By John Giles June 14, 2004 -- Will PDF finally be the file format for the masses? It could be with the increased efforts of Adobe, Global Graphics and PagePath Technologies to provide printers with easy-to-use solutions for customers to create their own PDF files. It could also be the technology that finally drives the printer who doesn't charge what he should for prepress out of business. Adobe recently renamed their automatic PDF creation tool PDF JobReady and are now selling it through partners such as Datalogics, Inc., Digital Infrastructures, Rochester Software Associates, Servador, and Xerox. Global Graphics is offering a similar service through Prismatek with its PrintThat solution. PagePath offers PDF2U as part of its MyOrderDesk web solution. All of the programs place a driver on the customer's computer that creates a PDF file from the native application and transfer it over the Internet directly to the print provider. The technology works very well and Adobe, Prismatek and Pagepath can provide case studies where their automatic PDF creation program solved many of the problems inherent with native applications. What remains to be seen is if the printing companies themselves are capable of getting the message out to consumers and get them to embrace PDF as the file format of choice. Kinko's has been a leader among printers in offering a PDF-based file transfer solution. Its File Prep Tool is designed to ensure "your fonts, margins and graphics print as they appear on screen." Now with the added muscle of Federal Express, the renamed FedEx Kinko's Office and Print Center is in a position to continue the marketing push for PDF files. Do You PDF? The reason some printers are unable to handle the start-up costs for a PDF workflow is because they don't price their current prepress work properly. You would think that printers would be clamoring for a solution that automatically turns files into PDF files, but they aren't. The investment is too high for many printers, especially when you add the training and the plug-in programs to the costs. When printers who are using the automatic PDF creation software programs start cutting away at the local market share, the other printers will have an even harder time catching up. The reason some printers are unable to handle the start-up costs for a PDF workflow is because they don't price their current prepress work properly. Desktop publishing has been the black hole for profits for years. Until printers realizes they can charge for those services and get paid, they won't be able to add new and improved services. PrintImage International just did its bi-annual pricing study for quick printers and found sales in the prepress department is "still a very poor number in terms of overall productivity." The study estimates that based on sales reports, the typical prepress department is operating at a 47 percent level of productivity. The report also found the customer creates almost 50 percent of the prepress work. The failure of a printer to charge what a job is worth begins a downward spiral. The basic problem isn't productivity within the prepress department. It is the fact that most printers refuse to charge what it costs to do the prepress work, especially when dealing with customer-created files. The failure of a printer to charge what a job is worth begins a downward spiral. The printer is afraid if he charges the proper prepress charge he'll scare away the customer. Because he is losing money by discounting the work, he puts himself in a weak position and he keeps digging a bigger financial hole by keeping prices too low. He attracts cheap customers and can never stop losing money. This is especially true with customer-created files. If there is a problem with the file, the printer will fix the file but not charge for the time. Many times the printing price will not cover the money lost in the prepress department. The more customer-created files that are submitted become more weigh to drag a printer under. We are hearing stories how printers are cutting hours off prepress times by going to PDF, but still charging the same prices. Printers who refuse to charge what a job is worth muddy the market for the rest of us. Luckily, the printers who are adopting a PDF workflow and automated PDF creation systems are printers who are charging for their work. They are able to deal with customer-created files economically while the other printers will just see losses grow. Now we are hearing stories how printers are cutting hours off prepress times by going to PDF, but still charging the same prices. They justify the selling prices because of the faster turnaround and ease of ordering. This makes the printers financially stronger and more competitive since they have the money to add better ways to do business. It is going to be harder for the printer who gets work because they don't charge enough to cover their costs to stay in business. They can't continue to lose money in this critical area. They can't continue to spend hours on a customer file when other printers can handle the file in minutes. PDF is giving printers an answer on how to be profitable, especially with dealing with customer files. PDF is making it easier to deal with customer-created files. It can make a printer different from the competition. PDF is going to cause another shakeout in the industry and make the printers who embrace PDF profitable with a bright future.