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More Offset Operations Crossing Digital Chasm — Michelson

June 2006
DIGITAL PRINTING isn’t going to supplant offset within commercial printing operations—at least not any time on the near horizon. In fact, many shops have discovered that the addition of digital printing complements their lithographic output. In many cases, it can help drive more offset work, as well as generate value-added revenues through database and asset management, mailing and fulfillment, Website development and other ancillary services.

Sure, digital printing is replacing some jobs formerly printed offset. Digital print-on-demand helps eliminate excess inventories of static printed matter that can become outdated, drastically shortens turnaround times and permits customization. But it’s not an all or nothing proposition. Hybrid printing—pre-printed offset shells that are imprinted digitally—has already become a commonly used process. Short-run digital output can function as test runs that precede a traditional, full-blown marketing rollout. Book manufacturers can produce their back list titles and one-offs digitally. The list of applications that successfully marry traditional offset with digital output goes on and on.

That’s not to imply that the graphic arts industry isn’t going through serious upheaval, though. Print—whether offset, ink-jet or toner based—is increasingly just one component within broader cross-media marketing campaigns. Catalogers are relying on printed catalogs to drive customer traffic to their Internet sites, where the order process then takes place. Conversely, magazine and newspaper publishers are developing Websites with unique content to complement and further brand their printed products. Marketers that formerly turned to mass media advertising are boosting response rates through highly targeted direct mail, often incorporating variable data digital printing.

As such, it’s more paramount now than ever that print’s results be measurable from an ROI standpoint against other media. How print complements a multimedia world through its lasting value, portability and ability to stand out from what’s becoming an overwhelming barrage of electronic messaging also needs to be emphasized. As an industry, we’ve historically not done a good job of promoting the strengths of our medium. And now, in the mad rush among print shops to hop on the digital printing bandwagon, digital’s value proposition for existing and potential clients should not get lost in the shuffle. The enemy isn’t the Internet, television or radio; in many ways, it’s ourselves.

Digital printing requires a different mindset on the part of commercial printers. Those still maintaining an offset mentality regarding pricing models (read: commodity), length of the sales process, order taking vs. consultative selling approach, etc., will be prone to failure. They also hurt the industry at large as they underprice work. In the digital printing space, selling quality reproduction capabilities takes a back seat to promoting one’s expertise with databases, Web-to-print development and short-run finishing.

As illustrated by the bustling On Demand show in Philadelphia last month, the promise of digital printing is capturing industry attention. But don’t trade in your existing offset machines or delay investments in new, more automated presses. Lithographic presses will still be making great impressions—both literally and figuratively—for years to come.
 

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