By Noel Ward, Executive Editor April 12 , 2004 -- In these early spring weeks of 2004 the focus at most vendors is the upcoming extravaganza of everything print at drupa, May 6-19, in Dusseldorf, Germany. The quadrennial event is a colossal undertaking and as usual, there will be plenty of new toys and technologies introduced to a market that may or may not see value in the offerings. Most print providers, skepticism embedded in their DNA, look at new offerings and ask what the latest whiz-bang will do for them. And there are broader concerns than the new hope being rolled out at drupa or elsewhere. Some of these issues are highlighted in the 2004 Document Communications Industry survey Trends recently published by EDSF, the Electronic Document Systems Foundation. The study, which appears in its entirety in this week's issue of On Demand Journal, provides insights into key issues such as cost reduction, electronic document distribution, outsourcing and pending shifts in postage costs. If you have even a passing interest in any of these areas, take a few minutes to read through the survey report. Electronic document production is clearly becoming a concern for document producers, but the issue is not so much documents moving to solely electronic distribution, but how to balance print and electronic media. A top concern is controlling print costs, as document production budgets are trending downward. Most of us probably receive regular offers to convert our utility, credit card and mortgage statements to purely electronic versions, yet adoption rates remain low, even though more and more people are paying their bills over the internet. The key question--not addressed in the EDSF study and yet to be answered--is at what point do the costs of hard copy production push companies to strongly encourage customers switch to electronic distribution? The tipping point is coming, but when is it? No one knows. It may in fact not arrive as a sudden change, but as the endgame of a long, gradual shift--a final point when paper statements become expensive because they are exception-processing. But that's a ways off. The survey also looks at anticipated use of color, primarily for transactional documents. While digital color use is growing in several graphic arts markets not mentioned in the study, it continues to be a "nice to have" capability with cost being the limiting factor. But color usage on more and more documents is destined to rise--the question is how quickly. You'll find a good deal of interesting information in the study. While the analysis does not go into great detail, it does point to trends that every moderate to high-volume digital print provider should be aware of as they move forward in 2004. Also this week, don't miss Pat Taylor's look at The Elusive Value Proposition. He makes some great points to consider as you try to ensure you bring real value to your customers. And be sure to read what Harvey Hirsch, the Samurai of Sales, has to say about selecting which media to use. For print providers it provides some good ammo for convincing a prospect to give this fancy variable data printing stuff a try. Until next time, be well.