Chasing the value of digital print with HP and XMPie

After escaping from Dusseldorf a couple weeks back and while zooming down the autobahn toward Switzerland and the Alps, I got to thinking about what this show really was.

From the presentations I've listened to and the technologies I've seen, drupa 08 was really about how virtually all types of printing are becoming more closely integrated and that applications --more than ever before-- will drive the choice of press and workflow, while increasing the scope of what can be done. Automation is transforming offset with ever-faster makeready and enabling shorter print runs. With many digital presses being primarily used for short-run color, this advance seizes on one of the advantages digital presses offer the market. And despite the hype about inkjet, offset will remain the dominant form of printing for at least another decade, if not longer, for no other reason than because the choice of printing technology is hardly an all or nothing proposition.

Chasing the Valuable Pages

While the vast majority of all pages may be printed on offset presses, the real change in this next decade is not going to come from the number of pages printed but from those that represent the most value.

"The key is not the share of the total number of pages but the share of the pages with the most value," Alon Bar-Shany, General Manager of HP-Indigo, said in a meeting at the show.

Capturing such pages is a key part of HP's strategy and Bar-Shany cited photobooks as just one example. Always printed in extremely low quantities, they simply can't be produced on an offset press and are an entirely new group of pages where digital adds inimitable value --and profit for savvy printers. So too are a range of direct mail and trans-promo pages with levels of personalization or customization that can only come off digital devices. These are part of the total number of pages printed, and have a greater value than those offset pages that are won by offering the lowest bid to some print buyer. Adding value across a wide range of applications is the turf for which all digital press makers and their customers will be battling well past the next drupa in 2012. The unique selling proposition and key value of digital print has always been the ability to vary content at the page level, whether it's on a credit card statement, a direct mail offer, or a photobook. It's almost always better to be selling something that has value rather than schlepping a commodity, so while digital pages won't dominate the market for a very long time, this ability makes them far more likely to be significantly profitable than those from offset presses.

Value beyond print

Some of the pending value will not just be ink or toner on the page. XMPie had a great example of not only what their software could do, but one that encouraged visitors to envision what they could do for their customers beyond printing. The demonstration was given in a meeting room with a big screen monitor where you expected to be subjected to another round of Death by PowerPoint. But not so. Larry Zusman, Worldwide Marketing Manager at XMPie and a consummate showman who revels in revealing anything unique, introduced the session.

Pacing back and forth in front of a large screen display he proclaimed, "What you're about to see is something no one else has ever seen before! And no one will ever see it again! We asked for your business card in exchange for your ticket to this show and in a moment you're going to see why. Please watch for your name showing up in this presentation. It might be on a hot air balloon drifting across the sky! It might be towed behind an airplane! It might be on a list of names. But watch for it. Then afterwards we'll tell you how we did it, and how you can use the same kinds of things we're showing you to make a difference in your business and those of your customers."

The ensuing Flash animation featured a business owner who was trying to differentiate his cell phone business from the competition. But no matter which of the traditional, conventional and boring approaches he tried, his competitor always was a step or three ahead, taking customers away at every turn. His marketing maven, a slightly condescending woman who knew her boss had the intellect of a large rock, explained that the slick cross-media campaigns of the competition were fueled by various XMPie technologies that delivered increasingly personalized messages to customers through combinations of print, email, and SMS messaging. While all this was going on, the dwindling list of the lead character's customers included some of the very names of those watching the video. Every minute or so, a viewer's name or that of their company floated by on a hot air balloon or on another element of the show.

The Flash program was a great way to demonstrate the kinds of applications imaginative print providers could do with XMPie software and how they could add value to their services. It showed the importance of going beyond the printed page to understand about what the communication process is all about, knowing the objective of a campaign, and how to help customers achieve their objectives.

Applications rule

Elsewhere among the digital equipment vendors, many were showing real-world examples of what can be done with their latest technology, with the leading firms also offering the tools and support needed to help bring the applications to life. This is supremely important because almost any printer who has acquired equipment or software in the past couple of years already has the technology they need to transform their business. But sometimes it takes the guidance, and maybe some handholding, to get the most out of one's investment. The leading vendors can provide this expertise and help support the value-driven applications that can drive digital printing forward. Call and ask about what the company that made your digital press have to offer.

Finally, I am of a different point of view than some of my colleagues and don't think this drupa was the inkjet lovefest many had predicted. In my opinion, inkjet is not the magical replacement for offset that some claim it will be. This is not to imply that inkjet won't become an important printing technology --it most certainly will. But no printer should bet the farm on inkjet anytime soon. Technology is an enabler, nothing more, and applications will continue dictating how something is printed. The print providers who are successful five and ten years from now are going to be the ones who use an intelligent mix of offset, EP and IJ systems to produce the value-based applications that meet their customers' needs.

As for the next drupa?  Let's just say it will still be about the ever-evolving world of printing.