Posts in: Printing industry reviews

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.


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


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.


Sound story club:
Arizona State University:
Philips paper displays:



Greg from Aleyant dropped me a link to this amazing stealth start-up

They are going to “change the print industry forever”. They don’t say how or in which direction.


Their CEO makes all sorts of weird claims and promises and good on them – it’s how you get on top of the competition. What is really sad here is that there are enough gullible printers out there to buy into the hype. In this video (found on the CEO says he founded Keen in early 2008, which makes it a 4 year old business. He also talks about VistaPrint and this is what caught the attention.

Selling a web-to-print dream

We do get at least one request per day from someone who claims to know nothing about websites, but they have all this wonderful printing machinery and want to buy a magic solution to propel them to the next VistaPrint. Our advice to them is simple – don’t. They don’t need web-to-print or dynamic imaging because it’s not going to help them.

What’s the point of buying a horse if you know you can’t ride it?

What’s the point buying a web-to-print storefront if you have absolutely no clue about the dynamics of e-commerce or even how to maintain it?

Maybe they have the answer?

Never say never. This guy may truly have the right answer to make everyone a winner in a zero-sum game.

Anyway, we are holding our breath to see  how this patent pending printing storefront solution will make a difference. Good luck.



Laser colour printers are as affordable as never before. The prices have fallen through the floor and keep falling even further. Printer manufacturers hope that businesses will do more printing in-house as the prices fall, but this may be misguided. This post analyses why printing in-house is still not a very good idea.

Dodgy marketing and pushy sales

Not all printer manufactures are up-front with their customers regarding the real costs of printing. Very few of them provide any information on the “Cost Per Page” or CPP and even less of them disclose the cost of ownership over a certain period. Their excuse that “it all depends” is lame in the eyes of the consumer. Consumers want some indication and will not make a purchasing decision until they are sure they won’t open their wallet for a day-time robbery on consumables, as they do for ink-jets.

Unfortunately, most manufacturers stick to pushy sales tactics that do not genuinely highlight strengths and weaknesses of a particular device. Getting reliable information beyond what is said in a glossy brochure is not always easy either.

Test prints and technical advice

Providing an opportunity to do full colour test prints can be the best point-of-sale marketing. It’s hard to resist when you see a stunning quality picture appearing before your eyes.
Many sales people are simply not qualified enough to sell a colour laser printer. The technology is quite complex and people do ask questions they wouldn’t ask buying a B/W printer.

Full colour printing – what for?

It’s a good question. Obviously, businesses would like to do full colour printing in house, if it was easy enough to do and cost them less overall than outsourcing it to a printing company. The likely candidates for in-house printing are marketing and presentation products, as well as stationery, like business cards, letterheads, compli-slips and so on. Individuals would like to print photos, images, postcards, small posters and other things for fun or leisure.

Can business do printing in-house even if they had a colour printer?
Only to a very limited extent!

Manufacturers are missing the reality

The actual process of printing out a page is only a small step in a larger process that consists of:

the inception – the idea exists in someone’s head or as a rough sketch on a whiteboard
layout – usually outsourced to a professional designer
content – prepared in-house and passed onto the designers
printing – yes, can do this now
finishing and assembling – includes cutting, folding, stapling, binding, laminating

Production of effective marketing materials requires much more than plain colour printing.
Somehow printer manufacturers ignore the rest of the process and tend to think in the terms of B/W printing of documents on plain A4.

A more detailed analysis of the missing bits will follow in the coming posts.

What others say

Jim Lyons (a very reputable voice in printer manufacturing) posted his observations on adoption of full colour printing in his “Observations: All Color All The Time?” article.

Vince Ferraro, a Vice President of Worldwide Marketing for the HP LaserJet Business Unit, had an interesting post on in-house marketing that only proves the point that HP still thinks in terms of B/W printing process upgraded to full colour.

Compare what Frank J. Romano, professor emeritus from School of Print Media in Rochester Institute of Technology was saying about printing trends back in 2004.

Xerox has a special page for printers recommended for in-house printing. The page includes a handful of document templates and layouts.

Speaking of Xerox …
Remember that good old joke of making a copy of something … very private? Here are 2 variations in case you haven’t seen them :-)

European version:

Japaneese version:


Imitation is the best form of flattery.

The image below is a cropped screenshot of this press release by PrintSites. Click on it to see the full version.

Funny enough, the fancy image of the laptop with the layered image comes from our web-to-print tutorial published in 2009.

Print Sites Press release


PrintSites, we love you :)


I read an article by Bill Farquharson published in Graphics Arts Monthly as editorial back in September 2006. It’s called “Please, Get Out of Printing!”.

To cut the long story short, a printer submitted a proposal to an RFQ and the response from the customer was:

“Thanks, but your price is no better than the price from our existing printer and we don’t see any reason to change. . . .”

Then the boss of the printing company met with the client and cut the price to an unsustainable level. Then the author went on and on winging how stupid it was and that printers should add value and help customers solve real problems, etc, etc, etc. Nice old fashioned stuff. Not going to judge them here.

From the other side of the fence

I spent a few hrs today with a large print buyer who tried to change their printer and find someone cheaper and easier to handle. Not disclosing any names here, but we ran into a wall of misunderstanding.

