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27 May 2009, 11:59PM PT

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Rethinking Print In A Technological Era


Closed: 27 May 2009, 11:59PM PT

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The business of print has always been a risky one. While the printing press made it much cheaper to print, there were still significant fixed costs involved. In order to make it economically feasible to print something, you had to make sure there were enough buyers, which involved significant forecasting. There were also significant costs associated with setting up each print run, such that it wasn't economically reasonable to do really custom work. Thankfully, in the past few decades advances in various technologies have made it cheaper and cheaper -- even as the rise of the internet has led many to write off the opportunities for print publishing, and even suggest that paper was dying.

Yet, what if that same trends, of ever decreasing technology costs combined with increasing quality and internet connectivity, enable a new era of print? These trends have the ability to enable things that simply couldn't be done before. We're seeing the beginnings of this with print-on-demand and self-publishing services, but where does it go from here? How far will these technology trends take us in creating totally new opportunities for print? When it's easy and cost effective to not just self-publish, but *micro-publish* suddenly the entire stream of possibilities becomes different. A photographer can publish a special magazine for every attendee at a wedding (even with the attendee's photo customized to be on the front). Or a novelist can let fans buy each chapter to be delivered fresh each month (or week!) as she finishes it. A textbook maker can create a totally customizable textbook, listing out a series of chapters online, allowing professors/teachers/students to create their own combination based on what works best for them.

And those are just a few starter ideas. HP is sponsoring this conversation (with more info at futureofprint.com) about how these trends will enable all sorts of new possibilities and business models. What new opportunities will be enabled thanks to ever cheaper print-on-demand offerings that combine customization, high quality and the connectivity of the internet? What new businesses may spring out of this convergence? What new hobbies, side projects, cultural artifacts? We're looking for creative thinking on where these trends will take us and what they'll enable.

28 Insights


On-Demand is the only way forward for all things print. Not only does it enable a multitude of home businesses and self-publishing authors, but it finally offers an option for start-up magazines and other content-driven media companies that would otherwise drop print completely.

I would say that it creates an avenue for existing major magazines, but it would probably be far too disruptive to their already fragile advertising revenue model. If they were to stop publishing in oversize batches, they lose the ability to sell advertising on those inflated circulation numbers.

Also, on-demand will have a tough time matching the commercial cost in the current model, and there's a big question about global distribution and those details. So I can't say it will have a huge helping effect on the existing print magazine industry.

Considering how easy it is for an individual to create a simple-but-stylish publication, calendar, t-shirt, or virtually anything else, there seems to be a market for being the first/best web-based graphic editor.

It could either generate several high-resolution formats for use on other product sites and social media, or could offer APIs for direct communication with other online on-demand vendor products. Think "Open ID" meets Photoshop.

Of course, that's not technically the future of print, it might be the future of graphics software. But maybe that's the point... the future of print lies in the technology that will be used to control it.

On-demand printing also allows certain start-up media companies to offer both an online and print version of their product. Accepting that print ad revenues will never be what they were, it at least provides those companies another revenue stream from a central content workflow.

As a graphic designer, I see opportunities to market my skills directly to aspiring authors and publishers, to work as the intermediary to help with the design, editing, marketing and self-publishing of their print products. The growing mass of aging print designers could transform into new-age publishers and publication designers.

For photographers and artists, on-demand printing offers a new way to sell their art, and to a global audience. Their speed creating art is the only limit to the flow of products (and content) they can pump online into an ever-expanding store. Culturally, it will help expose talent and encourage professional artistic pursuits.

Overall, I see a major jump in "micro companies," where one or two entreprenuers can own, operate and market a massive portfolio of printed material, digital content and tons of merchandise, all on-demand, and all with very little investment or risk.

James Krawczyk: Graphic Design / Marketing / Big Ideas. More information and portfolio at http://HeyJK.com

As more and more "publications" migrate into electronic form, one of the primary hurdles facing producers of printed content is an easy to use layout engine where what is laid out in a web page (or an RIA interface) looks the same when it gets rendered on a given device, whether an ebook reader, or a printed page.  An engine that easily allows users to layout pages for various devices, and perhaps on a tabbed interface, display what the layout will look like on various formats including print pages and on ebooks, is a service HP could excel at.

An experienced media executive, I've overseen over $12m in film, television, and new media production & delivery. I've also been active in online publication and contributions for over 10 years in one form or another.
Michael Ho
Thu May 21 12:30am
This is an interesting angle... and I'm sure someone is going to come up with an "App Store" for tools and services related to on-demand printed magazines/books/etc.
Gene Cavanaugh
Thu May 21 2:02pm
Good idea, but it does not attack the real problem.

The problem is not that the format is bad, the problem is that the information is available elsewhere for free, so why would we pay simply because the format was friendlier? Sure, it would work with a few people, but you would need a large-scale buy-in, and I suspect you wouldn't get it.

Of course your regular book would not be saccrificed to a pair of scissors. However, for crafts a book of paper projects could be printed up at any time. Kids could cut into the pages, add a bit of glue and some glitter and make projects right from the pages of the book.

I remember years ago getting a fantastic book of paper airplanes, they all involved cutting out the various pages along the dotted lines. I never cut them out, instead I coped the drawings onto another sheet of paper.

It would have been more fun to turn the book into a collection of interesting bi-planes and jets made from the book. The airplanes' patterns were printed onto the paper to produce a more realistic finished paper plane.

Coloring books patterns and all sorts of things could be sent off to the printer only to be cut apart and turned into fun projects.

By trade i work in the games industry. I feel that there might be an on-coming trend of people searching for a new way to play games, and thus a return to old fashioned dice and paper games might come back. A bit like yo-yo's, a trend that seems to come and go in cycles ;)

One of the largest burdens on the paper games industry is warehousing all of the books. Print on demand allows them to reduce overhead and keep the small industry alive.

I've seen a perforation machine from epson that can cut into the paper after printing on it. Perforations could allow a board game company to sell cards, boards, and character standups in the form of a book.

Indeed there are a lot of fun possibilities out there, not just with books, but with manufacturing on demand as well. Web sites like emachineshop.com is the same thing as print on demand, only with aluminum, steel, and plastic.

A game designer for nearly 15 years.
Michael Ho
Thu May 21 12:24am
I really like this idea... Print-on-Demand board games could really make games more interactive, if done right. I'm wondering if Settlers of Cataan could be printed with an ever-growing map that was revealed to you by mailed pieces....
Gene Cavanaugh
Thu May 21 2:05pm
Again, we are focusing on format, and the problem is content. If, as you do in the game industry, you could offer content not available for free (or in a more complete version, for those games that have been leaked), the format then becomes important, but not until then.

I couldn't agree more with this article. The need for traditional offset printing is diminishing and the on-demand world is here. We built our business model around building software solutions to make marketing measurable and more effective. A few years ago that meant adding a first name, variable photo and a personalized url to mass mailings. That doesn't work as well as it used to and it's because people know it was generated in mass and that it came out of a database. We saw response rates starting to go down.

We're seeing results when taking an old school approach to communicating - sending an individual printed message to a single person...a message that obviously didn't come out of a database. This is how we are marketing our product and we are seeing response rates in the 15-25% range, rates we could never imagine doing it that traditional way…and spending a lot less money doing it.

