By Noel Ward, Executive Editor March 15, 2004 -- Among the main topics of discussion at the On Demand show last week were Kodak's long-rumored acquisition of NexPress, how busy the show seemed to be, and whether or not the so-called universal copier-printer is finally ready for prime time. There was more, of course, like why the show is in Philadelphia next year and numerous other items of yadda-yadda level conversation, but space is limited here, so I'll just hit a couple of the high points. A Window of Opportunity "Whaddya think of the Kodak-NexPress deal?" was a common question, so like any good analyst, I usually managed to mumble something that sounded semi-intelligent. The deal, of course, came as no surprise to anyone who has been watching the industry. It effectively proves right my colleague Andy Tribute's suggestion in a WTT.com article some months back that Heidelberg should exit the digital printing business posthaste and get on with what they do best. And so they are. In the near term-perhaps up to a year-the acquisition gives a clear advantage to HP-Indigo and Xerox by essentially eliminating one of the choices from the market. Perception is important to buying anything, so while the NexPress (or whatever its new moniker may be) will still be available, there's likely to be enough uncertainty to limit the number of print providers who put the NexPress on their short list, at least while Kodak develops and refines its approach to the market I posed that thought to Bill McGlynn, Vice President of Digital Publishing Solutions at Hewlett-Packard, who related it to his company's acquisition of Indigo. "There are so many things involved from the externally obvious things like sales, service, branding and positioning, to all kinds of internal issues, as well as engineering and product development. It all takes time to work out." "If a company was about to step up and buy a NexPress, now they may get down off the step. They may wait a while before deciding, or they may decide to buy one of our machines or a Xerox product." Anne Mulcahy, Chairman & CEO of Xerox, was on the same page, but noted that the basics of the market really haven't changed. Comparing the 300 installations of the NexPress and about 4,000 Digimaster installs to the DocuColor (10,000) and DocuTech (25,000) installed bases, Mulcahy said determining distribution is going to be key for both the former Heidelberg lines. "Kodak has to decide what they are going to do with these technologies and where the market opportunities are for them," said Mulcahy. Others I spoke with generally agreed that some months would likely pass before a clear strategy evolves, but with Kodak's born-gain focus on the commercial print marketplace that strategy may become apparent sooner rather than later. For the latest insights, be sure to read ODJ's exclusive interview by Barb Pellow with James Langley, President of Commercial Printing and Senior Vice President of Kodak. Busy, busy, busy Last year, snow had been scheduled for the first day of On Demand and it kept the crowds away in droves. While those who did come were purportedly, as the saying goes, "well-qualified," nothing beats a lot of floor traffic. Which is just what happened this week at the Javits Center. Walking in the main entrance you were confronted with jam-packed booths at Océ North America and Xerox. IBM, Canon, Ricoh, KonicaMinolta and others were very busy as well and every vendor I spoke with noted the number of leads being generated and how people seemed to be coming to the show with clear agendas and purchase plans in mind. All I know is that it certainly seemed busier than any show I've been to in three or four years. Is this indicative of a strengthening economy? Maybe, but it's also that much of the technology introduced a few years ago is coming due for replacement and the newer machines and software really do offer a lot more bang for the buck. Coming off lean times, more than a few print providers are looking for ways to control costs, offer customers more, and run a tighter ship. Many new print engines and associated workflows enable them to do just that. So they are shopping. And even buying. The Dawn of the UCP? Then there was this idea stumbling around the show that has actually been bouncing around the industry for what seems like half of forever. It's the so-called Universal Copier/Printer--or UCP as some like to call it--as if they are in dire need of another three-letter acronym (TLA), to impress the masses when making presentations at industry trade shows. OK, so let me get this straight. All the major players (Canon, HP, KonicaMinolta, Oce, Ricoh, Toshiba, Xerox, etc.) have light production and mid-volume copier-printers that are (a) getting faster, (b) less expensive to buy and run, (c) drop-dead-green-button-simple to operate, (d) have some features similar to high-end equipment, and (e) deliver perfectly acceptable color and monochrome printing for a great many applications at a reasonable cost per page. Got it. Now, evolution and technology working the way they do (think food chains, survival of the fittest and Moore's Law), the arrival of these attributes on any single machine should hardly be a shock: we can't help but have machines without them. But this doesn't make any of the new beige boxes revolutionary or deserving of a whole new TLA. Or a market niche. Or a consulting practice. They are just the latest iteration of digital printing technology for a couple classes of machine. And as good as they are, there will be even better models in another year or so. It's the way things work. Universal Copier/Printer. Give me a break! What is important is that their feature sets, economy of operation and connectedness to many types of users will result in more pages being printed digitally and fewer pages printed offset. And if there's anything universal about these evolving machines, it's that they are important players in changing the ways printing is done.