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EDITOR'S notebook

April 2003
Is the "Holy Grail" for Digital Printing Near?

Some might argue that the quest to make money with color digital printing, especially incorporating variable data, is even more arduous than the quest for the Holy Grail. But before anyone accuses me of religious blasphemy or, in more modern times, falsely assumes I'm a card-carrying member of the Monty Python fan club, let me explain.

For many of the early adopters, the road to building a successful digital printing operation turned out to be a failed leap of faith and even an experience more akin to a comedy of errors. But take heart; in our age of incorporating value-added services that can differentiate your operation from those of your competitors across town, digital printing may finally be living up to earlier expectations.

As a result of the lessons learned by those on the bleeding edge, today's savvy digital printers aren't making the same mistakes. They know, for example, that the process requires a high degree of education and hand holding so customers realize the benefits of printing short runs digitally—such as eliminating inventories, achieving better response rates through personalization and customization, as well as getting lightning-quick job turnaround times. They've also learned to drill deeper into customers' organizations to find decision makers who can visualize the total value proposition of one-to-one marketing. This can take your message beyond a traditional print buyer, someone who often chooses a printer simply based on low pricing.

Likewise, the more intimate partnership created from providing digital output can help open doors to win other jobs best suited for offset presses, as well as additional services such as fulfillment, CD-ROMs, database maintenance, Website design, etc.

Admittedly, the market potential for producing direct mail advertising incorporating variable data has not taken off the way many forecasted. Competition is fierce and direct marketers, in large part, haven't turned to commercial printers for this service. Instead, better opportunities exist for employing digitally produced, variable data output in response to someone contemplating a specific buying decision. Based on initial profile information gathered, as examples, a customized piece can provide a high school senior with specific information on a college's programs covering her areas of interest, or an automotive manufacturer can send out a piece specifically tailored to the preferences—down to the color of the vehicle—of a potential car buyer.

Still not convinced, or think that these services are only suitable for the largest printing operations? Then consider the recent findings from the National Association of Printing Leadership's 2003 "Future of Print" survey, which polled 145 companies with annual sales ranging from $200,000 to $200 million. "In considering which companies are going to be around in five years, the temptation is to conclude the bigger the company, the better the odds," notes Andrew Paparozzi, NAPL vice president and chief economist. "However, enduring success will be reserved not for companies of a particular size, but for those who understand that they are in the communications business, not the ink-on-paper business, and who are able to meet their customers' growing demand for new communications options and preferences." As such, lithographic printing and associated prepress and bindery services are expected to fall, on average, from 81.6 percent of revenues today to 69.1 percent by 2007. At the same time, digital printing is expected to increase from 5.6 percent of sales to 12.6 percent in 2007, according to the survey findings, with companies of all sizes forecasting that digital sales would more than double.
 

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