The hurdle is though that it needs to be easy to do. It's time consuming to get the notecards printed, handwrite the message, hope you have a stamp and get up to put it in the mailbox. Perfect example, I had a letter sitting on my desk for 2 weeks that needed to be mailed and I didn't have a stamp handy - and I can even print those myself!

There are a lot of great tools out there that allow you to send single printed communications to individual recipients from the web. The one thing we thought was missing is the ability to make the online/offline connection by ‘attaching’ a online content to your printed communication - and again, make it easy. With our tool, we have enabled an online attachment feature that prints a unique pickup code on the card. When the recipient picks up their attachment, they see the digital file (video, pdf, webpage, etc) that you wanted them to see and you receive an alert email, notifying you of the response.

We've tied this program into our social marketing efforts by sending 'We're following you on Twitter' cards and the results have been amazing. People like talking one-to-one to people, that's why Twitter and Facebook are so successful, they make it easy to communicate. There is definitely a place for electronic communication but it's TOO easy and it causes clutter in the inbox. Check your mailbox...is it cluttered with personally written cards? I know mine's not.

So back to the original question...the offset print industry will definitely suffer as the digital print industry grows and adapts to the on-demand world.

Angela is the director of client services for Prospect Smarter, Inc., a company that builds software solutions to make marketing measurable and more effective - and the developers of Enthusem.com.

I have an idea that would streamline the license plate division of state government.  You would be able to go to a license plate "hub" located strategically in various sections of the state.  At this hub you would be able to choose various types of state issued plates using a virtual manufacturing tool with touchscreen and you would have the ability to customize the plate to your specifications. Choosing various scenes and themes ( again all state-approved)  All data regarding the completed plate would then be sent back to the license division to be filed.  The program would be able to detect foul language and other info so plates could not be duplicated from other ones already issued.  You would then hit submit and be able to watch a machine (behind glass of course) stamp out your new plate. It would then slide through a slot and drop right into your hands.  No waiting and complete customization!

Business owner based outside of Pittsburgh, Pennyslvania

When you talk about books everybody thinks in something different. Somebody thinks about manuals and documentation, someone else thinks about text books, or bestsellers, or children books, or novels or pulp novels, etc.. In my case, when I heard about printing on demand, instantly I think about having printed my favorite and hard to find sci-fi and cyberpunk novels.

But, the big “BUT” is that right now I’m ditching old school dead-tree devices in favour of new digital devices. I began to try using PDAs for reading since year 2000. My first attempt was one Palm III, two years later moved to one Palm V, then IPAQ 1915. Being a geek I found easy the cumbersome process to get, convert and copy the books to my devices. I can’t imagine Joe Average doing the same process. But there is a trend between hardware vendors, publishers and intermediaries (Amazon, Sony) to throw away these entry barriers to the ebook market.

So, I see a huge industry with heavy direct costs fighting against a new and disruptive technology. In this kind of battles, usually the young and innovative oponent has the advantage.

Michael Ho
Thu May 21 3:54pm
I think you're mostly right, but I also think that there will always be a market for printed materials. Digital copies will definitely gain more popularity as devices get cheaper and better. But paper has advantages, too. You can rip and fold it -- so children's books will remain paper-based for some time... In the end, the challenge is maximizing paper's "features" when creating products that use it.

A print to Internet convergence strategy can not only enhance the reader experience, it can provide the desired call to action at a substantially increased rate. Print is static where the digital mediaverse is dynamic and more productive.

Keywords are simple words or phrases that replace URL's. Unlike systems of the past, our program can be made functional for any website and users can create unlimited keyword links.

Take for example an American Express snail mailer for credit card applications. It's actually a pain for AMEX to receive an application by return snail mail, where an online application is far more efficient. But remember AMEX runs thousands of print ads in a variety of mediums, all with their URL. How can AMEX tell if an online application was induced by a mailer, TV commercial, or from any one of a 100 different magazines? The magic bullet is keyword links.

A different keyword that can be entered at AMEX's website instantly opens the online application. As 800 numbers used to distinguish where traffic was originating, different keywords linked to the same online page would let AMEX instantly know where traffic is originating, or in other words, which ads are clicking, and where. Our focus studies prove that a keyword link is far more effective than a URL alone, the affliction known as "forward slash" blindness is real.

The problem with print is it's best before date can be quite short. Keyword links to online updates or expanded information, such as a video demonstration, can dramatically enhance the customer experience. For certain products, manuals could be reduced in size dramatically with direct keyword links to online pages that can be printed as the customer requires. Keeping the online information current is far more economical than print run changes.

Just as radio evolved in response to the onslaught of television, print publishers must re-invent themselves to meet this challenge, not by poor imitation of online business models, or ineffective emulation of online features in print, but by using the advantages of their newspaper's parallel print and online presence to dramatically increase the advertising sales response of print, offering advertisers a synergy they cannot buy in online advertising alone.

For newspapers we have developed a module called "UB The Reporter," where anyone can post articles, pictures or even videos on local news or events. Little Ricky's t-ball game is not of much interest to anyone except family, friends, relatives, team mates and their families. Being in the newspaper still carries a panache, a one line teaser headline with a keyword link that gets entered at the newspaper's home page could deliver thousands of additional online visits each day.

As a mouse click from print has not quite yet been perfected and URL's really do make for lousy copy. Simple keywords can easily provide readers with a path that allows the magic of digital to invoke the writers desired call to action.

We also envision keyword links on product hang tags. A direct link to online information, care instructions, accessory suggestions or whatever. Imagine your wife shopping for a new sofa while you are at the office. She calls you and instructs you to go to the retailer's home page and enter the keyword that's printed on the hang tag. Voila, in like 3 seconds you are looking at the exact couch she is considering.

Keyword links in display ads or catalogues also make a ton of sense. A direct link to product information required to make an informed purchase decision. Consumers are conducting online research in ever increasing numbers, for digital anything products, some numbers exceed 90%.

Product packaging is also a natural for keywords. Link directly to recipes, contests, coupons, or other product use ideas to increase consumption. Ribs baked in Coca-Cola are fabulous ... think a simple keyword link might sell a few million extra bottles. Drug perscriptions could have a keyword link directly to online information. In the case of product recalls, typing the keyword, SKU number or lot number could provide a fast method to determine its status. The first BBQ manufacturer that provides a keyword link to an on-line assembly video (that I can see before purchase) will enjoy a unique marketing proposition, provided you don't have to be a NASA trained engineer to assemble.

Keeping print relative in today's digital age is only limited by imagination. 

Mike Bazelewick is an award winning business solutions technology architect with 30 years corporate finance experience. He is the founder and CEO of a company that develops and manages offline content to internet convergence systems, Frapple Interactive

"Hospitality" is an enormous industry containing all sorts of sub-markets and specializations.  For purposes of this insight, let's first look at a broader term:  gathering.  What hospitality provides to its customers is a place and reason to gather.  Why people gather together is as myriad as there are people, so let's focus on one industry for now:  restaurants.

The restaurant business is one of the more competitive industries you'll find.  The barriers to entry are quite low, but then again so are the margins.  Businesses are constantly searching for avenues and techniques to differentiate themselves, often from equally fierce competition that's only a few hundred yards (if that) away.  One of the more practiced efforts is special, celebratory events and/or meals.  Customers are enticed to attend through the elements that make a particular business's concept an attraction.

