By Noel Ward, Executive Editor March 7, 2006 -- There's a whole lot written these days about the trends and technologies of printing and what they mean. The words appear in articles and columns, in presentations and white papers and in magazines and on websites, this one included. There are also books delving into deeper detail, giving perspectives that are at once broader and more intimate, providing tightly focused views beneath overarching visions of the evolving realm of print. The New Place of Print Two of the best of the current crop come out of the Rochester Institute of Technology and its College of Imaging Arts and Sciences. The first, actually released last July, is the New Medium of Print by Frank Cost, Associate Dean of that college and author of several other print-related books and papers. Subtitled "Material Communication in the Internet Age," the book looks at the remarkable shifts taking place in the ways we communicate and print's place in the mix of media used to convey information. "We are witnessing the emergence of a new medium of print made possible by digital printing, the Internet and the global infrastructure that supports high-speed digital communications among a rapidly growing percentage of the world's population," says Cost in the book's introduction. In examining these issues, very readable book surveys the various capabilities and uses of print media and the forces that drive them. More importantly, it constructs a new model for understanding print's role in the rapidly evolving and interconnected digital world--and how to take advantage of it. In my first forays into printing some 20 years ago I learned a lot by studying the Pocket Pal and asking questions that filled in the blanks and helped me relate my applications with the technologies. the New Medium of Print is like a Pocket Pal on steroids, recapping the systems and technologies of print, but with more details, examples and insights about the hows and whys of various printing processes and the real-world business applications involved. What makes it stand out are the ways Cost discusses the numerous intersections where print and electronic media meet--and enhance--each other. It is a book that should appeal equally to newcomers to printing and to veterans, providing each with thought-provoking insights and hopefully stirring their imaginations about how print can remain vibrant and relevant in the digital age. the New Medium of Print is available through Lulu.com or through RIT's Cary Press. Merging Traffic: The Intersection of Data and Print. The other book to come out of RIT is just going to press and should be available shortly. I managed to see an early copy of Data-Driven Print: Strategy and Implementation by Patricia Sorce, Ph.D., Administrative Chair at RIT's School of Print Media and Michael Pletka, an RIT grad student. This book targets three audiences, print services providers, marketing managers and ad agencies, and finally students and faculty in direct marketing, database publishing, marketing communications and advertising. For each of these, it is designed to open the door to data-driven printing and cross-media communications. It begins talking about the power of personalization and how data-driven communications can (and do) deliver new customers, increase sales and enhance customer relationships. That's the foundation. But like Cost, Sorce and Pletka don't limit their thinking to print, but expand outwards to encompass the Internet's role in data-driven communications strategies. They roll out numerous real-world examples that should convince all but the most jaded cynic or Luddite that data-driven documents are a key part of the future of print. And importantly, they also point out that data-driven programs--when not thought out correctly--can actually cause new problems. Consider, for instance, the use of customer data in a relationship marketing program. "If you don't match the right strategy to the right customers a relationship marketing program will fail," the authors point out. A loyalty program, for example, might target customers who buy a company's goods or services with a certain frequency, while all but ignoring the tier of customers buying just below that level. Those customers could well resent the fact they aren't getting special treatment--and perhaps take their business elsewhere. Sorce and Pletka go on to give examples of how companies have successfully addressed just such issues with data-driven print campaigns. For commercial printers getting into variable data work, understanding the nuances and vagaries of managing and using data is a real challenge and a complex topic. There are numerous books that address data management at various levels, but what makes this book effective is that it explains the issues behind data-driven print in a way that should make print providers more comfortable--and conversant--about database structures, cross-media communications and how results can be tracked to develop more focused--and successful-- data-driven campaigns. Data-Driven Print: Strategy and Implementation should be required reading every print provider who offers--or is planning to offer-- variable data printing. It will help them better understand the processes they need to master as well as the marketing planning and strategies that make for a successful campaign. The book is just coming out and can be ordered through Lulu.com and will shortly be available through RIT's Cary Press. I love a good reality check It's always good to be skeptical and question the claims of so-called experts. The final book has nothing to do with printing, variable data or cross-media communications, but is worth reading because it challenges a lot of conventional wisdom and points out how all of us need to look at information, market statistics, and trends in a different way--and with some healthy skepticism. Consider it brain food for an inquiring mind. Freakonomics, a New York Times best-seller by rogue economists Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, looks at the hidden side of conventional wisdom. They ask whether guns or swimming pools are more dangerous to small kids and look at such seemingly disparate issues as what school teachers and sumo wrestlers have in common, how crack cocaine operations share characteristics with fast-food franchises, and why drug dealers live with their mothers. The answers lie in the data behind different trends and activities--and how the normal interpretations of information used in business and government are often wrong or misleading. The chapter on the similarities between real estate agents and the Klu Klux Klan--how information is and is not shared-- has clear implication for the use of data-driven print. It's important to read a book like Freakonomics because it can recalibrate your thinking about any number of business issues, making you less willing to accept conventional wisdom or jump to the most obvious conclusions. I found it fascinating to delve into the contrarian side of these issues and it makes me wonder how much of what we know, assume and take for granted is wrong or not quite as we are led to believe. You can find this one at your local bookstore or at Amazon.com. I read about a book a week, and while they aren't all relevant to business or printing, I'll point some out to you from time to time. Have you read any books that digital print pros should also take a look at? Let me know and I'll pass the word along.