By Terry Nagi March 1, 2004 -- One of the key questions on the minds of print owners and executives is not only, “Where is business?”, or “How do I find a great print sales person?”; but also, “Should I go digital print or not?”. Many of these printers, even those under $5 million in sales volume, have already adopted computer-to-plate. They have moved beyond the desktop to formalize their digital workflows. This will be a prime requirement for success in the printing industry of the future, as systems for completing transactions with customers as well as increasing the efficiency of the flow of data in the plant, will all be prime requirements for success. So now comes the next question, “Should digital printing be added to these workflows?” For many printers, the answer is no ! At least not the top-of-the-line digital printing solutions offered by Heidelberg, Xerox, HP-Indigo, Xeikon, and others. Their high-end digital print solutions are simply too complex for the manpower, capital available, and gestation time required for these solutions. Printers this size, and even some with sales in excess of $10 million, will require deep pockets, extreme patience, internal reorganization, and a even whole new set of branded services to ultimately meet the shifting requirements of the digital print buyer. Printers are simply not familiar with this essential element of the digital printing process, and it is doubtful that a majority of printers will be able to develop their own internal resources to successfully provide this service. This is not to say that smaller solutions cannot be appropriate. These solutions include lower volume copiers and printers from Xerox, Canon, Hitachi, Ricoh, and others. These toner solutions will provide print providers of any size sales volumes with the opportunity to provide the broad range of print volume requirements for a customer's print needs, from short-run versioning to the upper limits of current traditional offset press equipment. This will be important as tomorrow's print buyers, like today's, continue to reduce the number of printers they see and use. Digital Workflows Drive Digital Print There is no doubt that most printers of all sizes (most quick printers have offered digital toner capabilities for years) will be forced into adding digital printing to their digital workflows. This is especially true as alternate communication mediums brought pages away from print, causing print budgets to decline, and requiring shorter run lengths. In addition, as major corporations and specific vertical industries switch from conventional or digital printing, they gain control of how they can make best use of their database information. As this happens, their current printers serving traditional offset needs will see their volumes decline--specially as their limited budgets are utilized on higher-priced digital printing and data development. And this drives a question. Do You or Do You Not? Selecting the technology to purchase is relatively easy, compared to major shifts required in organization and administration of the digital organization, marketing and sales. “Do You or Do You Not” will not be simple. Selecting the technology to purchase is relatively easy, compared to major shifts required in organization and administration of the digital organization, marketing and sales. Some of these changes (to be covered in depth in future articles) include: Most print customers of printers are neither familiar with nor demanding short run, versioned digital printing or one-one personalized printing. There is a whole education process, a process and a service not within the current capabilities of most printers, especially in the sales size under $10 million. The digital print sale is really a data management (data creation, data pinpointing, data collection, data manipulation, and legacy data conversion) sale. Projected future growth in digital print volumes will greatly rely upon the ability of the customer to manage this data professionally. Printers are simply not familiar with this essential element of the digital printing process, and it is doubtful that a majority of printers will be able to develop their own internal resources to successfully provide this service. To provide these data services, printers will have to partner with major and minor service companies specializing in data consulting. They will have to rely upon these providers' expertise, to work with customers in the creation of data streams that will ultimately drive a printers' digital presses. Printers will have to re-brand their image from “commodity” to a partner in the customers' data stream, target marketing, and a partner in the entire set of communication processes (e-mail communications, Internet interactivity, broadcast e-mail, and other traditional media , as well as the complete set of media used for a coordinated targeted marketing approach) with some of this media already important in a company's personalized marketing approach. A whole new sales and marketing structure will be required, demanding a new type of consultative (solutions oriented) sales representative with digital technical skills and knowledge. It will also require a high-level IT specialist and digital project manager, who can blend the digital workflow of the printer with the systems of customers and prospects. The sales call will often involve not only the sales representative, but also the IT specialist and the database partner. Simply coordinating dates and times with those of the customers' VP of Sales, product manager, marketing director, etc. will be an interesting task. The bottom line is the transition from traditional offset for the average printer, no matter their size, will be both time consuming, expensive, and difficult. At the same time, for long term survival, most commercial printers will have to create a strategic approach through their involvement in both traditional and digital print processes.