Shifting focus for just a second, cookbooks are certainly nothing new, nor are vanity books by a well known chef.  We see them overflowing bookshelves and checkout carts every day.  The people generating this torrent exist at the very top of an industry hierarchy though, with millions in sales, publishing agents, P.R. agents and so on.  What about the enormous middle-class swath of successful restaurants and chefs?

Let's get back to on-demand printing.  A special event-driven book could provide substantial returns to the enterprising restauranteur and chef.  Imagine a "Celebrate The Return Of Spring" with each guest being given a glossy publication upon entering the door that's specific to the event, and personally signed by the chef on their way out.  Margins being what they are though, the final price to the purchaser has to fit within a regime of very few discretionary dollars providing outsized returns. 

Everybody wins:  the printer sells at a profit, the restauranteur provides a very scarce "bonus material" to patrons (having already profited on the event), customers feel special and willingly become word-of-mouth marketers.  Profit all around.

Reaching this market with your on demand printing product really isn't that difficult.  In marketing to hospitality in whatever form, one has a wide choice of pre-existing channels.  An inspired printer with an ambitious plan will get through to a huge market on a national scale.

Today when a book is released, the only significant differentiating factor between book vendors is price.  All copies of the book are exactly the same.  Occasionally you might get one with an author's signature, but you're still getting the same book.

Imagine, instead, a world where book retailers were in charge of printing and binding the books. Within limits, they were given license to play with the artwork in the book, the type setting, etc.  Imagine Borders competing with Amazon or Walmart not only on the price of the latest release, but perhaps by virtue of more or better pictures; Or perhaps they may have more engaging font; Or a leatherbound cover. Or perhaps they skipped alot of artistic effort and were able to release a plain version sooner than others.  By allowing retailers more freedom, the book is no longer a commodity.  Each store's version becomes something special.  Imagine online book discussions generating extra publicity (translation: more sales) by not only discussing the plot, but also discussing the amazing work of the graphic designer at Sally Joe's Book Shop.

Decentralizing printing could allow publishers to make more money by doing less work.  Publishers could serve as agents for authors and maintain their editorial responsibilities.  However they could sell printing licenses (complete with royalties) to those willing to add value to the book.  Publishers could offer retailers manuscripts along with printing guildelines and NDAs. Retailers would send prototype copies of the book to the author and publisher for approval.  As an added benefit, the author could retain the copy of every prototype and auction the complete collection for a fortune later.

All it would take to open up this possibility, is for a single retailer to approach a single publisher, and ask for non-exclusive printing rights for their next winning book.

Since HP is a huge print player attention should be paid to Espresso.

I have been lucky enough to have an inside look at the development of print-on-demand company Espresso via a close friend working with the company.

Espresso has created a highspeed book vending machine by combining a printer, a binder and access to thousands (and soon millions) of titles via online digital files.  While devices like the Kindle offer readers the ability to acquire new titles and take them almost anywhere, there is a significant initial investment and lack of a hard copy.

I'm not completely convinced that Espresso is the answer to save print publishing but bringing access to millions of titles to places like airports, hotels, bus stops and bodegas is quite intriguing. 

Not only is providing complete novels on-demand a great service, but other titles such as magazines, newspapers and even blogs could theoretically be delivered in this manner.

For instance, maybe the New York Times should replace those outdated metal newpaper boxes with smart printers that can provide just the sections or even articles readers want to take with them at that moment.

I imagine that a news vending machine that could rapidly print out customized news magazine for those on the go would be a popular service at Amtrak stations and airports around the country.

Seems like just the sort of device a company like HP could create.

I am Director of New Media at Crossroads Films and writer of the blog MyMediaMusings.com
Michael Ho
Thu May 21 3:58pm
I can just imagine "Redbox" machines to replace the magazine rack at the checkout aisle in grocery stores and supermarkets.

I believe we need journalists, and journalists need to be paid. As Michael Masnick has pointed out, that does not necessarily mean print, but the need does exist in some form. It appears to me that one business model (out of many) that might succeed very well is sponsorship for desired news. For example, if some journalist sought sponsors for a report (in print or online, whatever) on the background on Nancy Pelosi's insistence that the CIA lied - and was willing to delve into background material to allow one to decide what was most likely - I would pay. I personally believe Ms Pelosi, since I clearly remember other members of Congress saying they were lied to by the CIA, but I would like to know more about it before my beliefs are crystalized.

There are many other examples of things I would pay for - for example, there was a report that the real reason "The Surge" appeared to be successful is that the US military allowed the Shi'ites to "ethnically cleanse" some of the Sunni neighborhoods at about the same time fresh troops were brought in, and the US soldiers had little or nothing to do with it. I would be willing to pay well for an authoritative report on that.

Gene Cavanaugh (Marion Eugene Cavanaugh, for the USPTO database) is a patent attorney specializing in small entity intellectual property - what the US Constitution intended!

Where HP could really help in this problem is to figure out innovative ways (similar to Facebook, etc.) for establishing communities of news-hungry (of course, this would be the news not generally available) consumers willing to pay and journalists willing to provide. For example, being bilingual (reading, anyway) I often read Spanish language (and perhaps German language) news, and find distinct differences with what I read in American English publications. Report on those differences, and I will pay, as I suspect many others will - and that is only the "tip of the iceberg".

Format? Plenty of others more knowledgeable than I in that area have responded.

Gene Cavanaugh (Marion Eugene Cavanaugh on the USPTO web site) specializes in small entity patenting (what the founding fathers intended in the US Constitution).

I remember as a child I was given a book, that had a story in it.  Our who family was given one by one of my aunts.  Each was a personal story involving the other members of the family, doing some adventure, highlighted by some pictures.  It is something I very much liked at the time, it would be the equivalent now of your face in an action movie, but it was done with taste, probably meaning it was generic, but I was young and loved it.

In this day an age, with many print industries failing to adapt, I find the one thing they sorely mistake, is they do not realize where their true value is.  To them it seems like it has been mass market appeal, and their distribution models, and of course they are already there in place.

Now the paperless office has never really come to fruition, partly because it is hard to adapt, and partly because there is not a great cost benefit to doing so.  This opens large opportunities for print companies, because they can do more than just keeping status quo.  An example would be going to a presentation, instead of the usual power point presentation, you could give people a book.  It could be fully customized in it's outward design, and it could have everything in it you wanted.  Customized dust jacket, binding, or anything really.  People throw away leaflets, letters, flyers, and other brochures all of the time.  How many people would throw a leather bound, high quality book away? 

I can imagine customized Yearbooks in high schools for students, that every person tailored their own, and it encourages them to experiment, to do new things.  I understand people like a traditional yearbook, but having one with what you wanted in it, and to have school memorabilia, photo albums you personally add to it, that can be done easily from a website where a student could choose how it was designed for his or her own tastes.  A member of the football team might want a larger sports section covering all of their games, and winning the state championship, the drama club may want a larger section about each play they did this year.  There are lots of areas for growth, even in one example.

