Things aren’t THAT bad!

Kip Smythe, the MC here at Print Outlook just announced that tonight’s reception was not in the adjacent room as we’d been told, but instead it was on the penthouse of the hotel. 

Someone yelled “Do the windows open?”

I guess folks feel today’s presentations were full of bad news 😎

The printing/YouTube saga continues

I never thought I’d see the day when printing got too hip, but I think we may be there. Just kidding. Actually, none of my table-mates at lunch here at Print Outlook ’08 had seen any of these videos.

I watched the “I love PIA/GATF” video earlier today, and I think the printing industry has probably now exceeded at least a few other industries in terms of hipness. It started with Pazazz Printing’s video that was campy but genuine and (with regard to printing) original.

Now we have another video. Longer. Less genuine. Less original. While I think it’s great that another printing industry player is gutsy enough to make another video, I think it’s maybe time to suggest a few guidelines to all those folks who are writing the next printing industry video:

1. Foul language is no longer shocking or funny. Bleeping it out actually makes it more obtrusive. Even Mike’s joke about foul language seemed a bit worn.

2. We’ve got one guy spreading ink on his toast and another kissing his printing press and sun-bathing under a UV dryer. Nobody is going to demonstrate a love of printing more than that. How about loving quality? Or customers? Or binding?

3. Less than four minutes long. At least no more than six.

4. We all love funny stuff, and what works best on YouTube is funny stuff. What’s really funny is something that people in any industry will understand. Even those yet to enter industry. A group of non-printers at my home roared at the scene in Pazazz’s video where the father asks the son if he’s done his printing exercises yet, and the son’s head drops out of embarrassment. Who hasn’t been nagged by their over-zealous parents to embrace one silly thing or another?

I hope we’ll see more videos. I hope we’ll see enough videos that folks outside of printing are talking about them, and see printing not as a dinosaur industry but a critical industry that’s in touch with current times.

More competitive intelligence in printing?

I’m at Print Outlook 2008 in New York City, and I noticed during Andrew Paparozzi’s presentation on commercial printing in 2008, based on survey results, that there were several themes revolving around competition. Print is more competitive than ever, and he stressed differentiation and not doing things just because competitors were doing them.

Will this drive an increased interest in competitive intelligence in printing? My experience is that this is one industry where CI hasn’t really taken hold, at least not in the same way as in medical/pharma and other industries. Perhaps as print gets more competitive and more dependent on innovation and positioning we will see a growing demand for CI in print.

Don’t think too hard about that video, Dr. Joe.

You know you’re out of touch when a friend sends a link to a YouTube video, which you forward to friends in the press only to find they’d covered it a week earlier. That happened to me a few weeks ago when I forwarded the now-famous-among-printers Pazazz Printing video to Adam Dewitz at PrintCEOBlog only to have him reply that they’d covered it more than a week earlier, and just what rock had I been hiding under?

What can I say? I have kids. I just moved. Work’s been busier than usual…and I’ve been out of touch. Ouch!

Anyway, Dr. Joe Webb wrote a short bit about it last Monday,(paid subscription required) that was generally not too flattering.

Lighten up Joe. It’s a YouTube video. It’s “New Social Interactive Media 2.5”. It’s all a grand experiment, and while the language and attendant bleeping was a bit tiring it was very refreshing to me to see a) folks excited about printing enough to make any video, or even a book with that kind of message, b) printing folks internet savvy enough to make the video and see any benefit to doing to, and c) a printing company president gusty enough to do it.

My parent company’s web site, qg.com, has an Alexa rank of ~622,000. Lower is better – Google’s rank is 2. My best-friend’s wife’s site, http://www.breakfast-and-brunch-recipes.com has an Alexa rank of ~250,000, just lower than whattheythink.com’s 270,000. QuadTech’s site (10 million), as well as that of it’s competitors (qipc.com = 8 million, gmicolor.com not ranked) are generally in the millions along with this blog (2.3 million).

The web doesn’t seem to be very strongly embraced by the “ink-drinkers” in general. I think things are changing, and it will be some day. In the mean time, I say applaud those with the gumption to give it a try who can show the rest it’s not fatal.

