by Mike Chiricuzio Blue Moon Solutions, Inc. (Dr. Printing) January 12, 2004 -- Question: “Doctor Printing, we're in our third year of trying to develop that killer application for Variable Information Printing, but the partners are getting more than a little annoyed and at the rate we're going, my children are going to end up sold to the highest bidder rather than being sent to an institution of higher education. Isn't there some way to make money with Digital Printing?” Doctor Printing: I thought you'd never ask! Of course, the broader question is “Isn't there some way to make money with Printing?” The answer, surprising to some, is… Yes. And the Only Justification for Being in Business is to Make a Profit! Whatever other interests or altruistic ideas you may have about why you do what you do, keep them to yourself, filed away in that special section of the drawer marked “String Too Short to Save” or “Buttons Without Holes”. It is profitability alone that allows business to survive, and provides the opportunity for you to come back tomorrow to try again. So, as you look toward a direction to proceed with your business, whether a new venture or a business your family has owned for 75 years, make profitability the acid test that is applied first to every thought or whim. If it can't pass this test, you can stop wasting your time thinking about it. Profitability from print has its roots in the same basic business logic as any other potentially profitable venture. You must provide a perceived value to your potential clients that exceeds their desire to hang on to their money or spend it in other ways. It is this value perception, or lack thereof, that most often determines your success or failure, in this or any other industry. The Scary News: Your Clients Don't Need Printing What a horrible thought! How can you say that? Why would anyone buy something that they don't need? Before you get too excited, consider the reality of this statement. Unless your client happens to be a publisher or some other rare user whose product is some form of printed item, your clients don't need printing, specifically. They need to communicate with their intended audience. And this form of communication must win out against or be required as a complement with all other options available to them, in terms of value, before it can be considered something they ‘need'. Whatever niche you seek to occupy, your printed documents or product is required to not only have a true value to your clients, it must be perceived as valuable. It's only worth a dollar if they can see the value. It's not enough for you to believe there's benefit in what you print, or for you to be a convincing huckster. Your customer must perceive and ultimately receive real value. You can hype a questionable product for a little while, but you'll never build an enduring business. -Victor Kiam , Chairman, Remington Businesses rely on commercially printed materials for important business communications, such as marketing brochures, promotional materials, direct mail and other informational items, spending over $150 billion annually in this regard. Large corporations spend approximately 2.0% to 3.0% of their revenue on commercially printed materials, virtually all of which are produced to communicate product or marketing ideas to their customers. However, it is becoming ever more apparent that the dollars spent to achieve these goals are increasingly being redirected to other media where the value is perceived to be higher. At the end of the day, it's other media, not just other printers, that are your real competition. Do My Products & Services Have Real Value to My Clients? The Internet, and everything about the Internet, has changed our world. The relevant question we have to ask ourselves is this: Have we changed our business and the real value we provide to meet the changing world? Variable Information Printing is, and will continue to be, one of the primary ways in which we will be able to match or exceed value with encroaching technologies. But, it is not the only way, and that's what we're here to talk about. The most overlooked, underutilized industry segment opportunity is not necessarily variable print. So, what is it? I have not found a terminology that captures the essence of this concept, so I will now create it: PDDS: Perfect Document Distribution Service Just what the industry needs, right? Another meaningless term to confuse the masses, cause societal unrest and further cloud the business that we're in! Bear with me for a moment. This is, in fact, the ultimate manifestation of what we're really doing, or at least what we should be doing. PDDS is the perfect blending of technologies and services, creating a distinctive, distinguishing system of communication for business. It can encompass, and define, that which we do. For some time, we have referred to ourselves as being in the On Demand business. We offer Just In Time service. Online ordering is becoming more commonplace. Digital Asset Management with Electronic Inventory is increasingly incorporated. We can reduce Waste, Obsolescence and Inventory to Zero. And we are beginning to offer Electronic Documents as part of our service, along with Unlimited Versioning and Variable Information. All of this is at the heart of PDDS. From a client standpoint, then, what is PDDS? Simply put, it is the right combination of technologies delivering the most accurate, highest value document to the correct recipient at the right time. PDDS means providing the communication solution that meets or exceeds the capabilities of competing technologies. So, really, this is not a technological term for some new type of workflow. It is a philosophy, an application of the right skills and technologies for the opportunity. In one case, it might be a traditionally printed document picked from a physical inventory as a direct result of an electronic or physical transaction. In another case, it could be a group of 20,000 totally unique documents generated in response to a change in product line, or market condition. And in yet another scenario, the document printed and fulfilled today might be identical to a document produced yesterday, with the exception of a changed spec or release date. It's really about using the tools that we, as an industry, already have, in a way that makes our services more valuable, more convenient, and ultimately about giving the market what it always wants: Speed and Control. Speed and Control drove the Desktop Publishing revolution, just as it drives the use of the Internet for communication today. What This Means to You Look at your capabilities and growth plans. Look again, objectively, seeking a glimpse of your clients' perspective on the value you provide vs. the value provided by other companies and technologies. * Are there gaps? * Can you string together your various processes in a way that gives the market what it needs? * Do you need IT, Programming and Data Base strengths? * Will Internet Services be necessary internally? * Should you be providing marketing services? Or design? Photography? * Does it make more sense for you to partner with companies in other segments of communications that have a similar desire to stand out from the crowd of wannabes? * Do you need to purchase and engage in other technologies, or do you just need better coordination and packaging of your core abilities? * And, most importantly, do you know what business you're in? Does the future hold more than just promise? Make no mistake about it; the printing industry will not return to where it once was. It never has, and history speaks volumes about the disappointments of those who wait for the good old days to come back around. I challenge you to look closely, with a critical eye toward the future. And, be honest with yourself about the realities and prospects that present themselves. Making the right choices is so much easier if you're looking at a clear, realistic picture. Good Luck, and Remember: If It Were Easy, Everyone Would Be Doing It… Right? Here's your big chance to find out anything and everything, your turn at playing that age-old game, ‘Stump the Chump'. Address your questions to Doctor Printing at [email protected] . I will answer all questions received to the best of my highly-educated ability, and will post them next month, unless I don't like the questions, in which case I will make up my own, as I've done today. And, by the way, you can also contact me through the Ask Doctor Printing website at . Ciao, Mike Chiricuzio