By Ed Crowley The color laser printer market has grown from about 750,000 units (CY '02) to 1,200,000 units (CY '03), and is expected to grow to almost 1,500,000 units this year October 11, 2004 -- One year ago, in my October ’03 article I predicted that distributed printing technologies would continue to evolve and would increasingly capture this offset printing business. My argument was that companies would move from a print and distribute model using offset or digital presses to a distribute (electronically) and then print model. While many readers agreed with this trend, some argued that one segment--color printing would continue to be the domain of traditional offset/digital presses. Color printing has been a profitable application for print shops. Whether it be marketing collateral materials (brochures and the like), posters and signage or coupons, color documents have been the exclusive domain of offset printing. Such documents have traditionally required sophisticated printing requirements such as edge-to-edge (full bleed) printing, unusual formats (other than 8.5 X 11") or binding. Since these capabilities have not been present on desktop or workgroup color printers, this premium space has been relatively protected from the onslaught of offset/digital press pages moving to distributed general office printers. Are unique media or finishing options enough to keep the print and distribute model alive? So what is happening now? A year later the color laser printer market has grown from about 750,000 units (CY '02) to 1,200,000 units (CY '03), and is expected to grow to almost 1,500,000 units this year (world-wide). Color laser printers are quickly on the way to becoming ubiquitous in every office. The preferred method for distributing the documents--Adobe PDF files--is similarly widespread. So all the pieces of the puzzle are in place. But what about those unique media or finishing options--are they enough to keep the print and distribute model alive? I don't believe so. Why? Because some of those capabilities are also moving to the workgroup. For example, you can now purchase a workgroup color laser printer for less than $1,800 that comes with the capability of printing edge-to-edge pages (duplex), or even printing banners up to 36" long. For a little more money you can purchase a workgroup color MFP that will staple/book bind a PDF document downloaded from the internet into a very nice book. So a year later I continue to argue that while the print and distribute model will not disappear in the near future, many of the pages traditionally printed using this model will now shift to a "distribute via PDF and print on your ubiquitous workgroup color laser" model. Does this mean that offset/digital presses are doomed. Not at all, but their roles are changing, quickly. The industry is going to look very different in 2010 than it did in the year 2000! And this means that print providers have to find ways to add value to what they do, the levels of service they provide and find ways to be more than "just printers." This is not a new argument, but it does not bode well for printers who continue to think business as usual will be enough to survive.