I usually do interviews with industry executives just prior to a trade show, but this year, with Graph Expo coming so soon after Labor Day it was a challenge to get the usual dozen or so questions with two or three execs done in any reasonable manner. But three questions was something they all had time for. So I asked execs from InfoPrint Solutions, Kodak, Océ and Xerox the same three questions to see how their firms are approaching this show and some of the challenges facing the industry. Here's what they had to say.

WTT: What are they key digital print applications you believe offer the most potential for print providers today? And what are the best ways for printers to take advantage of these opportunities?

Chris Reid, Global Solutions Director InfoPrint Solutions Company

In monochrome digital volume we see 4-7% growth in direct mail, 2-3% growth in transaction, and 10-15% growth in books. Color is growing faster in all segments but that growth comes from a much smaller base. The largest growth we see coming is in book and manual manufacturing--capturing pages from offset as they continue the transition to digital as run lengths decrease. We also see growth in color across all segments and in particular, in the use of color in the statement world to reduce preprinted forms and deliver integrated marketing messages.

Greg Gresock, Worldwide Product Marketing, Digital Printing Solutions, Kodak's Graphic Communications Group

The best digital print applications create new categories of printed products that previously weren't economically or technically possible. These include web-based, customizable templates of brochures and marketing collateral, variable data direct mail and personalized reports, manuals, books, transaction and similar documents. Photo services, such as calendars, cards, and books, are also growing. Offering a Web-to-print solution with a robust electronic storefront is an efficient, effective way to take advantage of these opportunities.

The best digital print applications create new categories of printed products that previously weren't economically or technically possible

Eric Wilson, Director, Product Marketing, Inkjet Printing Solutions, Kodak's Graphic Communications Group

In the bill and statement sector, TransPromo remains a major opportunity. Another growth area is inkjet / offset hybrid printing. As the commercial print world continues to consolidate, commercial printers will want to offer more personalization to differentiate their offerings as well as find ways to save inventory and spoilage costs. Printers that integrate inkjet printing, especially those with in-line finishing, will have strongly competitive positions based on their cost structures, ability to produce highly personalized offset communications, and meet rapid turnaround times.

Guy Broadhurst, Vice President, Product Marketing, Commercial Printing Division, Océ North America.

First, we see digital book printing as a wonderful opportunity. The book publishing industry is currently undergoing a revolution as book printers and publishers use digital technology to match print runs to order quantities rather than printing books first and then selling them. And don't forget, books include manuals, reports, catalogs, training guides--any multi-page bound document.

Another application is direct mail. Printers can capitalize on the equipment they already have on hand using offset presses to create color shells and a digital press to personalize them, or can print everything digitally. Either way, direct mail is continuing to see robust growth and is one of the most predictable--and profitable-- tools for reaching customers and prospects

Then there's trans-promo, which is based on the convergence of print environments and applications. At its heart is personalization, which transforms a trusted, customer-facing document into an opportunity to engage customers using variable data in monochrome, highlight or full color. It's really a new function of the document's purpose and presents tremendous opportunity for print providers.

Quincy Allen, president, Production Systems Group, Xerox Corporation

We've been telling the Xerox story from an applications standpoint for years. At the end of the day, customers' applications drive their decision-making process around digital technology and software investments. Our differentiator is providing customers with true end-to-end turnkey solutions that span the entire process, from technology, DFEs, workflow, finishing, services and support.

    Our differentiator is providing customers with true end-to-end turnkey solutions that span the entire process, from technology, DFEs, workflow, finishing, services and support.

Xerox is focusing on four specific applications that are prioritized to drive high page volume growth and profits: Digital Books, including Photo Memory Books; TransPromo; Collateral; and Direct Mail. These applications are estimated to contribute some additional $50+ billion pages per year.

Xerox helps printers take advantage of these lucrative market opportunities by showing them "how". With our "Can-Do" application tools, we offer the industry's broadest portfolio of turnkey applications for printers, large and small, and, we give them the tools and show them how to use them to increase profits.

WTT: Environmental issues are an important topic these days. Without going into a lot of detail--that's another interview--what kinds of things is your company doing to contribute to a more sustainable printing industry?

CR: InfoPrint Solutions Company remains a leader in environmental sustainability through key initiatives such as ensuring RoHS compliance - a critical environmental standard governing the use of hazardous materials in technology - supporting recycled papers and ongoing recycling and refurbishing of printer engines and parts. In addition, our production technology leads in environmental impact including power consumption, heat output, ventilation requirements, and noise output. Our advanced workflow solutions also enable customers to eliminate paper by transitioning to electronic viewing and distribution and we support pinless paper to reduce paper wastage.

Rick Mazur VP Commercial Segment Marketing, Worldwide Marketing, Kodak Graphic Communications Group

Kodak saw a need to open up an industry dialogue on this topic. To assist commercial printers interested in "going green," we condensed the wealth of information about sustainability into relevant, usable content in order to serve as a resource. A new kit launching at Graph Expo, called "Begin Your Passage to Sustainability," is designed to spur one-on-one dialogues with customers and help them understand how sustainability may impact their particular business. It provides printers with an overview of trends and best practices and helps them identify potential opportunities for responsible growth for their business. The kit includes a white paper that defines sustainability and summarizes consumer and business behaviors impacting decisions on how print will be designed, manufactured and used. It also features articles on sustainability, a case study of a printer at the forefront of environmentally responsible practices, a glossary of terms, and a guide to industry and government resources.

