AROUND ONE SIDE AND THE BACK of Heidelberg’s booth at GraphExpo there were blue signs with two-line statements in white print tied to the printing giant’s theme of passion for printing. Yet as I read the signs, I saw some as an interesting statement on the printing industry today, with printers fighting against the encroachment of alternative media and striving to keep print relevant in a world where speed and information are increasingly vital criteria for communications tools. Look at some of the statements and think about them in that context:

Like the first two:
"Data Archives at the printer’s?
The only place inventory costs for print products still make business sense."
"Where do management, marketing and distribution come together?
How about at the printer’s."

These are strange statements from a company with a history of making machines for mass production of printed materials. Still, they show how the requirements for print are changing and how companies like Heidelberg are adapting and reinventing themselves to compete with bastions of digital printing like IBM, Océ, Scitex Digital, and Xerox. All these players have and continue to develop digital workflow solutions for manipulating and storing documents until needed for printing--reducing printed inventory costs and opening the door to making that data a whole lot more accessible and useful than it was only a few years ago.

That door has to be open a lot wider, and as it opens, a few printers are beginning to do much more than just print. One of the best examples at the show was over in the Scitex Digital booth. SDP was showing an application developed by Be’eri Printers, an Israeli shop that has raised the bar on marketing, management and distribution. The company prints bills and statements for banks, telcos and other companies for significantly less than its competitors. But instead of being the low bidder--they add value. Be’eri obtained the rights to use the available white space on the documents. Then they partnered with a data-mining firm to analyze customer-buying habits and sold the white space to advertisers looking to target certain consumer segments. They stopped thinking of themselves as a printer and became a new kind of marketing communications company.

OK, so maybe you wouldn’t be all that wild about the intrusiveness of ads in your bank statement. Me neither. There are all kinds of privacy issues involved here, but we’re likely to see some big changes in our credit card statements and other bills over the next year or two. I know a lot of data-savvy service bureaus and direct marketing shops that are eager to stuff your mailbox full of such documents and marketers equally itchy to find a better way to your wallet than traditional advertising and direct mail. These guys are snapping up digital color presses and looking to sell color in transactional documents and make direct mail more targeted. It all begins with print and data coming together and more traditional printers are going to find themselves behind the curve without data management capabilities.

That in itself is a subject for another day, but the simple fact that Heidelberg would be talking about data, marketing, management, and distribution shows that the company’s commitment to digital printing goes beyond the Digimaster and NexPress machines stationed around the edges of their GraphExpo booth. Stay tuned.

But speaking of data…
Just what was SAP doing at a mainstream printing show? Turns out that Unitinc, one of SAP’s channel partners, specializes in providing solutions for the printing, publishing and packaging industries. Under the SAP banner at GraphExpo, Unitinc rolled out PRINT IT (pronounced Print I-T) calling it an affordable, scalable, industry-specific enterprise solution for making any size printing company more efficient. PRINT IT is an alternative print management system with standard print job functions such as sales, estimating, procurement, accounting, costing, scheduling/planning, shop floor control, and financial reporting.

As the product name implies, PRINT IT provides Information Technology for printers. It can work as a standalone print management system or be integrated with other SAP business tools. Which is more to the point of why SAP is at a print show. Given the growing need for printers to handle data and offer some level of CRM, marketing and other information-oriented services as they relate to printing, it makes sense for an e-business leader like SAP to take a focus on the printing industry. While PRINT IT is not a CRM tool, many printers probably have customers that use some of SAP’s other products to support customer relationships. The intersection of where those relationships can be supported by printing is the point where printers can adopt SAP’s various technologies to extend their reach into--and their hold on--key customers.

On the other hand, one of Heidelberg’s signs asked…
"What could be more beautiful than a perfectly made color book?
Ever seen one being printed
Well, yes, and right in the Heidelberg booth, where an attractive book of color images conveying passion for sports, automobiles, horses, wine and other vices was printed, bound and distributed during the show. Meanwhile, across the aisle at Xerox, a DocuColor 2060 was printing and binding a full-color children’s book. And extending that concept, Xerox customer John Place, president of Mercury Print in Rochester, NY told how his testing of the iGen3 involved producing short-run children’s books--an area where he sees substantial opportunity. So what could be more beautiful than a perfectly made color book? How about the ability to produce them cost-effectively, as needed, in the quantity desired, and without the requirement for a long print run?

The Best Stock Photo Deal on the Planet
Or at least the best one I can find. WTT contributor Jeremy Smith of Smith Consulting was working with Hemera Technologies of Hull, Quebec, offering their lines of stock photo images. Hemera (named for the Greek goddess of light) offers Personal, Business and Professional libraries of images with well over 100,000 images available in a searchable online index.

The Personal Series was a bargain at just $149.95 for a one-year subscription, with access to images of about 3 x 3 inches at about 300 dpi. These are ideal for newsletters, web sites, collateral materials and all sorts of business presentations. Any images you download are yours to keep, even if you don’t maintain the subscription. But you may want to pay annually, as more images are added all the time. The Business Series is $699.95 per year and offers a similar selection with larger images and higher resolutions for most printing applications.

One of Hemera’s distinguishing features is that the images are from the eyes and lenses its own team of professional shooters, who also capture images for AbleStock’s gallery--which makes up the Professional Series of images.

No matter which offering is right for you, Hemera’s images are an incredible deal for anyone who needs stock photos or clip art. And the pricing makes for a very attractive way to build a library of images. I never buy anything at trade shows but when I saw this I whipped out the plastic.

XEIKON Gets Laminated
With the media noise around high-end color presses from NexPress, HP Indigo and Xerox, the current line from Xeikon tends to get lost in the clutter. Xeikon’s roll-fed DCP family of printers solves digital printing needs that aren’t met by the cut-sheet machines that dominate the market. (Other than for labels, only HP/Indigo’s w3200 model, and IBM’s Infocolor are roll-fed, and the Infocolor is essentially the same as the Xeikon DCP.)

The Xeikon is especially well-suited for packaging and signage applications and is delivering short-run and specialty printing solutions for these markets. Both packaging and signage require durability and Xeikon showed off a slick inline lamination system with a programmable cutter on the back end that laminates a printed sheet and cuts it to length, eliminating a separate finishing step. This follows up on the inline UV coater that debuted at Print 01 last year for less demanding applications. If you are printing on a Xeikon you need to check this out.

These are the last words I have to say…
I think Billy Joel said something like that, and at least for the moment I am about tapped out on Graph Expo. But wait! I see it coming! Xplor, the final print related show of the year, lands in Anaheim on October 27th, and WTT (and I) will be there to tell you what’s hot and what’s not. You can’t tell what’s smoke and mirrors ‘til you get there, but in the hot category, we’ll have news from Océ Printing Systems USA that is going to surprise some people, worry some others, and offer some powerful alternatives for roll-fed and cut-sheet printing. If you print with black and white, highlight color or MICR you’ll want to check it out.