Newspapers are another example where they could be toned.  I live in Salt Lake City, which is not huge, but is not very small.  I don't care too much to read news that is taking place in Vernal, unless it was important.  Gas prices in Idaho are not something I am concerned with.  Imagine a daily newspaper that had only the sections you read in it.  Someone who is more interested in sports would want a larger section for that, and someone who is a big fan of the comics section would want that.  Now some would say I'm asking them to cut out some news, but I would have the Front Page, with the most important of local, national, and world news, in every paper.  I never read the sports section, and I'm paying for it, much less the only value I can find in holding on to it, is kindling for a fire place.  This also gives the paper feedback in what sections people want more from.  This gives them the opportunity to focus on what their readers want, and that is what people want from the Newspaper.  The word Service comes to mind.

I can think with the above examples, people will want more personalized versions of already existing services that companies are providing.  Yearbooks and Newspapers are just a few.  Menus at restaurants could be of a higher quality and could be taken home with the customer as a takeout or delivery menu, rather than a simple piece of paper.

A simple man who thinks too much for his own good :).

Existing promises for Print-on-Demand lie in the mass customization of books, which I see as an alternative and in many ways a dismissal of the emerging prominence of electronic books. 

From WikipediaMass customization [...] is the use of flexible computer-aided manufacturing systems to produce custom output. Those systems combine the low unit costs of mass production processes with the flexibility of individual customization.

There are two key concepts in this definition, of course: mass production and individual customization. This does not mean pre-generating large numbers of small runs of 5/6 identical items, but associating the characteristics of each individual item to the peculiar needs and wishes of each individual customer, and only afterwards generating the item itself (on demand, in fact). And this has to be done as a mass production, i.e., we need to find a market for a large number of similar needs with (parametric?) individual differences, where the customization makes the actual difference. 

A mass produced book is an industrial product that is cheap (to make as well as to buy) and robust. Electronic book devices on the opposite are expensive and fragile: while I have no problems in taking a paperback with me on the beach, and leave it to sand, water splashes and nosy children while I swim, I would certainly not submit a Kindle to the same treatment, and if at the end of the day I forget it at the beach, that's a 4.99$ loss for the paperback, and a three hour drive at night back to the beach in the hope of finding it someplace for the Kindle.

The advantage of an electronic book is that it is generic, while a book is focussed: in the same volume, a Kindle may package hundreds of traditional books, letting me choose each time what to read and when to switch. But this is a limited advantage: I can only read so many pages per hours, for which an individual book is a sufficient package for a reasonable number of hours, and leisure reading is not like leisurely listening to music: the unit of listening (the song) is three minute long, which is different from the unit of packaging (the record), and continuous variety of music is a value: thus the advantage of the iPod over the CD walkman; on the contrary, the unit of reading is the whole novel, and readers stay hooked to a good book from beginning to end.

Thus the future of books is not providing a different package for the same content, that provides bulk quantities of reading material in a small box, but working on the same cheap package for custom content. And custom content here means content that is tailored to the expectation of each reader, and same cheap package means exploiting the advantages of the physical form of the book, which is cheap and expendable. 

Planning such books for studying is pointless (I would rather use a computer), for scholarly activities is also pointless, for leisure reading of the traditional novel is pointless (a traditional paperback is fine), for reference books is also pointless (the key characteristics of reference books is that I cannot foresee the need for it, such as when I will need to look up a word in a dictionary, but that the reading activity is on a minimal part of the overall oeuvre: which is why a generic device that is always with me, such as a cell phone, is more appropriate for this task).

What's left? My own take is: 

  • Books with custom content that is useful in "hazardous" contexts (for the book, at least): e.g., recipe books, gardening manuals, users manuals for devices on the boat or on the car, etc.. Check around you: wherever you have a devastated book with stains, shredded pages, missing pages and partially missing covers, of which you have systematically accessed only part of the content and ignored the rest, that is a candidate for a cheap, expendable, substitutable, non-electronic book with custom content
  • Books whose traditional form is either too bulky or too generic or both because it needs to suit many different audiences: e.g., university guides, travel guides, procedure manuals for employees, etc. The courses I sign up for this semester are different than yours, the lectures may have different times than last semester and may be hold in different lecture halls, etc. My five-day cheap-o travel to Paris, Bruxelles, Amsterdam and London in March will be completely different from your leisure two-week September honeymoon to Paris only. My job within in my department may have substantial overlap with your job in yours, but I may have additional tasks that you do not and viceversa. Any book whose expected reader is an averaged, stereotypical, ultimately abstract person is a good candidate; any book that would require thousands of pages to ultimately cater for and satisfy all combinations of readers is a good candidate. 
  • Books that tickles individual vanities: so far, the natural market for print on demand was seen in vanity press, trying to capture the desire for visibility and fame of wannabe novelists. Authors' vanity seems the wrong one to tickle, since the market appears limited in size, and frankly catered already by small printers. Many one-of-a-kind books are not in authors' dreams, but in their harsh reality: wrong to remind them that their books will only be read by the immediate family. Readers' vanity, on the other hand, is a virgin market, and there's plenty of vanities to take care of: from children books whose protagonist has the name of your nephew, and has a toddler sister with the name of your 1-year old niece, a dog called Rover like your nephew's (or if he has a cat, it's a cat), and a nice and wise uncle that helps him solve the riddle and save the world that has YOUR own name, to high school yearbooks with only the picture of your friends and maybe individualized messages for you, to retirement books with pictures of your whole career within the firm and messages and pictures from your colleagues, to wedding packages that include the option to send you at the end of the honeymoon the same customized travel guide you had at the time, BUT with your own pictures of the place you visited (correctly geo-tagged by the camera) instead of the standard ones found during the trip. Something unique, to treasure, to keep for the children, to show to friends, to send to old aunts at the other end of the country, etc. 
To summarize, the key aspect of the future book is not a different form factor, or the sistemic use of ICT in the final product, but a different way to think about the content and the sistemic use of ICT in the manufacturing process, leaving the final product as it was. Customized content, which is already commonplace online, can be made available on paper if and only if print-on-demand of individual books becomes cheap and rapid. Vanity press is not the answer. Expendable, cheap, individualized objects are closer.

Fabio Vitali is a computer science professor at the University of Bologna (Italy)

Regardless of the type of media, their are similar tipping points where business disruptions can occur.

In a traditional printing model you have the artists who work with publishers who wholesale to retailers who then get it to the consumers.

As production becomes cheaper and easier, retailers get the ability to do their own printing and you have the opportunity to reduce the need for the publishers.  This is happening at Amazon where they have announced that they will begin creating music cds for artists

As printing costs continue to drop and distribution tools improve, you see the professional artists and authors taking on some of that creation themselves.  The Internet is allowing some of this to occur as artists and authors directly market to consumers.

Along with professionals you have your cutting edge hobbyists that are able to create amateur work that often rivals that of professionals.

Finally, as quality printing becomes commoditized, the common consumers are able to obtain raw digital media from artists and print their own works.

There are several industries that have reached different points.  Some are further along (e.g. music and to a lesser extent photography).  While others still have significant opportunities for disruption to come (physical artwork, electronic fabrication, etc.)

I have submitted two other suggestions, but this strikes a chord with me. Again, I must emphasize, for me (and most others I know) the FORMAT is not important, the CONTENT is. For example, I recently read a sloppy item in my favorite newspaper - it is less favorite now!