First we went surfing the web and look at the local sites. The websites were just shocking. A handful of ugly-looking pages or meaningless flash intros promising the same high quality printing, added value and a quote request via a web form. How can one choose? They all look the same. They have more or less the same prices and a varying quality of printing, that varies from job to job even for the same printer anyway.

We quickly ran out of the sites to look at and went into Yellow Pages. It was getting really boring and I left.

What was the buyer looking for?
– a one stop shop for marketing materials with a mix of digital, offset and some choice of finishing options
– reliable and repeatable quality
– quick quoting and up-front pricing
– quick and easy job submission

Ideally, all the transactions would happen online, unless they need some suggestions from the printer on the best way of handling an unusual project, which doesn’t happen very often.

Are you any different?

Bill Farquharson, in the aforementioned article in GAM suggested that that printer should become a car salesman if the best he can do is to cut the price. Fair enough.

So, now ask yourself some question…
How different are you from your customer’s point of view?
Do you stand out of the crowd?

… and don’t answer YES only because you have a better press than your immediate competitor because no one cares.

The printing industry is very much a level playing field. The difference between players of the same class is negligible to the average consumer. Technolgy-ignorant printers will be reduced to undercutting their own prices and going out of business if they don’t offer their customers good business connectivity in the literal sense – via the Internet.

Well, maybe you have another trick up your sleeve or your printing technology is so superior that you are in your own class?

P.S. Don’t buy Bill Farquharson’s new training DVD available at or 800.587.7022. because he won’t teach you about the customer servicing technology or web-to-print. Please, prove me wrong here.

Spamming mushrooms dynamically distributed success

Mixing spam gibberish with magic mushrooms produces remarkable and unpredictable results as shown in this demonstration:


Don’t try to make sense of what the chicken says. You’ll need a few mushrooms for this.

For those from litigious countries, we have to inform you that this blog does not condone spam or consumption of any hallucinogenic substances. Enjoy :-)


Does printing industry follow the path of food supply industry?
It may well be the case and there are a few lessons to learn for those who realised it early enough.

Food supply industry example

Let’s go some 150 years back and look at the history of food supply.

First there were food markets. Farmers took produce to the market and sold it themselves. They kept all the profits and did all the work.

Then there came grocery shops, then larger shops and the farms were getting larger. Then there were even larger shops and supply chains until we all ended up with supermarkets and huge supply chains like Wal-Mart, Tesco, ASDA, etc. They drive prices down, compete for the market share and dictate their conditions to their suppliers. It may not look fair, but the consumer is usually the one to benefit from the cheaper prices.

Look at our little NZ produce market. There are 2 major chains: Foodstuffs (43%) and Progressive Enterprises (57%) that reported earning of $132 million before tax for 8 months in 2006. One may say that it is $132 million squeezed out of the suppliers.

Both chains constantly drive the suppliers’ prices down. The consumer benefits as long as there is competition between chains. When one of them gets significantly bigger than the other the competition ends and it all takes a completely different direction.

From food to printing

Looking at where printing is I can say that it’s somewhere comparable to what food supply industry was at the times of grocery stores and a vivid Saturday market.

There are print brokers and there are individual printing businesses selling direct to the customer. This may be no more. The emergence of large print buying groups is changing the whole picture and looks painfully familiar (see the food supply example).

Their weapons

Their weapons are technology and sales people. They are resourceful, they can afford it.
A one-stop-shop offer is hard to resist for businesses because of all the convenience and savings it brings to them. The main beneficiary is the consumer. The main loose is the printer. The man in the middle pockets the money.

The development path of a print buying group usually begins with large corporates and progresses to smaller and smaller businesses. Stream Solutions from Australia is just such example. They are a relatively young company with a very high growth.

Their strength

Stream Solutions are not only about driving the prices down and wedging between the printer and the customer. They are mainly about bringing in so much overlooked efficiency in the process with all the savings involved and passed onto the consumer. The other benefit is brining designers into the process in way that makes it even more efficient for the customers.

Why they won’t be beaten and the printer will loose

Well, not all printers will loose of cause, but the majority will. The reasons are plenty, but there is one word to describe them all: IGNORANCE.

Too many printers seem to think that customers enjoy dealing with them. No, all customers want is to get the job done. The less time and effort they need to invest in it the better.

Too many printers believe that a printing project begins and ends within their premises. No. A printing project begins at the customer’s office and ends when the items are delivered to the final recipient. A lot of printers just don’t get the big picture.

Too many printers are too absorbed in their printing technology completely ignoring the technology that services the customer. Who wants to know that they have a 6 colour-press with the latest cutting and folding add-on and the super-duper ink? The absolute majority of customers are not interested in the process. What important is cost, quality and features of the final product, turnaround and the effort customers need to put in it to have things done.

No time for complacency

The pressure on printers is mounting from all directions, but you may not be noticing yet. The change is not going to happen overnight, but it’s happening right there, right now, right before our eyes. Printers that do not change their ways and do not stop being ignorant about the big picture and the technology to service customers going to be squeezed our by those that do.

On a lighter note …

Did you know that fire drills and false alarms are sponsored by the local café owners?
Where do you go with your mates during the drill?

There is another theory now …