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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Sit down...

I had a chance to sit down with some local print people involved in various industry groups.

Much of the discussion turned to what I will call the "future of print".  This all got me thinking about what sort of "outside" pressure there is impacting print today.  By this I don't mean internet, USPS price increases and web but more general cost forces, "winds of change", etc.

I came across this article at WhatTheyThink.  The first sentence says "Excellus BlueCross BlueShield (Excellus BCBS) earned a first place award for its dimensional ink, full-color calendar produced on the KODAK NEXPRESS 2500 Digital Production Color Press."

Now this is pretty standard fare for this web site and its nice to see this kind of thing.  But my fear is that the newly passed health care laws are going to severely impact a big use of print in health care. 

For a long time, as covered in other posts, I owned a mailing company and one of my clients was a very large BCBS (Blue Cross and Blue Shield).  As customers went this was a fairly good one for a couple of reasons: they printed a lot of small run materials, they had money, and they had a specific brand  which they took care of.

Though they had money they were reasonably cost conscious.  One of the things we did a lot of in the mid-90's was specific documentation packages for potential clients: welcome kits, here's what to do for your renewal, that sort of thing.  Basically most of this was a form letter addressed to "Dear XYZ Employee:" and a bunch of warehoused materials.  At the time the cost to laser print lots of "Dear Employee" letters was prohibitive so we came up with a RisoGraph to do the job.  This was a thing kind of like the old mimeograph in that it etched a stencil but it was digital.  You sent it a job as a PostScript - it RIPed the file, etched the stencil, and then ran 100's or 1,000's of copies very cheaply.

Of course, all this was 15 years ago now and much has changed.  But my guess is that there is still a decent amount of print, mailing and such still going on in this industry (I see one of my old partners still crowing about these sorts of customers).  I think that because these companies where extremely well funded (for example, some have been sued for "sitting" on billions of dollars of reserve in excess of legal requirements) they spent a lot on the types of programs I referenced above.  Basically this is a market where an employer is paying an average (or minimum) of $12K a year per employee so a certain amount of cost to keep these "customers" on is expected. 

With the new insurance mandates (extending coverage, limiting cost increases, etc.) these "cushions of cash" are going to quickly dwindle and one of the first victims of cost cutting will be unnecessary programs related to print.  The first to go will be the nice stationary, envelopes, news letters, and such followed by anything else being printed.

On the other hand, I am sure only the silly HIPPA rules and the corresponding ridiculous paperwork that don't allow your Cobra employees to talk to their provider about their billing status will create a printing need... but that's another story.

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