So, to improve content while cuttting costs - provide for a wide range of contributors who will provide content to a journalist. The journalist, on selecting worthwhile content, can then ask the questions or do similar "fleshing out" for a story. Over time, the "stable" of contributors will learn most of what the journalist needs, such as confirming sources, format, etc., and the journalist will work more as an editor.

Stop the (low-cost, but infuriating) practice of editorials by "journalists" - no other qualification! I don't need knee-jerk opinions by people who generally don't know much about the subject; report NEWS (CONTENT)!

Recognize the contributors - the main person will always be the journalist, but if you study the way Michael Masnick handles this model in TechDirt, you will see how it could be done correctly. In fact, TechDirt is very close to what I am suggesting, though in that blog, the emphasis is on social stuff (entertainment industry, etc.) - interesting, but not the sort of main-line news that the mainstream media needs.

Of course, I am pre-baby-boomer; to me, music, etc., is important, but definitely not mainline stuff like real news or technical articles.

Gene Cavanaugh (Marion Eugene Cavanaugh on the USPTO web site) specializes in small entity patenting (what the founding fathers intended in the US Constitution).

People Still Read

People are consuming more and more media every day.  Lately there has been a large focus on video and multimedia consumption on the Internet, but a large portion of the media consumed is still in written or picture form.  The future of print lies in the on-demand delivery of individually customized media selections.

Article Aggregation for Customized Media Printing

Some media consumers may be reading this very article via an RSS reader.  The future of print starts with the aggregation of personalized news feeds the way an RSS reader does.  Industrial-sized on-demand printiing will allow any local and national news mixture to be printed and delivered with the lowest possible overhead to the consumer's door, mailbox, or any other desired location.

Lifecycle Printing Services

With a large enough on-demand print volume, the printer can provide an extreme level of customization that simply is not available at low prices today.  For example, book binding services are still relatively expensive, and the cost of books at the bookstore is largely dependent upon delivery costs.  If bookstores could quickly print books on-site, the cost to sell a book would drop dramatically.  I envision bookstores offering new book discounts upon recycling of old books.  If possible, I'd like to see a machine that recycles old books and presses its own paper from the recycled materials in the store.  A readily available organic ink source could be used since the books are not meant for long-term archival purposes, but even archival inks could be recycled from the old book materials.  These are not far-off impossible technologies, and the cost for the machine is offset by the free materials supply.

Rapid Growth of Libraries

Obviously the ultimate printing technology would be a home recyclable media printer that could do all of what I am describing at an affordable price for home use.  A device like this would obsolete most bookstores, but library usage would likely boom (since books would have near zero printing cost, their resale value would be nothing and thus people would be compelled to donate used books to the library).  Most libraries in the country would rapidly build a comprehensive and eclectic collection of materials in just a few years with the high volume of book donations.  Once enough volumes were available at the library, home printing would likely plummet as people could simply go to the library and get any book imaginable.  In fact, if the cost of printing were low enough, perhaps the city budget for the library would be enough to provide all the books any of us would ever need.

The Cost of Printing Will Trend Towards Zero

If the total cost of creating a book is one dollar, then how many books would your local library add each year?  How many more books would everyone have if the total cost of creating a book was free?  Color copies in high volume can be as cheap as 1 cent per page, thus I think the cost to reproduce an entire book will get as cheap as that eventually.  Consider the cost of computer memory now vs. 30 years ago as a comparison, 1MB of RAM is basically free now compared to hundreds or even thousands of dollars.  This process is happening slower with printing, but it is happening nonetheless.


I am a Sr. Systems Engineer for a major telecommunications company, and I have a long family history in the Computer Science field.
alex okita
Sat May 23 11:51am
Indeeed, Google Reader is now my main feed for news. I've picked the sources for where I get my dirt from, and I get about 300 to 400 articles a day. The news paper gives me hundreds of articles I'd rather not pay for.
Devin Moore
Tue May 26 4:09pm
wouldn't the obvious thing for papers to do then be to provide people with only news from their favorite news sources, and optionally anything else that the search deems relevant, rather than articles that they would never read in a million years? It even makes more sense with advertising, because the ads necessary to support the printing costs could be tailored to each person's news preferences.
Devin Moore
Tue Jun 30 9:21am
And now my predictions start to come true, an all-in-one book printer for printing books on-site:
http://consumerist.com/5304226/this-machine-is-sort-of-a-humongous-kin dle

"Print" is not one single thing, nor a single industry. Printing a book may be using partly the same processes as printing a newspaper, but as anyone in the industry can tell you, they are different. So is the future of print.

Part of the key is to consider the durability of the information that is being printed. There is a reason why newspapers are moving away from paper: why bother to print something which is old tomorrow? When you create something that is intended to inform and then be thrown away, why give it a physical form when there are better ways - such as PC:s and ebook readers. Just geting rid of the print process saves time and gives the journalists some extra minutes, until they realize that there are no deadlines - everything can be continously updated all the time. Here, print is squeezed out by being too expensive, compared to alternative means of updating information.

It may be profitable to create special event publications, but it is doubtful. The volume has to be large if it is to work for the printer (see below), and someone has to pay. For theatrical programs and the like, you may still be able to get people to pay, but for events where advertisers are expected to bear the cost, it is doubtful for another reason: Advertisers are being squeezed from another direction, the mass-market advertising no longer paying off in the face of more and more individualized (and not more expensive) options. They are unlikely to be interested in sponsoring a special publication unless that can be used to create a positive association with them in some way (like, if you sell to gays, it makes sense to sponsor the special publication for the pride parade). Subscriptions may be another way, but few people are interested enough even to pay for the work that goes into creating a publication. It would have to be an official institution, like the local governement, that would pay. Not very likely, if they can get the same coverage in a TV channel or the Internet.

The other cost squeeze on print comes from another direction. Most universities no longer request students to buy textbooks - they give them the relevant chapters, which they buy electronically from the publishers. If they do not bypass them, too. Printing textbooks, which used to be a huge industry, is dying out (the good news for a company like HP is that students print out the books instead). But here, as well, the ebook reader will probably make an impact.

There are few profitable niches in printing today, the few that are left are those which work with shorter batches and higher quality. Which does not necessarily mean higher resolution, since an HDTV delivers images which are undistinguishable from print. Posters, up to 40 inch size, is another business disappearing. There is no way to update them to increase sales, even if they still are cheaper than TV sets, they will increasingly move towards being decorations.

To be profitable, print runs have to be longer, amortizing the machines of the printer (the labor cost per each, the ink and paper, are the same - although paper is becoming more expensive, as is ink). But customers want shorter print runs, since things change. You can no longer count on being able to use a thousand business cards with the same title - even the company name may change. Or the owner of the cards no longer be in the company.

If printing is moving away from mass production, what is a printer to do? Printing other things is not that easy. Printing on coffee cups is a very different processs from printing on paper. You do not switch that easily.

One solution is for the printer to recognize that they are not just coloring a two-dimensional surface any more. Print can be used to create threedimensional objects equally easy. More post-processing also helps - stuffing envelopes automatically, for instance.

But even if a printer can make a living by creating more advanced printed goods (competing with plastics molding, probably, in some way - many plastics goods could equally well be paper, and paper is cheaper. Folding instead of molding does not require much in terms of process modification.

