Hamilton--2000 - The Controversies Continue
Well, now that we've gotten over the millennium bug, or at least the hangover that accompanies the usual New Year's Eve festivities, we can hopefully focus our attention on the coming year.
What will the new year/decade/century/millennium bring? Probably a lot of the same headaches the preceding one(s) bestowed upon us. That is, we can still expect to receive files that are missing fonts, images and other elements that are necessary to print. Of course, pricing and turnaround will continue to be the two legs of the stool expected to flex, while demands on quality remain as rigid as ever.
Last year was notable for all the things that were announced, but have not yet had any appreciable impact on our industry. For starters, there was the launch of Adobe In-Design, with grand claims to be the "killer app" that will release the avalanche of user discontent from the King of the Rockies. This application offers a strong tool set for the content creator, yet the question remains as to whether or not Adobe's considerable marketing capabilities can overcome human nature's tendency toward inertia, as well as the familiarity of QuarkXPress.
What about PDF? After doing a solo act for the past few years, Agfa was joined by the Creo-Heidelberg steamroller in offering a turnkey prepress system that is based on this file format. And others, notably Scitex and Fuji, are ramping up their efforts to support PDF for more than screen previews and remote proofing.
While there are still bugs—Acrobat 4.0 was not exactly the cleanest release of all time—there is no doubt that PDF is sufficiently robust to satisfy many commercial printing applications. This is where the prepress community must take a stand, as going the full PDF route will also entail upgrading the RIP for many shops, since it requires a PostScript 3-compatible RIP in order to make the work flow. And, there are a lot of shops out there still working with PostScript Level 2 systems or earlier, so this may still be a work in progress.
On that front, it will be interesting to see if a truce can be negotiated between the "vectorians" and the "rasterfarians." The former advocate using PDF and PDF/X as the means of reliably transferring and processing files, and the latter are still convinced that only a bitmap can provide the integrity and security that clients demand. Of course, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, but like a Middle East peace negotiation, there are few with the courage to withstand the heat from both sides in order to broker a compromise that will best serve the needs of the entire industry.
Similarly, will this be the year that we'll stop hearing about thermal vs. visible-light imaging? The whole debate has been somewhat nauseating, as both technologies have been shown to work extremely well and offer distinctive advantages for specific applications. On this front, there is talk of a new type of imaging laser coming to fruition, based on the same technology as is used for DVD players. If it's just another imaging technology, I don't want to hear about it. But if it will lower plate costs, reduce imaging or processing time, or provide a tangible benefit to the printer, then I'm all ears.
Speaking of CTP, this technology really took off at DRUPA 95, that colossus of a trade show held in Germany every five years. Now that it's a relatively mature technology, which has made its way into more than a few pressrooms, it will be interesting to see what technology steals the limelight (infrared light? violet light?) at DRUPA 2000. While the pre-show glimpses won't start for another month or so, it's a good bet that direct-to-press technologies will take center stage.
In the same vein, 1:1 marketing and digital presses have been around for a while, constantly making progress in terms of speed, quality and reliability. Perhaps even more important, database applications have made great strides during the past few years, and, with the Web being the perfect complement for finding out what customers want to learn more about, it is now realistic to think 2000 will be a year in which personalized print communication achieves wider acceptance.
Then there's the new kid on the block: e-commerce. Clearly, this is a nascent area, and it is extremely early to predict anything. For me, I expect to see significant progress in specific market segments of the printing industry—especially forms, stationery and business cards—but it is more difficult to predict how fast it will expand into market segments that have traditionally relied on relationship selling.
As for the supplier/distribution channel, this is clearly going to undergo some fundamental changes, and it will be interesting to see how dealers deal with their virtual competition.
Personally, I am going to do what a lot of people in our industry do every day: try to keep my head above water. With technologies changing at an ever-faster pace—as well as influxes from industries that just a few years ago had virtually no relationship to the printing and publishing industries—it's a challenge just to figure out what's going on and what strategic direction will make the most sense going forward.
Perhaps there's a Rudolph the Red-nose Reindeer to help guide us through the prepress snowstorm. Just don't count on it.
About the Author
Alex Hamilton, a former technical editor with Printing Impressions, is president of Computers & Communications Consulting, which specializes in digital technologies for printing and publishing. He can be reached at (215) 247-3461 or by e-mail at email@example.com.