The crowds were thinner on Wednesday, and Tuesday too, for that matter, so it will be interesting to see what the total attendance numbers were for the four days of GraphExpo 2002. Still it seemed like many of the attendees were decision-makers or key influencers, getting a first-hand look at equipment so they could make some educated decisions. They may have been "kicking tires" this week, but they came with the objective of learning about the all the options in a given category. The printing industry may be afflicted with the same malaise as the rest of the economy, but there certainly seemed to be printers at GraphExpo who were getting ready to buy.

Eavesdropping as a Journalistic Tool
And tire kickers or not, the mid-day Wednesday crowds were still filling the spaces around the NexPress 2100, the Xerox DocuColor iGen3 and the HP Indigo line among others. I like to hear the questions people ask and listen to conversations people have when seeing new things because they tell you a lot about what people are thinking.

"This is the future of print," said one guy.

"No, it's not," snorted his companion, "It's just part of it."

"OK," agreed the first, "It's just a part, but it's growing and getting to be a lot more important. And if you aren't at least partially digital you're going to lose business." By comparison, a little post-demo eavesdropping a few years ago yielded comments like, "You can still tell it's toner," "I can't sell this to my customers," or "The cost per page is way too high." Which were all pretty much true at the time.

Now quality (on the best digital presses anyway) is an issue only to technophobes and the questions are more pragmatic: "What are running costs like at X print volume?" "What paper weights can I run?" "What are the finishing options?" "How does this compare to (competitive model) on (fill in the feature or capability)?" And since most printers have some digital design awareness, they also ask about RIPs, maintenance intervals, workflow, and color management. But eavesdropping is still fun.

And the winning number is…
We're also waiting to hear numbers from vendors about what was sold at the show. Not all firms divulge this info, but wandering the aisles on Wednesday morning I noticed big "Sold" signs on equipment in a variety of booths. Scitex Digital had a sold sign on the VersaMark Vantage they were showing, and other signs were popping up, especially on finishing and binding machinery. As noted, people came to the show with a need or in response to pre-show legwork by sales guys and some were ready to pull out the check book because they were looking for a solution to business problems or customer needs and were fortunate enough to be able to pull the trigger.

Benny Landa Eyes
I happened to be in the Xerox booth while Benny Landa and Bill McGlynn of HP Indigo got a courtesy look inside the new iGen3. I didn't say much (way out of character for me) but I did get to watch their faces as they saw the new hardware. There were a few moments when Benny, who's no stranger to the innards of digital print engines got a little wide-eyed as Xerox engineer Tony Federico explained some of the whizz-bang-poof of the iGen. Of course, maybe Benny was just being polite.

Walking around a print show, you think of strange stuff. Why do so many presses run pictures of motorcycles? Since they are always Harleys, I figure a lot of pressmen must ride Hogs. Or why, for example, did at least three vendors bring cars to the show? There was a $500,000 Ferrari race car, a $45,000 Mitsubishi Lancer Pro Rally car and a new Ford Thunderbird (which is even blander in person than in photos).

At no time were there more than two people looking at any of them. Of course there was a whole Mercedes-Benz booth at Seybold New York, so go figure. But anyway…I'm about out of space for this so I'll save it for next time, like why information giant SAP was at a print show, the best deal on the planet for stock photography, and a few other final notes.