazines, journals, and newspapers) now has a fighting chance. Periodical ads are seen even if they are not read. There is a glitch, though. Some folks read their magazines online. I was getting on a train recently (well, all the time) and went to buy a Wall Street Journal to read. They were sold out. On the train, the guy next to me had downloaded the issue to his laptop and was reading it on the screen. I had already done this with an issue of Electronic Publishing, which is now available to readers in PDF format. The nice thing about the PDF version is that it has everything that is in the print version-including the ads. I think the ads are an integral part of a publication, often as important as the editorial content. Before some of you who are editors send me nasty e-mails, consider that the advertising also informs us about products, services, and even ideas. You can tell a lot about a company by how it presents itself in its ads. On-demand TV will make advertising worthless, so print has an advantage because even if you flip through a publication's pages, the ads make some impression. But some amount of publication content will go electronic. What will this mean to printers? It means opportunity. We want to push the PDF format so that the publication looks like the publication-not like a website. Since the printer has the print file with everything in it (a necessity for CTP), the generation of a screen-based PDF is a breeze. Voila, you are now in the cross-media business. You want to be in this business because some percentage of publication readers will want their publications on demand. If we do not do it, someone else will. Will this have an adverse effect on print? We think the answer is "some." Not everyone will choose to read publications on screens. Mobile professionals who travel on planes and trains are a primary market. My guess is that about 10 to 20 percent of the circulation base of most publications could go electronic. Many may keep the print subscription, because even mobile professionals come home eventually. And when they do, the print version will be there for them to read--on demand.