The professional printing industry needs to find other ways to make a living. But even if printing small batches or individual print runs on office printers are going to increase in the short term, as people use it as an alternative display and alternatives to industrially printed books and newspapers, that industry is going to be squeezed, too. Ebook readers will simply be a too convenient alternative for people who want to carry documents - you do not have to print out many hundred pages before the weight of the paper is more than the weight of the ebook. And of course, a company can encrypt the content and put password protection on them - the risk that someone forgets a secret document somewhere will be much less.

So the traditional printing industry need to find a way of reinventing itself as well. Already, printers are faxes and scanners. Bur why can they not fold papers, put them in envelopes, address and stamp them? The mechanics may seem daunting, but so did inkjet printing fifteen years ago.

Because they have some time: Print will not go away at once, any more than digital photography has squeezed out the professional photographers. There will be a point, however, when we will - when looking back - be able to say "this was the moment the ebook reader killed the printer". But only being cheaper is not enough. Just consider two other revolutions: The fax machine replacing the telex, and email replacing the fax.

Fax machines, if you remember, were a great thing when they came, not because they were cheaper than the telex (the first were more expensive than telex terminals), or because they were cheaper to use (30 year ago, international phone calls were often more expensive than telex lines). Nor were they faster at the time. They took hold because they had two added advantages: No installation, and graphics.

You did not have to order a special fax line (although some operators did try to sell you one). You just plugged it into the phone jack, and it worked. And it gave you a picture. You could draw on it, and you could  see peoples signatures (my bank, for this very reason, just recently asked me to fax a letter to them). And you did have about the same level of security as telex (not quite, which is why telex is still used for international money transfers occasionally). When the price started going down (as japanese companies discovered the advantage and applied technologies for point-of-sale printers to it), the fax took off. The first stage, up until the famous gap, was fuelled by a number of advantages that drove the creation of a machine which could find a mass market, which in turn drove the advantage past the geeks and into the early adopters, and the rest is history.

The replacement of fax with email is not quite as easy to map onto the S-curve. But it does fit there. And the reason it does, is that it also shows that lower cost does not automatically translate to adaption.

Sending images in emails have been possible for many years. But there was a security problem, not addressed until encyption became widespread. And then, the convenience came to the fore. As always, convenience is the killer app. Getting the messages to your own mailbox means you did not have to wrestle with curly fax rolls, or the faxes getting lost in the mail room, or that you had to try to read when the ink run out. It meant you could get the pictures in color, and higher resolution, and use in your own documents easy. And it was cheaper - because the email was already there, and the cost for it a sunk cost that could be used to cut the cost for telephone calls. But it was the additional advantages which drove it, not the conveniences (because the fax machine was already there, and a sunk cost too).

So it is not until they have some additional advantages that ebook readers will replace print. That will not happen immediately. The advantages - especially cost advantages - are already enough to start the industry, but it is not until they get all the advantages of paper, and then some, that they will replace print. That means the ability to make free-form notes - an additional advantage being able to send them to others, so they can overlay them on their documents. Preferrably in a way where you could overlay many different peoples notes and see them at the same time. It means the ability to enlarge the view - something anyone who has started to become older will appreiciate.

If manufacturing costs come down enough, the replacement will be automatic, of course. If you go to a conference today, you will rarely receive a CD anymore (printed documentation went long ago), but a USB memory. It is not hard to think that they will be replaced by ebook readers at some point. That is when print will finally have lost.

This is an interesting subject to debate about. When discussing about trends on printing, let us be realistic. People are not too much concern about the cost of printing but they are more concern about the consequences of printing e.g. environmental issues, filing/binding, storage and retrieval. Probably, printing of photographs is much cheaper today then it was a decade ago, still printing of photographs is on decline. The trends are toward green working practices and business printing is on its way out. Advancements in digital display technology will further reduce the business printing.

Nevertheless, we need to think beyond printing on papers. How about printing on car body!! Customizing design of a skirt or a curtain. Ceramics with customized prints. Customized posters are quite popular in India. People would like to have theme stickers on their cars. Printing on transparent plastics films could be a trend. Printing security features and digital information are certainly here to stay. This is something could be the future of business printing.  


The author is doctorate in chemistry and working in the area of chemical research.

newspaper on table with mug of tea

The future of print is about customization and accessibility.  The advent of print on demand and print while you wait, will be enhanced to allow consumers to create their own customized mixes of media that meet their preferences and individual needs.  Kiosks providing print on demand can be enhanced to allow people to place orders via the internet and pick them up at these kiosks or purchase on site while waiting for their train or plane. 

Options of media could range from the latest novels and non-fiction titles, as well as newspapers, blogs and other on-line media. Newspapers could price downloadable and printable versions of their papers much like music is now priced. Rather than purchasing the entire paper, you can choose the section or sections of the paper which would want, create a custom mix from papers around the world.  This could be combined with information from other on-line media such as blogs via RSS feeds. 

Individuals who are blind or visually impaired will be able to order materials in multiple formats, including braille or large print in the font style and size they require.  Once the consumer chooses their font options they can choose the paper size they prefer, whether magazine, broadsheet or tabloid style, and get a paper that meets their individual needs.  This unique, customized mix could be printed on a single or recurring basis. 

These kiosks could also offer the ability to download mp3 versions of the customized media created using text to speech software.  These recordings could be customized with the individuals choice of voice, pitch and speed, and sent to mobile device or downloaded to mp3 player directly.

After purchasing a media mix, the individual will continue to have access to the on-line versions, saved in their account, to save or share with others.  This will allow them to continue the social aspects of sharing media and the rich media that the web allows. 

To enable this change to allow people to choose how they digest their media, outlets are going to need to lower the walled gardens requiring log in or accounts to access media, and load mp3 files on devices.  Publishers will need to separate the content from the format in which its consumed.  Arguments like the Authors Guild's stance against the text to speech capabilities on the Kindle need to be resolved to the consumers advantage (though this does not necessarily mean to the author's or publisher's disadvantage).  Publishers are going to need to embrace new business models such as offering add supported content at lower rates than unsupported content and rewarding regular readers. 

Once consumer demand for these features and products becomes stronger, publishers of books, newspapers and other media will see that enabling these features will lead to greater customer loyalty and greater exposure and consumption of their products.  Creating other ways for people to enjoy traditional and on line media is the future.  It will allow individuals to enjoy a customized mix of media tailored to their interests and needs and allow customers to enjoy news and print in a familiar format mobilly without the need for expensive gadgets.  It will benefit producers of media as well as readers by providing more outlets and better access to high quality journalism.


Image courtesy of Matt Callow

Joshua Howe, MA CRC is a freelance writer specializing in accessibility and disability issues and has worked in the field for more than 15 years. Read more from Joshua at MaineVRC.blogspot.com or request his insight at Floor64.com

There is a lot of food for thought in looking at print as being personalized for individual user needs, as well as being dynamically updated to keep up with changes in the real world. Information access and delivery can exploit printed output as one option that can be chosen when needed and used selectively to meet the user's needs. The printed information, however, can also be used "contextually" to directly access other information or to establish contact with people ("click-to-contact") if it can be scanned by an end point device or "smart-phone."  The key to this flexibility is universal wireless network accessiblity and evolving multi-modal devices like the iPhone that are starting to replace voice-only cell phones.