Is Black the new Gold?

There was a recent announcement that a UK printer is taking delivery of the first “Carbon Balanced” printing press, manfucatured by KBA. This isn’t very surprising because there is a lot of talk about carbon footprint, carbon offsets, and carbon everything else as people become more concerned with climate change and the socio-economic force it has as a political item.

It’s very surprising because printers are pretty pragmatic people, who aren’t usually given to spending money without a pretty darned clear understanding of the return on their invesment. While it’s easy to sell the idea of carbon balancing on the basis of principle, I expected the actual pricing to be a lot harder. I’m not surprised that a UK printer cares about climate change, I’m surprised he was willing to pay for the carbon balancing. Although the article doesn’t say what amount was paid for the carbon balancing, or even what it consists of.

As the political forces generated by threatening climate change drive people to value carbon footprints we will see a new currency emerge – carbon. the problem I see with this is that we’re not actually measuring the amount of carbon involved, instead the whole thing is based on calculations of how much carbon is believed to be emitted. These calculations are not always very simple. In calculating the carbon footprint of the beer I just drank, do I include the can? It’s recyclable, but what if I don’t recycle it? How about the salty popcorn that drove me to want the beer in the first place? Should its carbon footprint include the carbon from the beer that was clearly an inevitable result? Will the International Association of Carbon-Emiting Corporations come to the same quantity of carbon emitted for a given product as Americans Scared Shitless Of Climate Change, or the International Coalition of Carbon Trading Companies? Who decides what the right amount is?

An ounce of gold is an ounce of gold, and an ounce is clearly understood. That’s what enables the gold market to function.

Is a ton of emitted carbon as clearly understood? I don’t think so. So how is this market going to function?

I think initially the politcal value of balancing carbon footprints will be high enough, and the pricing of the balancing low enough, that it won’t be enough money to cause serious problems. The question is if carbon footprints will stay hot enough (pun intended) long enough for their value to get high enough to fight over. Eventually you and I are likely to pay extra for every product purely for carbon offsets. Before we get to that point, I think we’d better understand how this new currency will be established.

On the future of print

I joined PrintPlanet.com today, and saw a post from Hlynur Gudlaugsson who asked:

Hello guys…

What is the future of printing regarding all the technoligy around us?
Is the print industry going to die in coming years or will it just take
another turn to adjust to new thinking and consumer ways?

The internet is one of the most potent advertising media you can use
regarding information to consumer. Is it going to effect the industry
in that sense that people will loose jobs or will this create new
barriers for us to overcome or will the “black art” die as we know it?

Would be nice to get your tought´s on this one:-)

Regards from Iceland.

A great question, and one that I think all of us in the print industry ask each other pretty frequently. I’d say it almost rivals the weather as topic of conversation.

Here’s my prediction on the future of print

First, a few observations:

  1. The Internet is NOT the most potent advertising medium anyone can use. At least, the advertising I respond to most frequently is on a magazine page, not a web page. Internet advertising is by FAR the most accessible advertising medium anyone can use. With many providers (i.e. Adwords) you can be advertising anything worldwide in multiple languages in less than half an hour for $5 or so. Try that with print.
  2. I haven’t yet replaced the magazine rack in my bathroom with a computer, despite there being room and an unused laptop in the house. We have about 4 magazines that we get, along with various catalogs we hang onto. With a small house and two small kids, the bathroom doubles as the reading room ;-).
  3. I do not like paperless statements. Anything advertised on a statement is blackballed immediately.
  4. I don’t hang onto but one catalog from a company. Land’s End – you send me a new catalog about every other week. As an employee of QuadGraphics, I think you profusely. As a customer, I need only the Men’s version, and only when you offer something really new.
  5. The printed material I get that is personalized is increasing in quality, or at the least is holding in quality. Meaning the quality of the paper, special features like embossing, etc.
  6. The printed material I get that is not personalized is generally decreasing in quality, with the exception of Men’s Health magazine, which is becoming a few flimsy Ed. pages slipped in between massive thick fragrance, fashion and car ads.

