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,, has an Alexa rank of ~622,000. Lower is better – Google’s rank is 2. My best-friend’s wife’s site, has an Alexa rank of ~250,000, just lower than’s 270,000. QuadTech’s site (10 million), as well as that of it’s competitors ( = 8 million, 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 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, 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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