Art Rosenberg has been involved with online interactive applications since the early days of computing in the 1950's. He is a thought leader for IP-based multi-modal unified communications that enables flexible, "contextual" contacts with people.

We recently purchased a new home theatre setup, TV, Audio System and Blu-Ray. The combined documentation for the three products was in excess of 1,000 pages ... what a waste!  Our new stove's manual was 200+ pages, as it has to be in both French and English. All I needed to know was how to set the clock ... a stove after all is fairly intuitive.  Heck, even my old HP 6P printer has a fairly sizeable documentation package. 

Product manuals are a perfect application for print on demand ... manufacturers could instead include the usual quick-start docs and a few pages of print containing direct keyword links to related online sections.  Having the meat of the information online also gives manufacturers the ability to update information or provide more detailed explanations. User can then decide to print what they actually need.

On the other end of the scale is a Jobmate workbench, the instructions were a 1 page sheet of almost impossible to decipher instructions. Kudos for saving trees, but can only imagine how many of these things are assembled incorrectly.  

A paperless world doesn't mean no paper, but it can equate to less paper. 

Mike Bazelewick is a business solutions technology architect with 30 years corporate finance experience. He is the founder and CEO of a company that develops and manages offline content to internet convergence systems, Frapple Interactive

Print is in need of innovation.  Emerging print-on-demand and personalized print technologies are opening the door to a new era of intelligent printed material that can reduce waste, improve productivity, and increase sales.  The following nine concepts merge existing and emerging technologies with print to create something new.  Hopefully these ideas will spark new thinking around how print can be used to grow your business:

1)  Disappearing Ink:  I use a lot of paper at work printing out documents that I will only need for a short period of time.  What if the ink used on those meeting agendas, emails, and presentations where printed using disappearing ink?  In two days the ink would be gone and I could reuse the paper several times before chucking it into the recycling bin.  On the surface this may seem like a juvenile idea -- but count how many documents are in your waste basket at the end of the day that were printed out hours before.

2)  Digital Photos put the Customer in the picture:  Emerging technologies that can create a 3D model from a 2D photo can be used to make highly personalized sales brochures.  Hair Saloons could print and mail brochures that show their customers with various hair styles and coloring.  Dress shops could send out catalogs that feature the actual customer rather than models. 

3)  Customer Management Database with Point of Sale in the Service Industries:
  By connecting a customer management system to credit card receipt information small businesses could provided highly personalized services.  Restaurants could print special menus for regular guests that highlights meals that may enjoy.  Travel agents could create customized itineraries that map out that unforgettable vacation that includes walking guides, shopping recommendations, and sight seeing maps.  These highly customized yet inexpensive services will greatly increase loyalty and retention.   

4)  Scanners and Handwriting to Text:  I have hand written notes everywhere.  I want a scanner that can scan my handwritten notes into my computer then convert my scratch into text that my computer could organize around key words, subject tags, and date.  With a push of a button I could then print out all of my notes on a specific subject.  By cross referencing with my colleagues "public" notes I could print out a document that organizes the entire companies thinking around a specific subject.

5)  QR Smart Tags:
  I would like to be able to print marks, like QR tags, on surveys, order forms, and contracts that my computer can recognize from a digital photo of the documents.  By uploading a digital photo of the smart document the computer will recognize the smart marks and record the hand written information associated with that mark without having a human rewrite the answers into the computer.

6)  Print only the mail you really need:  Every one gets a ton of mail.  Most of it ends up in the trash as soon as it comes in the door.  Other bits are reviewed quickly before finding their way to the shredder.  The rest gets shoved into drawers until spring cleaning.  I want a service that emails me a list of the mail I would have otherwise received physically.  I could then select which pieces of mail I actually need and print that out on my home printer.

7)  Electronic Health Records and Pharmacy database:  I recently had a doctors appointment.  To prepare for the visit I had to pull together my family medical history, a list of all medications I've ever taken, and a synopsis of my symptoms.  Turned out to be heartburn.  Rather than pulling all of this information together every time I go to the doctors I want a web site that pulls together and organizes this information for me.  With a push of a button I can print out my medical records and medication history.  Keep an eye on this space as the government looks to digitalize health records.  

8)  Location aware cell phones:  Soon all cell phones will have GPS capabilities.  This means that the phone knows where it is and what is around it.  It also means that other devices could know when your cell phone is near them.  As these technologies develop there will be opportunities to provide highly personalized information that can be provided to the customer when and where they need it.  Imagine walking into the mall, waving your phone in front of a kiosk and instantly getting a printed sheet of coupons that are currently offering discounts on items you may be interested in.

9) Super Market Check Out Data:  Supermarkets know exactly what you buy every time you go on your weekly shopping trip.  They even make tracking your purchases easier by making you wave your tracking tag in front of the check out scanner.  But they don't seem to use that data to create personalizes shopping lists.  Every week my local store should print for me a personalize grocery list that includes the items I need plus up-sell items that would compliment my usualchoices.

Rob Walker is a serial innovator that merges the online with the offline to create new business opportunities. Visit his blog at www.internet-marketing-db.com

Sponsoring an Insights Community dialog on the future of print is a great idea. And bringing the careful, ongoing observation of the marketplace to a forum for sharing comments and insights on change, as well as persistence, is hopefully the beginning of an ongoing effort.

As a long-time student in the field of marketing, I would like to bring a few “basics” from that perspective to the conversation.  I have learned to seek out the “value proposition” of the product or service under scrutiny. I have also learned to continually remind myself that “market segments” exist, and that one group of consumers’ needs may often vary widely from those of another group.

With these simple concepts in mind, it’s easy to understand why blanket statements like “print will always survive” and “electronic dissemination of information is leading to the inevitable demise of print” are overly simplistic, even while having elements of truth. For example, too often I see champions of the ongoing role of print confusing consumers’ needs (and I’m using “consumer” to designate the consumer of information, whether in an office, or home, or wherever). The case for the ongoing need for better, more filtered, refined and personalized information gets intertwined with the best ways to satisfy the consumers’ needs for productive and satisfying ingestion and storage of that information. Not the same things! The ever-evolving value proposition of WHAT information is delivered to the consumer is clearly not the same as the HOW it is received and used.

Likewise, the permanence, tactile advantages, and perceived significance of a customizable print-on-demand book such as the one commemorating President Obama’s First 100 Days is clearly delivering on that value proposition (“permanent, tactilely pleasing, significant”) in a superior way, and in a way that cannot be matched in electronic form. Just as the newspaper front pages from the day after the Presidential election became instant keepsakes, a book like this will too, and all the more so with its inclusion of both the global and personal aspects offered by print-on-demand.

Looking briefly to the segments side of things, I can start with every morning, right in my own home. My wife and I, though demographically very close (age, education, etc), have diverged in our preferences for getting caught up on the day’s news. She is an inveterate consumer of the newspaper, and I am a Web surfer. We each find what we need, and are also capable of “scooping” each other on a regular basis, but that comes as much from the WHAT as the HOW in the discussion above. Our preferred form of consumption is clearly different, and we are members of different market segments when it comes to how we prefer to start our days in getting “up to speed” on the goings-on in each of our worlds. So the assertion that “the morning newspaper is going away” will have a far different, bifurcated reaction from the either of the two of us, at least as we react on our personal basis. (Note however, that back to value propositions, the web surfer (me) still relies on news gathering and reporting functions provided by many of the same news organizations feeding the physical “paper” my wife reads.)