I think some kinds of print are going to die, but some new kinds of print will be created. The net effect will be more printing of items that can be personalized and that benefit from the nature of print (the permanence, readability, etc.) to carry an unwritten message. There will be less of those items that just work much better on the ‘net. Like classified ads, many kinds of reference material, some of the market for books & catalogs, and most newsletters.

When I worked in engineering I started at a company that still used drafting boards, and currently work for a company that’s pretty much paperless in terms of drawings. At least, we don’t have much use for large format plotter/printers anymore. The trend seemed to be that the volume of paper on an engineer’s desk skyrocketed as the company adopted CAD, but then as the automation was fully internalized the engineer’s need for a paper copy (for reviewing, proofing, etc) quickly went away and those piles disappeared very quickly.

I think print markets will mirror that. Following a surge of printing in some markets driven by the internet  we’ll see a decline as new generations not addicted to paper for every application filter out those applications where printing really adds value. I think this will happen pretty quickly in a given region, but the world being diverse as it is it will be slow globally speaking.

The printing that’s left over will be either very low quality/low cost in applications where printing’s the only solution (direct mail advertising works better than direct email advertising), or high quality/high personalization/high value added because it is a piece of a larger communication offering.

For example, consider what’s happening to magazines. Thinner paper, smaller trim sizes, etc.  – they’re moving to low cost because the print version magazine competes with the internet offering. Now imagine that we have full variable data printing, and the magazine can now be personalized to contain the stuff the reader wants and adds a lot more value. Now the subscriber is buying the paper version because it’s paper, and will want more of the qualities that paper has to offer and will be willing to pay for them.

Same with brochures. When they’re a high-volume give-away they need to be cheaper to produce. When they can carry more value, they can cost more.

So to summarize, print’s always going to be around. There will be less of it, and it will be either a lot more efficient or a lot more innovative than it is now.

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AVT, GMI, and the future of press controls

Andy Tribute, of Attribute Associates, wrote a short article today on WhatTheyThink.com, one of printing’s original web news sources. In his article he poses a question on the future of press control based on AVT‘s recent acquisition of GMI.

The article doesn’t offer much in the way of meat, but Andy does get around to describing the histories of both companies, contrasting their markets, and then theorizes that the ultimate solution for a press control is to combine AVT’s inspection products with GMI’s color and register control products into one control product that does everything. He says that no such systems exist today. That’s not exactly true, but surely no such product is sweeping the market.

There are good reasons why such a product hasn’t been successfully introduced in the past:

  1. Inspection products are popular in roll-to-roll processes where it’s not possible to grab a sample to inspect. However in sheetfed and web-to-folder applications it’s easy to grab sample copies for inspection and quality assurance purposes. Why buy a product to automate sample-grabbing when you’ve got a press operator there to do it anyway?
  2. Color control isn’t the same kind of beast on Flexo that it is on Offset – see Dr. John Anderson’s excellent article Adding Flexo to an Offset Operation in the September issue of Flexo magazine for details – so bolting ColorQuick onto a flexo press isn’t going to work.
  3. Register control is also a different beast on Flexo label presses with much less space between units and different cutoff needs.
  4. Flexo label presses generally cost less than GMI’s typical host press, which means the ceiling for the total cost of controls is lower. This means a do-everything product needs to cost a lot less than the sum of its parts. Both companies make Cadillac products, and turning two Cadillacs into a Hyundai is no easy task.
  5. GMI’s strength has always been their use of a spectrophotometer to give true spectral data. However their Spectrophotometer doesn’t provide images, and AVT’s camera doesn’t provide true spectra data, so to get both spectral data and an image for inspection you really end up with both sensor packages. Even so, nothing is preventing anyone from buying both systems and installing them both on a press today. Anyone know of such an installation?
  6. AVT’s label product, PrintVision/Helios, already does die cut registration and color deviation. What is ColorQuick going to add?
  7. Last but not least AVT needs to digest GMI’s US and Indian development operations and get everyone working together, not always an easy task.

I don’t think a combined product is in AVT’s plans. There just isn’t much bang for the buck in such a system, even if they could make one affordable for the labels market. It’s seductive to think a “total image control system” is the ultimate product that everyone will want to buy, but unless such a product removes a body from the press line (care to guess how many operators are on a typical inline labels press?) or saves enough waste to earn its keep, folks aren’t going to buy it.

