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Moving to Network Publishing--Thad McIlroy

December 2000
I first starting writing about printers and the Internet in the summer of 1995; a mere five years ago in human time, a lifetime ago for technology. Since then I've continued to harangue you in this column and in my seminars. Get with the Internet, get with the Web, I've admonished. This really is going to affect printing and publishing—it's inevitable.

The problem is that I've been a little short on specifics about what exactly a printer is supposed to DO about the Web. Was I suggesting that printers learn a lot more about the Internet and the Web? (Definitely.) Was I suggesting that you get your own Website? (Yes.) Was I suggesting that you create Websites for your customers? (Maybe.) That you become Internet Service Providers? (Definitely not.)

Truth be told, I've been at a loss about what exactly to recommend to printing companies in terms of reconfiguring their businesses around the Web. I've watched companies pursue a smorgasbord of new-fangled digital options, from starting design and photography studios, to adding asset management and Web publishing services. While most companies have had positive experiences in these pursuits, in the end, they're still just printing companies-plus, rather than fundamentally changed businesses.

Print is no longer a growing business (if you adjust for inflation and paper price increases), and with printing as their core business, I've been concerned about these firms' long-term viability, despite the shiny incremental product offerings.

Well, I think I've finally got it—a conception for the "printing company of the future." I'm calling it the Network Publishing Service Provider (NPSP). It's a printer-plus, but the plus reconfigures the existing business, without tossing out any of the existing business.

The concept is inspired from a new marketing initiative launched on Halloween by Adobe Systems (I'm choosing to ignore any significance from the scary Halloween connection). Just like the rest of us, Adobe has been struggling to try and get a handle on where the whole graphic communications business is going. They watched desktop publishing explode in the 1980s (in fact they were one of the main reasons it did). They watched Web publishing explode in the mid-'90s (and nearly missed the boat on this one, though they've since caught up nicely).

Now they see wireless publishing exploding (to PDAs and phones) with an estimated 600 million devices in use by 2004. At the same time there's an increasing capacity to download "rich media" (with moving images) into homes and offices. Adobe estimates that there will be 40 million households wired for broadband Web access by 2003.

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