"Bo Knows Print."

I saw this phrase pop up here and there over the past couple days at Graph Expo 2010, which opened yesterday, October 3, at McCormick Place in Chicago. The reference, of course, is to Bo Jackson, former ball player and a 20-year-old ad campaign that spotlight Jackson's proficiency in several different sports. And I thought, "Wow, it's 1990 again. Cool, although I'm not sure I really want to relive my 20s." Now a successful businessman, Jackson was here giving a special marketing keynote in the Xerox booth.

Graph Expo 2010. There was some degree of trepidation about the show. After all, there were some conspicuous absences, and some even more conspicuous open spaces. On the plus side, crowds were ample and exhibitors seemed happy with their booth traffic. There was some degree of excitement, and the people for whom print is a passion are well-represented.

The show has been labeled "The next generation of print." And while it's entirely clear what that means, Graph Expo 2010 is a defiantly digital show, and, like Ipex back in May, a defiantly inkjet show. Kodak has their Prosper up and running on the show floor, and were also highlighting the first direct mail printer's installation of the new inkjet web press. That is, Tribune Direct, a direct mail printer for a large roster of high-volume clients. The Prosper will play heavily in their expanded interest in variable-data direct mail printing. In fact, Tribune Direct president Lou Tazioli calls the Prosper a "game changer" for the company. (Look for a video interview with Tazioli on WhatTheyThink.)

Fujifilm is also pulling out the stops in their first North American demonstration of their new J Press 720 inkjet press. A four-up press that handles conventional offset coated paper (and only coated paper), it prints up to 2,700 sheets per hour. The press has an infrared dryer built in so sheets come off press ready for finishing. The five daily demonstrations were perhaps a bit over-dramatic, but the output quality appeared outstanding.

HP was demoing its HP T350 Color inkjet web press, and Screen also had its line of inkjet presses on the show floor as well.

There was a decided dearth of true "heavy metal" on the floor, and offset may as well have not existed at all. And as someone said to me, "it wasn't really missed." People have been swarming around the digital presses, and you mention an offset manufacturer and  the response is likely to be, "Who?"

Platemaking, however, is alive and well and on the show floor. ECRM was showing its plates and platesetters, as well as a new screening algorithm that the company says improves quality and saves ink. And Epson was showing an inkjet platemaker targeted to owners of offset duplicators. Duplicators? Really? Apparently, there is still a big market for duplicator plates. Who knew?

Tucked away in the back of the hall was the new News Print Pavilion, a show floor realm targeted especially for newspaper printers and publishers, with products, solutions, and presentations on such topics as how to improve profits, cut costs, and navigate such things as computer-to-plate, digital printing, UV and heatset technology developments, mailroom integration, and more.

Elsewhere, the venerable Margie Dana, founder of Print Buyers International, led her famous "Print Buyer Boot Camp" as well as several other tracks designed to help those in the business of buying print understand current technologies and trends, and "future-proof" their skills and knowledge.

A show floor section called "Greenspace" highlighted environmental sustainability, through demos, presentations, and even live consulting opportunities with sustainability experts.

More than 50 other sessions covered the waterfront of the latest in business and technology trends to help those in the industry stay current.

For color measurement and management wonks, the IDEAlliance+IPA is holding their G7 Summit this week at Graph Expo. The IDEAlliance+IPA is an organization devoted to the development of standards and best practices for digital media. The G7—a group within the IDEAlliance—is a set of best practices that achieves visually similar output across all printing processes. That is, how to optimize the digital workflow to achieve consistent color regardless of output method. The summit, held on the show floor, is a series of educational sessions for creatives, designers, premedia specialists and printers.

In this age of Web conferencing, Skype, and social media, one may question the value of the trade show, at least in its current, age-old incarnation. And yet, it's the original social medium, and idle random conversation and serendipity can be more invaluable than any Google search or Twitter feed. And for the intelligence one gathers in a building full of actual, live human beings (well, most of them, anyway), one hopes the model will remain viable.