I think AVT needed to grow to meet expectations, and GMI provided a convenient way to do that and provide some adjacent market access at the same time.

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The importance of accurate color reproduction

Since my employer makes pretty much the best inline closed loop color controls on the planet, I got to thinking about color. We make the assumption that color reproduction is very important, and that people will always pay whatever it takes to get accurate color. Of course, the purpose of our products is to reduce that cost, but if the value of color goes down you can see there would be a problem.

Why would it go down? Why has the thickness & quality of magazine paper declined over the years? Why are car bodies thinner and more easily dented? Why is a 2×4 actually 1.5 x 3.5? Everyone’s looking to save money, and if reproducing color costs extra, eventually it will be a cost to be saved. Someone will ask why so much money is being spent keeping color accurate, and suggest that maybe there’s no real consequence to letting it slip.

Seeing as Linkedin has a nifty Q & A feature, I decided to post a question:

What is the true value of accurately reproduced color?

Both in print and on the web much effort is made and money expended to ensure that color is reproduced accurately. It’s important that things “look right”, meaning the image looks balanced. But what is the real cost of images that aren’t truly accurate?

I got a number of interesting answers, as you can see below, but I was surprised that every answer more or less suggested that color carries an extremely high value. I believe this, but I figured someone would say it just didn’t matter.

The answers:

Ken Cooper

Good question. The answer is, “It depends”. There are many aspects to consider.

1. Color has value to its owner. The amount of value will vary according to the perception and requirements of the owner.
2. Color has been shown to influence sales. Warm colors are said to sell better than cool, etc.
3. Color can and should be controlled in production environments.
4. “Good enough” color is really good enough in many cases. In others, no.
5. Consumers are influenced by color, yet unaware.
6. The cost of bad color can mean rejected orders, lower sales, etc.
7. There is also a cost when high-end color controls are used and paid for but not needed (when “good enough” is good enough).
8. Color is both objective and subjective. The question is, in a way, like asking: “What is the value of well-tuned music?”

So, yes, color does have value. Entire industries are rely on it. However, color is also a commodity. In general, our world is more colorful than ever these days, and better for it.

Clarification added 16 days ago:

Another interesting question: “What is the liability of poorly reproduced color?”

Robert Dolezal

Accurate representation of color is essential when “look and feel” elements are used to make purchase selections of items like clothing, shoes, paint, etc. and failure to accurately match color may result in higher-than-necessary returns of merchandise, shipping costs, etc. Very slight differences in the color, hue, saturation, and tint of an article of clothing (for instance) may cause the potential customer to forego the purchase.

There is even some empirical data that shows that off-color trademarks introduce doubt about the company–the Eastman Kodak yellow and Fujifilm green logos, for instance. Their business depends on consumer belief in their products’ ability to provide accurate color.

Finally, despite much effort and expense, accurate color rendition remains elusive for subjective reasons: the light in which the printed page is viewed, bounce of color off walls causing apparent off-color appearance, monitor color temperature settings (uniformly set way too high by the factory), CRT, Plasma, and CRT variations, and (of course) the source color provided. As a result, all reproduction of color except by spectral sources is only apparently accurate.

That does not mean that one should give it up as an impossible task.

In my experience, producing heavily-illustrated books, mismatching of color from image to image is much more apparent to consumers than is an overall color shift.

Randy Snavely

Ever been to a meeting when 4 or 5 people from the same company present business cards and each one is a tone or half tone different. Imagine buying uniforms or sneakers and each one is a tone off. Labels on products produced in different plants but placed side by side on a store shelf. Color consistency is critical in the marketplace as studies show off color goods sell at a reduced rate compared to on color goods.

William Cobbs

I think the two answers you recieved earlier were close to the mark. The importance of color is really a function of what it is being used for. I spent many years in the reprographics industry and I can tell you that the importance of color depended very much on the nature of the clients business and the message they were attempting to convey.

