McIlroy--The (Hidden) Meaning of DRUPA
There are two major schools of thought that have formed opinions about what happened at DRUPA 2000, held in Dusseldorf, Germany, last May. One theory has it that there were hundreds of new product announcements, some of them very important. The other school says that there were hundreds of new product announcements, none of them of any key significance to the future of printing and publishing. Which one is right?
Part of what makes it so difficult to interpret the impact of DRUPA is the sheer scale of the event. Held only once every four or five years, the show is enormous by North American standards. More than 413,000 visitors came to the Dusseldorf fairgrounds to take in DRUPA 2000, visiting stands from 1,957 exhibitors. The nearly two thousand exhibitors must have generated 3,000 to 4,000 new product announcements at the show. Surely some of them were important?
Well, you decide. Here's the first eight headlines pulled from the official May 26th roster of product announcements:
- ECRM Imaging Systems drives price-value leadership with eight-up thermal platesetter for $179,500;
- Toshiba FC 22 and FC 15 Color Manager—the efficient production machines for the office;
- Adobe and the future of FrameMaker;
- Tresu Printer 150;
- Excimer inter-unit and end-of-the-press dryer for sheetfed offset presses;
- New Roland 700: versatile and successful;
- New Lithoman: highest run elasticity in long-grain and short-grain format; and
- Kompac V automatic dampening system.
Hmm. There's nothing dramatic or earth-shattering in that list, prob-ably not even if you're the vendor making the announcement. You might suspect that I chose eight real dull ones just to throw you off the scent. I'm afraid not. These announcements pretty much represent the tone of what was trumpeted throughout the show.
Oh, sure, there was hoopla. And companies like Xerox trying to make their presence at DRUPA seem more significant than it was. But, in the end, there was a real dearth of announcements or technology demonstrations that made you rethink where our business might be going.
After the show, several vendors announced record sales from DRUPA. But that's not surprising. Most hardware vendors suffer a sales drought in the months prior to the event, as savvy customers delay purchases, knowing that DRUPA will feature product updates and pricing specials.
Some analysts and vendors say that the big news at DRUPA was in digital printing. Benny Landa, president and CEO of Indigo, described DRUPA 2000 as "the digital printing Olympics." But digital printing was big news at DRUPA 1995. Is it still big news five years later?
I walked by Indigo's booth late in the show, and Landa was up on the stage, drawing a big crowd to demonstrations of Indigo's latest boxes. All I could do was remember Landa up on the stage five years before, offering his charismatic presentation. I had the very perverse thought that he had perhaps been in Dusseldorf the whole time, presenting his shtick five times a day throughout.
Past Meets Future
It was somehow appropriate, too, that Germany had managed to tie DRUPA 2000 into another celebration, the 600th birthday of Johannes Gutenberg (or so they guess; no one knows exactly when he was born). Held in Mainz, Germany, Gutenberg's birthplace, the year-long festival features exhibits, concerts, lectures and the "Gutenberg Marathon," a foot race. The tie into the musty origins of printing and publishing served only to ground DRUPA in the past, rather than the future, heightening for me the sense that DRUPA 2000 was not the place to be if you wanted to understand where this business is going.
Was there anything interesting at DRUPA? About the only thing that sticks in my mind a month after the event is developments in the print dotcom arena. We've all heard of the big North American dotcoms—companies like Collabria, Impresse, Noosh and printCafe. One of the interesting sports was watching them try to corral booth space at DRUPA. The show essentially sells out of exhibit space years before the event, but print dotcoms are only a couple of years old, so they came too late to the party. Collabria et al at least have some cash to throw around. Would the newer and smaller print dotcoms be able to find a spot to showcase their offerings?
Remarkably, I encountered more than a dozen at DRUPA. The American companies mostly contented themselves with space in the U.S. vendor ghetto. Newcomers were scattered around the numerous exhibit halls, there to be discovered after exerting a little extra effort. With the interest and enthusiasm for all things dotcom peaking just before DRUPA's mid-May opening, there were a variety of European and Asian startups there as well, happy to try to convince you that they had a meaningfully different offering.
More important was news from two traditional prepress vendors, Agfa and Artwork Systems (both recent clients of mine). Each company is offering software to its customers that can provide much of the workflow functionality available from the toll-charging print dotcoms. Instead of giving up 2 percent to 4 percent of your business, these vendors demonstrated a new vision of Web-enabled e-commerce for the printing business: Buy the software you need from a reputable vendor that understands your business, and pay only a one-time fee. Radical!
So DRUPA was not totally lacking in news.
From Here to Eternity
The next question to answer is whether it's a big deal that DRUPA 2000 was no big deal. At the recent IPA (International Prepress Association) Prepress 2000 conference, held in Chicago in June, industry analyst Bill Lamparter offered a comprehensive review of the DRUPA announcements, concurring with the view that none were momentous. He went on to ponder the possibility that this in itself augers dark days ahead for prepress, printing and publishing.
The issue is complex. I'm generally of the opinion that there are indeed some very challenging days ahead for our industry. Most of the challenges come from new media and the Web, which offer more compelling vehicles than paper for certain kinds of information delivery. To believe that DRUPA would have offered a vision of a way out of this challenge is to believe that the printing industry can be saved by technology. It can't.
The technology available to put ink onto paper has already advanced far beyond the capability of most individuals and organizations to utilize that technology.
DRUPA 2000 did not have a lot of earth-shattering news, primarily because the biggest news affecting our business is happening outside of it, on the Internet, via the Web. And that show goes on every day. As they say now, it runs 24/7. And it's a much more important event for our industry than was DRUPA 2000.
About the Author
Thad McIlroy is a San Francisco-based electronic publishing consultant and author, and serves as program director of Seybold Seminars. He welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org