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Noel Ward Reviews TrendVision: Here Comes the Future

Press release from the issuing company

January 26, 2004 -- (by Noel Ward, WTT's Managing Editor of Trade Show Coverage and Executive Editor of OnDemandJournal.com) -- Whether your vision of the future has the disquieting dark edginess of Minority Report, the alternative reality of The Matrix, or the goofiness of Back to the Future, the single inescapable fact is that it is coming at us. Harbingers arrive almost daily, trickling into our lives disguised as nascent ideas or technologies, going all but unnoticed until they burst forth as trends, causing shifts in our societal consciousness that extend across the entire fabric of our personal and working lives. TrendVision, Day 1 That is the premise behind TrendVision, a new 2-day conference that began Thursday morning here in Miami Beach. A prelude to the 29th Graphics of the Americas, TrendVision provides not only a glimpse of the future of print in all its forms, but also how print providers must take steps to adapt to the inevitable changes that are already shaping the ways we communicate. Jack Powers, Director of the International Informatics Institute in New York City (www:in3.org) talked at length about how people around the world are communicating much differently than we did even a decade ago. We live and work, Powers noted, on a digital landscape that is shaping our culture and business, governmental and social policies. The very pervasiveness of our digital world has resulted in a set of ever-rising expectations about information. We expect it to be comprehensive, instantaneous, economical, ubiquitous, and processable. We have come to regard information--delivered digitally--as essential and empowering. And we have to learn to use digital technology in the most effective ways possible. Things Change. Get Over It The former typesetter points to his former craft as a clear victim of technology. "Technology," trumpeted Powers, "sucks the profit out of business." But he holds no grudges, saying that printers who sit around criticizing the rise of digital printing while lamenting the loss of offset pages should get over it. "It's the past," he says. "Get over it." He went on to give several examples of how digital technologies are dramatically reshaping the ways people communicate. He pointed to LCD signage in supermarkets that can change multiple times each day, even based on sales volume of certain items. Not selling enough chicken? The sign in the meat department changes to promote a new price. Sometimes we forget just how much we are exposed to marketing messages. The steady stream has long extended into print and mail, and there is no doubt we can look forward to evermore targeted marketing communications driven off of databases containing information of just about everything we buy, where we go, and what we do when we get there. Old and New Media Powers perspective was echoed by Keith Hevenor, Editor of Electronic Publishing who pointed to phone books, carved tablets, newspapers, encyclopedias and other "old" media as how we got information in the "past." Today, he said, we have email, the Internet, cell phones/PDAs, webcasts, and more. Information can be pushed or pulled to us, with the advantages of content customization, preferred timing (think TiVo), and formatting of content. Talking about digital printing and personalization, Hevenor reprised one part of Powers' message, noting how generational differences, time pressures and lifestyles are making digital printing more attractive, and said people have higher expectations about print. And not just appearance, but the content of the document. He said digital technology is enhancing print, adding to the inherent values of printed documents, such as portability and having a "shelf life" as opposed to the more ephemeral existence of information on a screen. Finally, the National Do-Not-Call list and pending anti-spam laws may drive a move back towards more print, even traditional print, said Hevenor. WCPD? What Can Printers Do? Hevenor says don't be left behind. Adopt new technology and add value to every possible service. Become full-service providers, especially if you are doing variable data printing (you already own the assets). Add mailing services and explore mergers and acquisitions. He also urged attendees to market more aggressively, use the technology they promote to customers (such as variable data), work with customers to pursue new opportunities, and be willing to educate customers on how to adopt new technologies. Hevenor's suggestions fit well with the buying trends noted by Charlie Corr from CAP Ventures. Print Buying Trends Only about 25 percent of printers sell solutions, said CAP Ventures' Charlie Corr, adding that printers must increasingly "sell" the benefits of paper versus electronic media. As print providers move to sell solutions, though, they "must have a passion for efficiency--meaning workflow--or you won't make it." Corr went on to talk about some findings in a recent study with print buyers and document owners. The study found that printers need to nurture their relationships with print buyers. Buyers are generally risk averse, frequently not well-versed in the nuances of printing, and look to printers to deliver the expertise needed to ensure jobs are produced correctly. He also said they are not willing to substitute on-line relationships for personal ones but still want tools that add value, such as web-based estimating, and the ease of email or instant messaging for communications. Looking ahead, print buyers and document owners expect printing for promotional documents to increase by some 54 percent over the next two years, driven in part by corporate growth and increases in customers. But some other document types are not expected to grow and some will decline due to electronic delivery, shifts in end-user preferences, cost-cutting initiatives and other factors. He said print buyers and document owners usually don't know or care about the technology used to produce a document, yet two-thirds say they are already using digital printing and 60% are making information available electronically. But he emphasized that print providers have to sell their side of this carefully. They have to tell a customer they can "help manage their print and electronic information distribution, but not in a way that intrudes on a the territory of corporate IT departments. Because that is a deal-killer." Still, Corr said while the study found there is not much "pain" in buying print, there is opportunity in expanding services such as mailing. "So much that's printed gets mailed," said Corr, "that it's a natural fit, and one that delivers some real value for a customer." He also suggests expanding into other departments of a company, moving into vertical markets where you have expertise, and working at maintaining relationships. Is Packaging a Growth Market? John Zarwan of J Zarwan Partners provided a look at the packaging market, which is sometimes pointed to as a way for printers to expand their business. A closer look, though, indicates it is a move to be made with caution. Converters face many of the same types of challenges as other print providers, such as overcapacity, market maturity, offshore competition, price pressures, and commoditization. But packaging covers a lot of territory, and applications like labels (a $10 billion market) may offer options for printers looking to add some packaging capabilities to their offering mix. Mandatory product information, growing demand for security and functional labels, private brands and other factors can make labels a good transition point for print providers looking to expand. Still the transition may be difficult. Capital requirements can be high, usually requiring investments in different equipment (such as flexographic presses) and different operator skills and a sales force that can open new doors. Competition is heavy and there is substantial specialization involved. As with anything else, know what you are getting into before you make the leap. More to come ...