If you talked to someone in advertising or product marketing they would absolutely tell you that accurate color representation was critical. That missing a shade or a hue could have a multi million dollar impact on product sales. whereas someone responsible for business communications might not feel the same passion for color accuracy so as long as the overall message was conveyed.

One thing I can attest to is the amount of R & D investment companies like Xerox, Canon, and HP make to insure that they continually improve the output of their color reproduction devices. For companies like them producing accurate color reproductions represents billions of dollars in business opportunity.

Jim McCloskey

Imagine if you went to buy a soda, and the “Coke” cans were orange instead of red. What would you think?

Exactly. Color has immense value to a brand, and it’s not crazy to insist on perfect color matching. Consistency is worth the money.

Luca Ubertini

As a designer, for me “color” is a word that implies so many different arguments an encyclopedia couldn’t fit them. Simplifing it to the bone, if you read “color” as “light” (which essentialy is), colors are the medium you see the reality through.
But we are talking of business here, and business with color is graphic design. So, let’s just talk about 3 points in which color accuracy is critical:

1- color selection
Color is a language, and if you are paying someone to comunicate a message, not reproducing it correctly means obtaining a different message than the one you have paid for. Cheap example: you sell medical insurance, and your business were designed with a sky-blue background, that gives a calm and reliable sensation (i feel safe when the sky is clear). The prints came out to be a bit too dark and green, like a dirty sea (i feel usafe in dirt sea). A quick way to lose potential clients.

2- color balancing
Colors are accurately balanced. It is not a work of art (alone), well color balanced composition is nicer, more desiderable, and quickly spotted. Ruin this balancing work, and your desk product will fall behind others, unnoticed.

3- color consistency
You may have a color, in you logo, in your uniform, or in your mass produced good. Have two should-be-same colors mismatching, and your given perception of quality will fall to ground. Jim and Randy, above, made very good examples of this.

Have a colorfull day.

Clarification added 16 days ago:

in point 2 by telling “it’s not a work of art” I mean it’s a work of science. That’s why color wheels are for

Scott Thomas

I’m going to come in with perhaps one of the more simple answers here. The value for me is the difference between acquiring my business or not.

My company sells compact discs to disc jockeys around the world. We have a few different brands within the company, and the primary differentiator between them (aside from the on-disc content) is color. Each series has an identifying color which helps the DJs find the CDs in low-light conditions.

We work with local digital color printers to create the needed inserts for our products, and over the years we’ve learned that some “get it” and some do not. In our recent corporate move from Denver to the Seattle area, we’ve had to shop for vendors all over again — and the ones that couldn’t match our colors perfectly simply missed out on the sale.

I’ve found over the years that color, especially with small business, can be a major advantage. Competing against larger companies, we stand out because we look GREAT and often more professional than the others. Keeping the color consistent, then, is a big deal to me. If we had a great color look, but wavered on the quality we’d be just another small business trying to “play it big.”

Jeffrey Engel

Your question was about the ramifications of not having accurate colors. It is all relative. First, we know that when people view two completely different things, then people focus on each thing as two separate things to categorize. However, when people are presented two very similar things, with only minor differences, those differences can engender great debate, controversy and comparison. Earlier, someone mentioned having a corporate meeting and people from the same business having business cards that are slightly different colors causing a perception of unprofessionalism. This is one ramification: perception of value. However, at the same time, if these two people were from different departments, and the design of the cards was exactly the same, but the color field was different, this could be a positive perception if the company has introduced this concept as part of its identity and people already know this (ie, the brand already has a strong presence).

However, let’s change things a bit and pretend you’re on a clothing site. I want to buy a BLACK shirt. Problem is, there are different kinds of blacks. Warm blacks, cool blacks, etc. Imagine I’m trying to coordinate a black blazer with black pants. I bet everyone here has had the realization that this can be a huge problem if they don’t match.

This is a huge problem in the online retail environment. Accurate color representation is crucial to keep customers happy and returning to buy your products. If you do not produce accurate color, and think AHEAD of time about color combinations, you may get lots of returned items, but not returned customers.

Don’t make your customers think about how accurate colors are. Let them know they are accurate by showing them accurate color and comparing them to other items that are the same color. HELP them know they are seeing exactly what they will be getting. You will save $$ in the long run because your customers will come back, and you might even get known for your attention to detail.

