By Noel Ward, Executive Editor November 15, 2004 -- It's been a busy fall. Everyone I talk with says travel for business, trade shows and conferences has been way over the top. Even the hardiest of road warriors is feeling worn down and perfectly happy to not get on another airplane for awhile. But what all the travel has shown is the energy present in the industry. Things are heating up, and that's a good thing. Graph Expo, as the WTT.com team reported, was a very busy show where most vendors found customers and prospects alike ready to buy--and deals were being written. Analyst briefings highlighted vendors poised with new equipment and marketing strategies for 2005. All are looking to a reviving economy and pent-up demand to spur printers to pull the trigger on new print engines, finishing and mailing equipment, and make further investments in workflow products. Color is Key 2005 could be a very interesting year, and a competitive one for the vendors. Look for deals and competitive pricing. My personal log of over 17,000 miles since Labor Day has included visits with print providers who are bullish on the future, who see competitive advantages and opportunity in new hardware, workflow tools, and document composition software. Much of this revolves around color. On one video shoot I was in a large transactional service bureau where space is already blocked out for the addition of more color print engines. Not only are they proactively selling the value of color in transactional documents, new customers are coming to them looking to add color. I heard the same story at another shoot in July and from a group of service bureaus I work with throughout the year and met with at Xplor. Another shop I visited is preparing their print room for their first color device. This is not lost on vendors who are hearing and seeing the same--and responding. Many features on HP's new Indigo press 5000 model are in direct response to customer demand, and other models continue to sell well. Kodak Versamark has been garnering a lot of interest in its continuous inkjet printers and in the hybrid offset/inkjet capabilities it showed at drupa and Graph Expo. Several forward-thinking transactional and direct mail printers I've talked with see KV's technology as a profitable part of the future. IBM, as announced at Xplor, is working with a consortium of companies to bring color to high-speed production printing using its AFP architecture--a move in direct response to customer demands. NexPress is finding virtually every customer ordering the new fifth color station on its NexPress 2100. And a new machine is in the wings, its release date TBD, but it won't be long: maybe the first half of 2005. Océ is leveraging its PRISMA architecture as it targets highlight color applications for its VarioPrint and VarioStream families and is evolving a full-color roll-out strategy for its color-capable VarioStream 9000 family. Xeikon, a company some have thought to be on its way out, has a powerful and robust solution in its new 5000 model and is again a serious contender. Its roll-fed design enables it to do work that can't be accommodated on any other digital color press. Customers are buying. Xerox, with the addition of the new DocuColor 8000 and the highlight color DocuTech family, has the most complete line of digital color printing options available. These can fit into multiple environments and with FreeFlow, have a workflow that supports not only the color applications but virtually any job that lands on its DocuTech and Nuvera products as well. All this happening means 2005 could be a very interesting year, and a competitive one for the vendors. Look for deals and competitive pricing. Xplor and GOA Despite less than stable economies and high interest rates that restrict business growth in the region, there's clear demand for the digital printing technology taken for granted in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific, especially variable data. Those miles this fall included Xplor, as reported a couple week's back on WTT.com. I have been critical of this conference in the past and have watched as Xplor's president and CEO Skip Henk leads its reinvention. Although a few more feet on the floor in Dallas would have been nice, I remain upbeat because of Xplor's renewed focus on education and the positive response from many vendors. My optimism is linked to Xplor's alliance with Graphics of the Americas (announced in July), the annual production of the Printing Association of Florida. Taking place next year in Miami Beach from February 4-6, GOA is the first print show of the year and attracted about 20,000 people in 2004. For 2005, Xplor and GOA are adding a 2-day conference on variable data printing. "For the first time, GOA attendees can enjoy one venue that maximizes their conference dollars," notes Henk. "In addition, our exhibitors and sponsors can now access a larger and more varied customer and prospect pool." This can be a boost for both organizations. Chris Price, general manager of GOA, says attendance historically spikes in the year following drupa in Germany. With the addition of Xplor, I wouldn't be surprised to see as many as 22,000 people at the Miami Beach Convention Center in February. At first glance one might wonder why integrating Xplor with a mainstream print show is a good idea. Part of the answer is the ongoing convergence of traditional and digital print throughout the industry. Another part is filling the needs of a rapidly developing market. Brazil, for instance, is the fastest growing chapter within the Xplor organization. Despite less than stable economies and high interest rates that restrict business growth in the region, there's clear demand for the digital printing technology taken for granted in North America, Europe and Asia-Pacific, especially variable data. In response, hardware and software vendors are bringing products to developing markets like Latin American much more quickly than in the past, so it makes sense to have an educational forum associated with the leading print trade show for the region. If last year's GOA is any indication, Latin American attendees are serious buyers: I heard a lot of hard questions being asked and answered in Miami. The relationship between the two organizations goes beyond a few days under Miami's winter sun. GOA will be participating in the Xplor 2005 conference in Orlando and Xplor will in turn part of the 2006 GOA exhibition in Miami Beach. The shared vision is to provide venues that address the needs of end-users and printers with a convergence of knowledge, products, and technology spanning digital and non-digital worlds. In my opinion, this is a terrific partnership for both organizations. If managed and promoted correctly it should prove a fine synergy of exhibits and learning. Trade shows need to change. Big shows, like Graph Expo will continue unabated, but there is still room for smaller shows and conferences with a different mission and vision. I know I'll be in Miami Beach in February to see the next step in the evolution of these events.