Printers Haven’t Grown Up. At Least not a Lot of Us
We see equipment and we get excited. With their new technology—turning cylinders, all kinds of devices that deliver brighter colors and higher resolutions—these machines transform us into to six-year-olds on Christmas morning again.
We’re often so smitten by these shiny machines and their capabilities that we forget to ask ourselves a few questions:
Do our customers currently buy that capability?
Do our customers need it?
Can we convince them of this need?
We also forget to examine whether we can generate revenue and profit from such investments.
“Buy it and they will come” has long been a popular mantra in our industry. It worked really well through the 1970s and ’80s when print was a dominant industry; one that was healthy and growing. Many of the largest print companies standing today were built using this so-called “strategy.”
The wind started to go out from our sails in the 1990s as the digital revolution swept our industry. Two aspects of the digital revolution had lasting effects:
- new digital communications vehicles emerged that siphoned revenue away, and
- new variable digital printing (VDP) technologies—like shiny Christmas-morning packages—lured printers once again into another buying spree.
Unfortunately, the seeds of change did nothing to alter the printer’s thirst for metal, or plastic as it has now become.
New technology adoption typically follows a set of inflection points that determine its ultimate success. These key points include hitting a critical price point that enables widespread adoption. This critical mass, when achieved, can generate momentum to leverage what economists call “the network effect.” If successful, the technology displaces existing technologies, becomes ubiquitous, and then commoditized, before being put out to pasture to make way for the next generation. It’s the circle of life.
VDP technology providers did a fantastic job not only developing new products, but also selling printers on the necessity to “lead the digital revolution.” Further, they supported printers’ investments with seminars, sales training, and even joint sales calls. So, of course, we printers dove in head-first without giving much thought to the three questions above.