The Digital Bindery
In commercial printing, on-demand finishing is not necessarily in-line finishing. This is not to say that bindery automation is always wrong—it's only wrong if it is implemented before the requirements of the business and manufacturing process are understood.
Moving downstream from the finishing operation, fulfillment is a natural extension for a digital printing business. Although generally characterized as "print-on-demand," most digital color printing today is short-run production, followed by bulk shipping to the customer. On the other hand, most of the highest-value digital print applications involve production and direct fulfillment of print and related products, in quantities and cycle times driven by actual end-user demand.
For example, instead of printing, packing and bulk-shipping 3,000 brochures and 3,000 price lists to the customer, the print provider sends one of the brochures and price lists, along with a product sample, an order form and a reply envelope, to each of 3,000 consumers specified by the customer—sometimes over a period of days or weeks, in response to consumer demand.
As a standalone business, fulfillment is not always a highly profitable enterprise. However, in combination with on-demand production of some or all of the printed products, direct fulfillment to the customer's customers can significantly enhance the time value of digital printing and the efficiency of the distribution channel. The result is a higher-value digital print service bundle—and higher profit opportunities.
In summary, as digital printing enters the mainstream of publication and commercial printing, many of the traditional paradigms of finishing need to be reexamined. As in other marketing and operational aspects of digital printing, the best approaches may be non-intuitive. But therein lies the opportunity for differentiation and profit.
(Editor's Note: A 20-year veteran of digital printing on both sides of the industry, Fleming heads Naperville, IL-based Strategies on Demand, a market research and management consulting provider. He can be reached at 630-983-7746 or at email@example.com.)