Chicago, the windy city, domicile of the Bulls, White Sox, Cubs and "da Bears" and on September 5, host to the fourth stop on the Print and Publishing Seminar tour. Chicago is also one of the largest graphic arts markets in America and the home of next months Graph Expo.

So what did they think? An interesting comment initially came from a noted industry consultant who spent the day taking in the abundance of content. “Where are the printers who are bitterly complaining about business?” Relating to the fact that this program had a lot critical data free to the graphics community, however, those most in need of the information weren’t in attendance. So where were they? I guess the Cubs were playing. Maybe if some came and listened to Vince Naselli (TrendWatch) discuss the value added service opportunities they would understand the new model of the content service provider. A VP of Operations at one print company told me that he supported this thought. The message of the entire seminar hit home and he strongly believed senior executives from his company and others must hear this message.

I had the chance to chat with two representatives from large in-plant operations. The first company representing a large financial institution produced a substantial amount of short run document and manual printing on their stable of DocuTechs. This gentleman said he was there to gain more knowledge about providing more value added services to his company. The other in-plant manager just purchased a DocuColor 2045. They were keeping it busy doing short run static color work for the parent organization, but knew the real potential of the equipment lies in variable printing. Their mission - get ideas they could bring back to the marketing people who they report to.

One part of this program we have neglected to discuss in previous columns is the publishing track of the seminar. This track runs concurrently with the printing session and focuses on issues specifically involving the book publishing industry. The program highlights the value of digital printing for short run books. Two production people related to me the challenge of finding new solutions for producing titles of 1000 or under print runs. The answer identified by this program is most definitely digitally produced books. No stale inventory, no returns and the ability to cost effectively print to projections, not for the unit cost. Listening to these production people made me think of the outstanding opportunity this provides to book printers who are digitally positioned.

Back on the printer front, a big concern was expressed by several printers of how to get started. The value added services all seem logical, but printers can’t abandon the massive investment in heavy iron sitting on the floor. Another small printer discussed how for years they differentiated themselves by providing outstanding service and quality. “Obviously this isn’t going to work going forward as a sole difference,” he said.

An executive at one of the large consolidating organizations felt this program was a great prelude to Graph Expo. This forum provided him with the insight to use the trade show more productively by identifying potential solution and hardware companies to research based on his newly acquired knowledge.

I encountered another printing executive who gave me a sample of a product he is marketing to auto dealers in the Chicago area. He approaches the dealers and offers to give the showroom sales people a copy of Goldmine or ACT for free. They input prospect data, connect with his web site, transmit the data and he produces a personalized brochure. He is driving business to his company by creatively developing content that currently goes untapped. This company is doing a lot of printing but is not a printer. A lesson to be learned.

California here we come. Los Angeles September 10 and San Francisco, September 12. See you there or the city nearest you!