Clarification added 12 days ago:

BTW, getting known for your attention to detail could even help build your brand by being a characteristic of it. You could own that word in your market space and it could be a deciding factor for many shoppers.

Gary Pool

You can’t control the color of web images. Not only does the environment flavor the color you see but most people don’t even know you can calibrate a monitor let alone do it. When I check an image I have on the web I go to the library where they never calibrate their monitors. I always calibrate my monitors and can’t do otherwise. If you want your web colors to be the same on every monitor you will have to calibrate every monitor they are viewed on.

Alan Bucknam

The real cost is the degradation and loss of value to your brand image. A sloppily-executed piece equals the perception of a sloppy organization. While I don’t think that a majority of consumers would be able to tell you “hey, that’s not the right color”, subconsciously, they will note the difference, and know something is “off”.

Jim Campanell

These answers all make great sense. Except to those that may be color-blind in one way or another. Then, all of your pains to use the proper colors go out the window.

In fact, sometimes use of color (say in graphs or documents, where color is intended to have a specific meaning) is a bad thing, in that you aren’t conveying the intended information to a subset of your target audience.

So to a large majority, your colors may convey exactly what you want. To others, well, not so much. So I wouldn’t attach too much importance to conveying information with colors. For aesthetic purposes, sure, go nuts. But not to convey information.

Séphine Laros

In the business to consumer market, image is more important to keep clients than in the btob market. The visual identity (colors are a part of it) is a good way to build or support you’re image. So look right is important, if you want your clients to come back… In the business to business the service level is more important than the image. But it’s always an combination of emotion (image) and rationality (experienced service/quality).

John Manoogian III

Great question. And instead of a business reason to support color fidelity technology, here’s a more “experiential” post on my love of color tech and specifically, color chips and weird color names: http://blog.jm3.net/2007/05/03/the-power-of-holding-a-color/

Laura Curran

Ask a UPS Marketer. UPS has a trademark on its shade of brown.

Amit Kumar

Accurate color reproduction is important to have the consistency of brand. Any visual inconsistencies are very easy to notice and color being a key part of any visual representation. In print or on website if a completely different color is used it may be done deliberately to catch attention, but if slight variation is there it may amount to being careless and can affect the brand negatively.

Louis D’Esposito

Many good points were made about colors consistency in branding. And good color balance is important to reproduced photography. Flat muddy color in print is a turn off to consumers, so its important to strive to properly prep an ad for print publication to the magazines specifications, and provide high quality proofs to the publication as well. That will give your ad an edge over the competition. Because computer screens are backlit – images tend to pop more and look brighter, so you may have to tweak your banner ad to match your print ad, but I would not sweat it because all screens have different brightness characteristics.

Most importantly we must take into consideration that colors interact with each other and will appear very different when placed upon or next to other colors. This can have a profound effect on photography as well. You may want to check out “The Interaction of Color” by Josef Albers which is available at Amazon.com. It is a short book, about 100 pages but Albers did a great job and I would recommend it to any visual artist no matter what medium they use.

Dave Walker

Accurate colour is very important, but colour can also be very subjective. If you have a difficult colour to describe (I have a pair of ski boots that are greyish purpleish), 5 people can describe the colour 5 different ways. If you ask those 5 people to make “army green”, you will have 5 very different “army greens”. This is one reason why colour correction and balance is so difficult.

One of the methods I have found to be very effective (and it has been tested in the classroom) is to describe a colour in HSV (Hue, Saturation, Value: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HSV_color_space).

Having said that, reproducing a colour accurately is very important, especially in catalogue applications. If you order a brick red shirt, you don’t want to receive a fire-engine red shirt. Also, clients know their product and I have found that if the colours are off, they are not happy. Unhappy clients = no repeat work.

Colour balancing more subjective things like sunsets and skin tones is a bit more craft than science, and there is more leeway in trying to create a mood. However, you will always want clean blacks, whites and greys – it’s a great place to start.

Take the time and if you are unfamiliar with colour reproduction, learn it. Even if you are a designer, and not a “production person” (designers always think that production is beneath them – yeah, right), you need to know how to reproduce colours accurately.

