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Noel Ward

Real World Digital

By Noel Ward

About Noel

Noel Ward is Managing Director of Brimstone Hill Associates, which specializes in marketing communications in the printing industry, including video production. He can be reached at 603-672-3635 or via email at His website is, and he has a YouTube channel.

How Much of Something is Enough?

A lot of words have been written lately about print being sustainable. But what, exactly, does sustainable mean? How much is too much? How much is just right? Or, is it as Mick Jagger once said, “Too much is never enough.”

Maybe it’s more a matter of thinking differently about print. We live in a throwaway society. We blithely toss out technology just so we can get the latest whizbang gadget, even though the last one still works perfectly well. Many people change cars every three years because the rental agreement expires (you may call it a lease, but it’s really a rental). Then there’s all that junk mail that tries to sell us stuff we don’t need.

But how much of what we do is really sustainable on a planet where 7 billion of us are sucking the joint dry on a daily basis? What we really need are approaches in which we do more with less. That, if we’re lucky, may be sustainable. Virtuously recycling everything to make it into more stuff we don’t really need is not sustainable.

The print part
Print is no exception, and using paper that comes from crop-grown trees in “responsibly managed” forests is a nice idea, but not enough. Think about the paper you carry back from every conference and trade show. Chances are, it gets looked at a few times and hits the recycle bin. And how about the tons of paper thrown away (maybe recycled, maybe not) during a typical print trade show?

But suppose trade show badges came with a USB stick onto which you could download all the product propaganda from each booth you visit. Or, if booths offered a QR code or SnapTag link to documents that could be downloaded to your phone? Or, if all printed brochures used such codes to provide a richer experience?

Then consider the practical applications of print we deal with everyday—some which you may have the power to change and even add value to for your customers.

Useful direct mail
Among the promises of digital print is informative, targeted and relevant direct mail. Yet, every day we remain deluged with spray-and-pray Third Class opportunities addressed to “resident” or “occupant.” Mine—and most people’s—hits the recycle bin unopened. And we receive the next version of the same junk a couple months later. Does anyone—outside of the Direct Marketing Assn.—see anything wrong with this picture?

On the other hand, when I talk with print shops that eschew this approach and use software from companies like MindFireInc or XMPie to support cross-media marketing campaigns, they tell me of the consistent successes their customers see with targeted, personalized direct marketing programs. They say customers pony up the money for the cross-media elements because it makes their phones ring and increases revenue. Less print, more results.

Or, even shift some communications to e-mail. I was at a conference a couple weeks back listening to a guy from Radian 6 talk about social media. We chatted afterwards and exchanged cards. Less than a week later, I received a personalized e-mail with an offer of an e-book. I opened the e-mail, followed the link, got the book, and Radian 6 is now a source I can recommend to clients looking to add social media to a marketing program.

The shift to e-presentment
I was in a meeting last fall with some transactional service bureau owners. Although many were already offering e-delivery services, they were concerned with the decline in print volume. So I asked how they received and paid their own bills. Turns out, most receive and pay many bills electronically—they just didn’t like it that their clients’ customers did the same thing. This is like having a boat high on the beach and not liking that the tide has already gone out.

The shift to e-presentment is ongoing and inevitable. This is largely a good thing and it may even accelerate payment cycles and cash flow for billers, while dropping postage costs. Transactional shops need to invest in the software from companies like GMC or Uluro that can both reduce paper mail costs and make e-presentment and e-payment value-adds for their businesses. It’s far better to do this now than to play catch-up—with the companies who have lured away a couple of your customers.

Printing to meet demand
I got a call the other day from a company that works with magazine publishers. I can now get four magazine subscriptions for roughly the price of one because the publishers want to keep their BPAA “paid” circulation figures (and supposedly ad revenues) up. This probably means fewer magazines get thrown away and the publishers can keep the press runs high enough to maintain a reasonable production cost. Seems like publishers are hedging their circulation bets in a fickle industry made more so by the intrusion of tablets and other e-readers.

Meanwhile, HP recently put a personalized slipsheet into poly-bagged copies of Popular Mechanics that also contained a bound-in supplement produced via high-speed inkjet—printed on a big HP T-series press. This worked OK as an insert and points to a type of semi-customized publishing for vertical publications. It’s not really printing less, but it makes print more relevant, and by using tools like QR codes, such inserts tie easily to electronic media. There is money on the table in printing for targeted audiences.

Printing to match demand also works for books. Fans of e-books love to claim e-readers mean the death of real books, but talk to anyone in the business of producing short-run books and they want to see more Nooks and Kindles in people’s hands. While the big presses that print the titles of name-brand authors will still be busy, publishers are scrambling to get many other titles into print as economically as possible—and are looking to inkjet as the best option.

Book production also can get local. Xpresso Book Machines are popping up in more and more bookstores, printing single copies of titles that would otherwise never again be bound, opened and read by more than a handful of readers.

Some books already contain electronic links that make for a richer, more engaging experience. For instance, Jeffrey Hayzlett’s new book—“Running the Gauntlet”—contains links to videos accessed by SnapTags. This type of convergence is redefining print as a portal, rather than the end of a road. In many cases, less is being printed, but it can be more relevant and offer greater value.

So how much is enough? Enough to do the job. But more importantly, print providers must shift their businesses to accommodate changing needs. Offering print with a connection to electronic media is critical, whether you’re producing commercial jobs, publishing, or are a direct mail or transactional shop.

There is little doubt that you’re going to print less in the years ahead, at least in terms of run lengths, but it is the value you add to those pages—in terms of how you can customize jobs, link to the Web and provide more than ink or toner on the page—that will make the difference. Less, as the saying goes, really can be more.

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