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Marchand on Marketing?Electronic Commerce Reluctance

February 1998
More than a few observers have noted a pause in the adoption of new digital media by printing companies. They claim that a surprising number are hesitant to install ISDN or T-1 lines, acquire Internet capability, and develop FTP sites, Web pages and e-mail. I've seen no data to support the notion that there is a slowdown in the pace of adoption, but if true, the reluctance should surprise no one.

Prepress Hell
Many printers were burned by their entry into digital prepress during the 1980s and early in this decade. They went through what a printer in Oklahoma memorably described to me as "prepress hell."

It was difficult to work with service bureaus, disruptive and expensive to develop a digital prepress staff, and costly to support poorly trained customers. Printers routinely received incomplete, error-laden files and often had to correct them without being able to bill for their work—or to collect charges for their services.

Furthermore, hardware and software acquisitions hurt the competitive position of early adopters. Other printers were able to make these same acquisitions months later at dramatically lower prices.

Also, the proprietary systems could affect production. Consider the systems that linked poorly, if at all, to open systems operating according to emerging standards.

Finally, digital prepress went against the long-familiar accounting expectations of the printing industry. The technology did not achieve the high utilization necessary to justify replacing both equipment and software in shorter periods of time. Prepress hell, indeed.

No sooner had graphic arts companies adjusted to the realization that digital technology would migrate through the entire manufacturing process—faster than anyone imagined—when opportunities to achieve new real-time links with customers presented themselves.

While printers are obliged to address direct-to-plate and direct-to-press equipment, they are simultaneously being offered networked computer systems that connect the shop floor with every management and departmental function.

And now guys like yours truly are telling you to jump on the Internet and link up with customers via e-mail, Web sites, FTP and more.

I have a confession to make. A very simple admission: I give advice and provide my firm's services to people whose jobs I would not wish to have. I'm glad not to be responsible for a printing company right now. The number of decisions that have to be made, the number of fronts on which senior printing executives have to move forward simultaneously, boggles the imagination. Exhilarating times these may be, but I don't envy your jobs.


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