Eric worldwide

No matter what settings you use for a monitor or what hex values, color is subjective to the eye of the viewer.

Links:http://groupster.blogspot.com

Razvan Stoica

Well, the answer should be obvious. You aren’t dealing with naive audiences, most of the time – everyone has seen other websites and other prints. What follows is that an informal standard (a set of tests, if you will) exists in every man’s mind as to what constitutes “proper” printing and “proper” web design. Fail to reproduce colors accurately enough (there’s mounds of literature on what is “accurate enough”) and you will have failed one of the tests. The cost to business is your customers will think of you as unprofessional.

The Digital Print Roundtable & Pricing On Value

Gavin Jordan-Smith, Vice President, Commercial Print and Prepress Business at Xerox just posted about the digital print roundtable Xerox hosted at OnDemand:

First, it was my pleasure to participate and I’d be happy to do it again!

Second, you may remember that during our discussion the topic of mutually destructive price wars between quick printers came up, and we all agreed they needed to sell their value instead of just price. The question was what value did they have to sell in a commodity (business cards, letterhead and such) market?

I spoke about some business cards I’d ordered online, and that I’d heard the process could be unpredictable. Well, they were waiting for me when I got back home, and they were terrible! The printing was fine, but they arrived in a soggy box that wasn’t sealed or even taped shut, with some cards dirty and some bent. The rounded corners looked like they’d been done with scissors.

I called the Overnightprints.com, and to their credit they responded quickly to my complaint, are reprinting them for me, and have sent UPS to inspect the package. That’s a lot of added cost for a 100-card order, and they clearly want to make it right. But as a hedge, I also went to VistaPrint.com and ordered some there. I’m dying to see how they compare because the preview VistaPrint showed online looked very low resolution despite using the exact same .pdf file I used for Overnightprints.com. Maybe I should order from a few other shops and do a review?

The current market for spec-it-yourself print may be ignorant of quality issues, color issues and other fine points of print right now but they will learn. They will be educated by trial and error and the printer that causes the least trials and errors will come out on top. It seems to me that the challenge may not be in finding the value to sell, but in the marketing to sell it.

Second Life gets a Second Chance

So there I was, sitting in the Barking Crab having some very late lunch when I got a call. It was Craig Troskosky, from Text 100, Xerox’s PR firm. He would like to show me more of Second Life, because he felt they’d missed the boat the night before at the party at Fenway, and he wanted me to understand what they were trying to do.

It’s a lot more than I’d thought.

Second Life is not the invention of Xerox, and as Craig explained it to me I started to feel very old and out of touch. How did I miss this stuff? Maybe it’s just that I’m not into gaming.

Second life is literally a second life. It is a virtual world, where you can buy land, clothing, and other items. You can visit other people’s dwellings, and even virtual trade show booths. You conduct trade using Linden dollars, and you can exchange Linden dollars for real currency. There are people who make a nice (real world) side business selling virtual outfits and even hair for people who want their virtual selves to be extra attractive. It’s open to everyone.

It turns out that Frank Romano was a bunny because he’d asked to be, and they actually bought the virtual rabbit costume from someone else in Second life. While I’d thought Xerox was showing contempt for this new technology, they were actually trying very hard to respect it. It just didn’t come across at the party. Evidently the earlier films they’d shown at the party, which didn’t have any sound that we could hear, were meant to explain what was going on. But the sound was bad and it wasn’t very easy to follow.

I asked Craig about what business applications they saw for this, and he mentioned meetings. That is, using virtual worlds as a replacement for video conferencing.

So, in real life the boss says something really stupid and you just stew. In virtual life, you could, perhaps, set off a giant poo bomb you’d bought from the bombiers down the virtual street and make the ambience match the message.

But the serious business applications are there, and they are being used. Training, product demonstrations, and other applications where you need to show 2 and 3 dimensional material all fit to some degree.

We’d been thinking Xerox was just bumbling some new technology trying to be cool, they were actually trying to show us a small piece of the future.

I’m not sure how well this will take off, but there were plenty of folks who said that about blogging, so I’d better be careful 😉