GB: One of the big challenges today is carbon black--the basic ingredient of toner and ink. We're continually looking at ways from both the printer hardware and chemical composition sides to make our toners more efficient, which in turn, generates less toner waste. We have instituted a toner bottle recycling program that makes it easy for customers to return empty toner bottles and encourages environmentally responsible business practices.

Looking ahead, I think you'll see increasing efforts to minimize paper waste. The trans-promo document we discussed earlier does just that--because instead of sending statements and four-color inserts separately, you're only sending one piece of paper, targeted to the recipients' specific wants and needs. As personalization enables shorter, more targeted runs, there's less paper ultimately going to the landfill.

    As personalization enables shorter, more targeted runs, there's less paper ultimately going to the landfill.

Sustainability has been a part of Océ's business philosophy for more than 50 years. In 1958, we launched a new production process that reduced the use of solvents by 80 percent. In 1975, we received Europe's first award for research in environmental protection. Our products have met the criteria of the United National Global Compact since 2002. We've been a member of the Dow Jones global sustainability index since 2004, and last year received FedEx Kinko's Best in Sustainability and Environmental performance award. We're an Energy Star partner and many of our products have received Germany's Blue Angel award, by meeting a high standard of performance for efficient energy consumption, use of recycled paper and recyclable materials and that strict regulations for emissions.

Quincy Allen

At Xerox, we think that it is "easy to be green." Not only are we making it easy for our customers to go green by providing environmentally-friendly options, but influencing the sustainability of our environment. We were the first in our industry to launch remanufacturing initiatives and remain a leader in creating waste-free products that are built in waste-free facilities.

We recently announced the availability of Xerox High Yield Business Paper, the industry's first mechanical fiber paper optimized for digital printing. The lightweight, affordable paper helps print providers save on shipping costs, while reducing the environmental impact of manufacturing.

On the hardware side, more than half of the company's product offerings meet the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's rigorous new Energy Star requirements. Also, on September 17, Xerox will officially open the doors to a state-of-the-art $59 million EA Toner manufacturing facility in Webster, N.Y. This facility will increase worldwide EA Toner production capacity by 175 percent. EA Toner enables longer production runs (average yield up to 210,000 prints per cartridge), requires less energy to manufacture, and generates less waste.

WTT: Crystal ball time. What do you see as the most important trends that will influence the printing industry in 2008? And what, if anything, do you think will be the major theme at drupa?

CR: The transition to digital books from offset continues to be clear driver of digital volumes. Color across all markets is growing and we see the transaction marketplace poised to exploit trans-promo technologies to marry 1:1 messaging with the statement. We also see increasing demand for automated production tools based on open standards across all industry segments.

Kevin Joyce, Managing Director, United States & Canada Region, Kodak Graphic Communications Group

An important trend that will pick up momentum in 2008 is the way printers think about the services they provide, the products they produce and the type of business that they're in. As part of this continuing evolution, printers will become more focused on providing integrated communications services than putting ink on paper. Print will continue as a vital communications strategy within a multimedia campaign, but not necessarily as the only core element. This changing nature of the print business will be reflected at drupa, as attendees look for new applications, technologies and solutions that help them build their businesses. The area that will likely receive the most attention: advancements in inkjet technology. Workflow will also be an important aspect of the show.

    Print will continue as a vital communications strategy within a multimedia campaign, but not necessarily as the only core element

Guy Broadhurst

Color. Color. Color. The major trend will be faster, higher quality, more economical color. Color is becoming ubiquitous and an increasingly front-and-center topic. I think we'll see the relatively high cost of ownership of toner-based color printers displaced by faster, more effective technology.

Many of our customers are asking how they can add color to documents, change applications to incorporate color, and build applications today for color opportunities tomorrow. As you know, we call Océ's unique, customer-driven approach Job Appropriate Color --using exactly the right amount of color to achieve a job's business objective. We believe this approach can help make the transition to full color smoother for many customers.

For example, at Graph Expo we're unveiling our new Océ ColorStream 10000 continuous feed, full-color digital press. It prints full-process color at 172 images per minute, but can also print a single color-say black-as easily as it can print full-process color, allowing customers to choose and pay for only the amount of color required.

Another big thing will be the application software to help customers make the transition to color by designing and composing color documents. That will be a major discussion, as more customers look for ways to leverage existing workflows to produce documents more efficiently.

Quincy Allen

In the past, it was more common for print providers to push the capabilities of digital to their customers. We're now seeing a new trend: customers pushing their print providers for innovative digital applications to help improve their business. This includes more sophisticated uses of Web-to-print, cross-media campaigns incorporating highly personalized customer data, and high-value photo applications.

Heading into drupa next spring, industry leaders will continue to push the boundaries of what is possible and raise the level of sophistication through innovative use of new media and unique substrates, workflow improvements and new products that will push the speed and image quality boundaries.

It's too premature to talk about our plans for drupa but I will say that we are excited about the show. You are going to see some new and different things from Xerox. And, we look forward to continuing to showcase our great applications and value proposition of the Right Business Model, the Right Workflow Model and the Right Technology.

Thanks to all of you who took the time to answer these questions. See you at the show.