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Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Evolution Deniers...

I see a lot written in the corporate print press about how printers can offer alternative marketing services to their clients.   Complex VDP, transpromo, creative services, all manner of things electronic and new media outside the realm of ink on paper.

I think this is wrong and disingenuous.  I think it denies reality.

There were a number of print shops near me when I moved to my current home.  Some quite large - others mere holes in the wall.  Most are gone now.  Those that remain will either be highly specialized or highly localized - providing things that be aggregations of print providers cannot match - better service, quick turnaround, etc.

But its not just the fault of social media and other modern conveniences like cell phones.

Long ago the first shots where fired when office laser printers first came into wide use.  Before that virtually everything had to be typed on paper or paper forms.  When I bought my first house in the early 1980's all the forms were typed or printed on - laser printers didn't yet exist in the office.

(I know because that's what I was doing at the time - developing the first desktop laser printer drivers as I wrote here previously.  The IBM PC was still new then as well - with its Charlie Chaplin ads in print and on TV.  The Mac would not appear until even later.)

When I bought my second house in the late 1990's all the forms were laser printed - no more three-part carbon forms to sign.  Everything was produced on a laser printer in N parts - you just signed them all.

Today's social and electronic media is the second attack wave directly on print - home/office printers were the first.

Quite honestly its been coming for a long time.  The only people I know that still use print and paper for bills, correspondence, and so forth are either elderly or required to for some business purpose.

Produce life cycles are now weeks instead of years so virtually all product marketing literature is obsolete soon after its printed.  (The large print "literature and fulfillment warehouses" have all but vanished as well.)

Then there is the problem of complexity and skill.  Printers are, well, printers - not rocket scientists.   It's a skill having to do with mechanical things and how they affect the appearance of something - an art form to some extent. VDP, transpromo, and other things require expensive and complicated computer processes to get right (again as I have written about in this blog).

Certainly some printers can do this - but so can some bakers or auto mechanics - so there isn't much barrier to entering the VDP world.  There are also many dedicated web sites that make the process automatic for printing - but they are being superseded by blast email sites.  (Try $200 for 60K opt in emails and compare to a printed mailing campaign.)

New legal requirements mean that printed materials sent to customers must also exist on the web for customer support and other reasons.  So the stand-alone VDP print piece is not so simple to produce and manage over its required lifetime.

iPad and tablet computer sales are expected to reach 208 million by 2014:

"The all-in-one nature of media tablets will result in the cannibalization of other consumer electronics devices such as e-readers, gaming devices, and media players," said Carolina Milanesi, research vice president at Gartner.

The sales of this device are attacking laptop sales - something far newer than print.  The image above has the NY Times giving away content on the iPad via its App until 2011.

Given all this why the "Rah! Rah!" over VDP, transpromo, web-to-print and all the rest?

Evolution in our industry is happening before our eyes.  Print as an industrial process is never going to go away - and I can still buy buggy whips - from, in fact.

What would be good for small printers to read?  How to transition out of print - business opportunities, how to sell your shop, those sorts of things.

My prediction is that the next big hit will be in the platemaking area for medium/large run as inkjets take over.  Most of this will be inkjets replacing traditional printing for semi-static things - newspapers.  The cost of plates will go into the cost of ink for a while - but iPad sales will eat into even this.

We must also consider that the recognition of the print art form is all but lost.  Consumers today care almost exclusively about cost - whether a printed advertisement is well made in the print sense is almost completely irrelevant.  (Proof reading is following the same arc.)  No one really cares how "well" something is printed.

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