From web to print without a printer

20/12/2006

Printing industry is under pressure for different reasons like outsourcing, falling prices, in-house printing, lack of trained staff and so on. The list may go on and on. I expressed a few ideas on outsourcing in my previous post on Blogspot.

This time, I want to discuss some other threats to a traditional printing business.

Audio books

This may not be a biggy right now, but hey, it’s growing. The industry was worth $800 mil in 2004 and $2,000 mil in 2005. It is only what is accounted for by Audio Publishers Association.

This a whole new industry fuelled from different directions.

First of all, advances in software allow automatic production of audio books without a human reading it. It uses a library of recordings of a particular actor and then generates the audio that sounds just like the real voice. It’s not perfect yet and the actor may need to spend some time in the studio correcting bits and pieces. Regardless, it brings the cost and time of production down to a fraction of what it was before.

The other direction is a whole new army of amateur readers giving it a try with many doing really well. Recording an audio book doesn’t require a studio any more. Almost anyone can do it. This is getting more and more popular for children stories, short pieces and excerpts.

Podcasting is the technology that brings that audio content to anyone interested with just one click. One doesn’t need to go looking any more – the content will find you. All you need is to subscribe to something you want to hear.

Mobile devices like iPod and MP3 players make it easy to “read” an audio book anywhere anytime. I myself have several gigabytes of audio books and listen to them from time to time.

Costs will be another factor. As voice synthesisers get better by day it’s cheaper to release that training manual as an MP3 file than printing and distributing it.

e-Paper

It may be close than you think. It’s already being used as counter signs, cell phone displays and whatever else imagination can do with it.
Wikipedia defines electronic paper as

Electronic paper, also sometimes called e-paper or electronic ink, is a display technology designed to mimic the appearance of regular ink on paper. Unlike a conventional flat panel display, which uses a backlight to illuminate its pixels, electronic paper reflects light like ordinary paper and is capable of holding text and images indefinitely without drawing electricity or using processor power, while allowing the paper to be changed.

Newspapers and books will be the first ones to take the hit. Look at this gadget from Philips

[youtube=”http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQMBzXaCmqY”]

It will be only a few years before they start making larger and full colour displays threatening large format printing. Real estate signs may not be as much threatened as supermarket window signs while the cost is still high. Then it all comes down to the security of the sign and the economics of risking a loss.

E-Ink paper close-up

What does it all mean to the average printing business?

Not much at the moment. Many of them will close down anyway well before the electronic paper has a chance to make a real impact.

For those that stay it may be a choice between adopting it and moving to unaffected product types. Whatever the choice is, it will be a tough battle for a slice of the market for those that are unprepared. The main change will be probably in the mentality and the understanding of the technology.

Ultimately, e-paper will be a consumer product just a desktop laser printer is these days. Anyone will be able to plug the sheet into a computer and download any image they want.

Links:

Sound story club: http://www.candlelightstories.com/
Arizona State University: http://flexdisplay.asu.edu/member_technologies.htm
E-Ink: http://www.eink.com/
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electronic_paper
Philips paper displays: http://www.research.philips.com/technologies/display/ov_elpap.html

Cheers,
Max

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