In last week's feature, guest writer Dan Marx outlined five "essential truths" about wide-format printing, and in his introduction he mentioned that he's witnessed "a full-blown revolution: a complete movement away from old-school analog technology." Over the past several months, as I have spoken to equipment manufacturers and suppliers for these weekly features, as well as other analysts, one thing that always comes up is the fact that more and more traditional printing companies are expanding into wide-format printing, and as a result this site and these weekly features have been intended as basic "primers" for those companies that are moving in wider directions. As a result, these initial feature stories have been designed to be very basic and educational. As we move forward, and have this base of Wide-Format 101 stories "in the can" (as they say in the movie biz), we will be drilling down into specific topics with a bit more depth.

This week, I was looking back through the wide-format Webinar that I hosted with Barney Cox from InfoTrends back in July, and what struck me are some of the data on how quickly some printing companies are moving into wide-format directions. For example, in a 2011 survey conducted for FESPA, InfoTrends found that just over one-half (52%) of nearly 150 print providers surveyed had launched wide-format products and services, and that those products and services accounted for a significant percentage of new business. And an additional 37% said they planned to add wide-format products and services. Only 11% had no plans at all.

It's About the Product

Dan said last week that "it's all about the product," that wide-format was about deciding early on what kind of product you want to produce. And very often, to create a desired product requires a whole new process to be developed-not just the purchase of a piece of new equipment. Many wide-format shops have in fact developed highly individualized, custom processes to make those products-this is why case studies are so difficult to come across, for the same reason packaging printers and converters are so secretive: these are proprietary processes and constitute what would amount to trade secrets.

Indeed, further InfoTrends research has found that, again, nearly one-half (48%) of the print providers they surveyed said that, yes, they have indeed created a new or different process to transform their business. Another 30% are "working on it." As more shops better understand the dynamics of the wide-format market, more will be looking to actively developing new ways of doing things.

No Stone Unturned

In our book Disrupting the Future, Dr. Joe Webb and I talk about this new paradigm of entrepreneurship, of needing to seize on new products and new processes for creating those products. As we discussed, businesspeople are often encouraged to "find hidden opportunities." Unfortunately, this implies that new opportunities already exist-somewhere-as if someone has mischievously hidden them. Well, business (business in general, or the print business in particular) is not an elaborate scavenger hunt. You're not going to find new business opportunities by looking behind the sofa. Likewise, you're not necessarily going to new business opportunities by looking at what other print providers have done.

Instead, the analogy we use in the book and in presentations to print groups is to think like an artist, such as a sculptor. The great Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo Buonarroti once remarked, "Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it." Artists like Michelangelo weren't looking around their studios for statues and piètas that someone had broken in and hid. Instead, they saw the art inside the rock (yes, this is not too far removed from a definition of insanity; is it any wonder why many artists went mad?), and from that point on the challenge become physically carving away the rock to "let the art out."

At the risk of getting a little too far afield from wide-format printing, we can rephrase the Michelangelo quote to describe an entrepreneur:

"Every market has a new business opportunity/service/product inside it and it is the task of the entrepreneur to discover it." Once the entrepreneur "sees" that new opportunity, then the challenge is simply to physically develop the process and purchase the equipment to "let the business opportunity out."  

Sound crazy? You don't have to be...but maybe sometimes it helps!

(Interestingly, there is a connection to art embedded in the etymology of the word "entrepreneur," which, the Online Etymology Dictionary tells us, was coined circa 1828 and was originally meant to refer to "a manager or promoter of a theatrical production.")

Moving Ahead

All of our wide-format features-when they are not self-referential and "meta," like this one-focus on some technological or application aspect of the new printing landscape. It's tempting to read them with an eye toward discovering those hidden business opportunities, and while the idea is to give companies ideas, ultimately, it is up each and every one of you to look at the market(s) and customers you serve, analyze them with the eyes of an artist, and to see the business opportunity waiting to be released. It's not always easy, but hopefully these features, and other news items on this site, will provide some ideas for the kinds of things to look for.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be offering previews of two major upcoming shows-Graph Expo (October 7–10) and SGIA (October 18–20). Stay tuned.