By Peter Bouchard of Presstek January 12, 2004 -- As the printing industry has struggled with the triple whammy of a down economy, a trend toward shorter print runs and a shift of communications to electronic forms, printers have had to take a number of steps to enhance their business performance. Some have focused on cost containment, falling back on reduction in employee headcount, downsizing of space and other types of business contraction to reduce their cost base in the face of falling revenues. Others have devoted their energies to tactics designed to increase revenues, and some, of course, have approached the problem with a blend of the two. For those who are exploring strategies to expand revenue opportunities, addition or expansion of color digital printing capabilities, including direct imaging (DI) offset presses, is clearly a strategy of choice that allows printers to more competitively address customer short-run requirements and paves the way for end-to-end digital workflows that frequently include improved customer interfaces. In fact, TrendWatch Graphic Arts kicked off a recent digital print research report(1) by stating: Digital color printing has arrived. How many times have you heard that the technology is mature and ready for prime time? But this time, the promise is real. This type of investment can also help printers to address cost containment issues by enabling a more productive workflow. In its 2002-2007 U.S. Print On Demand Market Forecast, (2) CAP Ventures is bullish relative to the growth of placements in the color print on demand segment, predicting a 9% growth in 2004 over 2003 results, and a 19% growth in annual impressions produced by these devices over the forecast period. And specifically in the DI segment, the company expects to see a growth of 13% in the year-end installed base of these devices by 2007. There is no question that investing in digital is increasingly becoming a requirement for survival in the printing business. But even with a rebound in the economy, that alone will not serve to deliver the kind of double digit revenue growth printers yearn for. What continues to amaze me is the lack of focus printers—particularly those in the digital segment—place on selling to the creative community. Let's face it. Creatives, whether they are operating in the corporate environment, as part of a design firm or from within an ad agency, specify a lot of print. Yet according to the TrendWatch research cited earlier, only 10% of digital printers see calling on/selling to agencies and designers as a top sales opportunity.(3) TrendWatch, known for its years of research and analysis of the creative community, categorized this as “probably the biggest missed opportunity” for digital print professionals today. Not only do creatives specify print, the TrendWatch research reports that 65% purchase print for their customers. The report goes on to state, “Unless creatives understand and accept digital printing, the market will not grow.” This is the crux of the matter. Even though digital and direct imaging printing have been in the marketplace for ten years, the creative community lacks the necessary knowledge about these technologies that would encourage them to drive more volume to digital presses. Either they are unaware of the business advantages these devices can offer them, or they are still laboring under the “old baggage” surrounding quality and reliability issues when these technologies were first introduced into the market ten years ago. If your business portfolio includes—or your business plan entails the acquisition of—DI and/or digital print capabilities, my recommendation for a New Year's resolution that will help drive your business to success is simple: Place a focus on educating the creative community. Call on them. Understand their issues and requirements. Show them how a digital workflow can save time and money for them and their clients. Be aggressive with producing samples and running test jobs. And watch the results these efforts will yield in terms of the growth of your business.