Keeping the principles of value proposition and segmentation in mind is critical in the ongoing dialog. And even more importantly, understanding those two basic concepts and how they vary and are evolving will be critical in being successful in the future of print.


Jim Lyons comments on business and marketing developments in the Printing and Imaging industry, combining many years of experience with an ever-enthusiastic eye on the future. His monthly column, "Observations", appears in The Hard Copy Observer.

Gutenberg and his Bible... The Little Red Book from Mao Zedong... The Guinness Book of Records setting the bestseller record for a copyrighted series of publications... discussing the future of printing using the (gulp) internet.  Is the heyday of printing now a footnote of history?

Hats off to HP.  Less paper does add up to more content, if we learn to print only what people want, when they want it.  The danger with this argument is that it lends itself to the digital competitors, who might reasonably argue that even less paper equates to even more value.  How can printing on paper compete with the instantly updated, interactive and seemingly endless resources of a digitally connected world?  It can, in the same way that cinema has persisted despite the arrival of video, and radio has survived the arrival of television.

What is good about the printed word?  It can be used without a power supply or technology.  It can distributed universally.  There is no up-front cost for a special device to read the material with, or to connect to a digital network to obtain it.  Because there is no device, there are no costs or risks associated with having a device.  Printed material is very transportable in limited amounts.  The ‘interface’ for printed content is both well known and well liked by users.  Printed material is harder to copy, which is good for the owner of the content, but not necessarily for the user.  On the other hand, the printed word has its disadvantages as well.  Once printed, there is no way to update the content, an impediment for either correcting errors, issuing new versions or presenting topical information.  The communication is one-way only; you can read, but cannot respond.  In large volumes, printed material is heavy and bulky.  The marginal costs of raw materials and of distribution will be higher for printed material than for digital material.  The options for formatting, structuring, and browsing through material are limited; there are no hyperlinks and no search functions.

The future for printing depends on finding compelling business propositions that maximises the advantages of the printed medium and are unaffected by its weaknesses.  Reducing wastage will greatly reduce the costs for printing, but selling printed words and pictures has the same fundamental cost disadvantages as selling music on CDs or movies on DVDs.  A pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap strategy may slow the decline of sales in printing, but cannot reverse the trend towards digital transmission of content.  Using the analysis of generic strategies developed by business thinker Michael Porter, printing will be the loser in a competition based on cost.  This leaves the printing business model two options: differentiation or focus on a few select markets.

Focusing on a few select and specialized markets may be viable for small print-oriented businesses, and there are many possible and imaginative uses for printing, but adding a lot of niche markets together is not the same as dominating one big market.  There will be room for novelties, like printed albums that capture all the photos of a child as it grows up, personalized gifts, and souvenirs of historical events.  However, we should assume that the total time and total expenditure on leisure, entertainment, education and information gathering is not going to change overall, just as people made time for increasing their internet use by reducing the time they spend watching television, which in turn has seen advertising budgets move from one medium to the other.  New applications of print technology, devised to entertain and amuse small groups with one-off publications may garner some interest, but they are likely to generate sizeable business models.  It is inevitable that much of the content that used to be supplied in printed form will be supplied digitally in future, because it has a cost advantage, and also has some differentiation advantages in terms of the ability to support two-way interaction and to provide rapid and frequent updates of content.  For printed material to really thrive in an evolving economy, and to hold on to a significant share of the existing entertainment and knowledge markets, it will have to play to its strengths and support new products that are suitably differentiated and will generate consistent and large-volume demand.

One of the most obvious advantages of printed books is that they make good gifts.  They are tangible.  They look good on shelves.  You can feel the quality of the paper with your fingers.  People will keep giving books as gifts simply because it permits them to give something physical, in contrast to the gift of downloaded content.  The hardcover, high quality and gift-oriented end of the book market will be relatively protected from the threat of digital incursion.  The kind of personalization made possible by printing individual copies for individual customers is a natural complement to this kind of product.  Whether offering children’s stories that feature the name of the child, anthologies of love poetry especially selected for the reader, a copy of a classic text with customized footnotes, or printed to suit the reader’s tastes in terms of page size, typeface and style, there are many possibilities.  The same kind of bespoke changes could just as easily be delivered digitally, but will be much more attractive and meaningful when delivered within a beautifully bound and printed book.  Though this sector of the market can embrace new opportunities presented by micro-publishing and tailoring of its content, its fundamental strategy is defensive in nature; it is about augmenting an established product and maintaining sales in the face of a new competitive entrant.

Digital material would seem to have the advantage when it comes to tailoring the content to suit the reader, because the reader can go online and be selective in what content they get.  For example, HP’s own Tabbloid allows readers to aggregate their preferred RSS feeds and format them into a printable magazine.  The final stage, printing the content, is more of an option than a necessity.  However, not all tailoring needs to be done by the reader.  Sometimes it can be done for them.  Tailoring may be even more important when trying to communicate common messages to a broad cross-section of people, not all of whom will be keen on technology or will chose to read digital content, but where the end same end result can be supported by different specifics to suit different individual tastes.  A good example would be campaign materials from political candidates.  Politicians are currently not that sophisticated at keeping a track of individual voters and why they vote the way they do, but the frontrunners are making rapid improvements.  Instead of candidates tailoring their message to the reflect the issues that seem most important from a poll of people living in an area, what if they tailored the messages to the topics that each individual voter cared most about?  A campaign mailshot could highlight the politician’s views on the policies that most interested the individual voter, and could list endorsements from people that the voter most admired.  Where the campaign team lacks all the information specific to the individual, the next best guess can be inserted, based on polling and what is known about the voter’s age, job, and any political and social affiliations.

Because internet use is dominated by the model of users ‘pulling’ the content they like from a endless supply of resources, whether paid for or free, it is tempting to try to think of how printing can emulate this approach.  However, printing has the disadvantage in terms of both cost and the natural mode for interaction with the recipient, who will tend to be using a digital and connected device of some description.  There are many organizations that might want to push content to the user, and would prefer to supply it in a tangible format delivered direct to their home.  Vanity publication may represent a growing proportion of print services, as demonstrated by the surge of interest in self-published books and in novelty items like this limited-run newspaper which was given as a gift to friends of its makers.  However, the demand for vanity publications will ultimately be limited because the writer’s enthusiasm is unlikely to be matched by that from readers.

Of much greater advantage to printing is the possibility of ‘pushing’ content that might be of interest to the user but where the cost is paid for by the organization wanting to send them promotions and advertising.  There are organizations that possess and will want to push content that may be of genuine interest to the recipient, even if the recipients would never think to ask for it.  By joining forces, aggregating material, personalizing content and taking on some of the aspects of today’s traditional mass media, they could both cut their costs and offer differentiated content that would be hard to compete with.  Consider three currently disparate models: (1) free local newspapers, which are paid for by local adverts, (2) supermarkets, credit card companies and other businesses which regularly gather data about customers, knows where they live, and which may want to push bespoke discount offers to them based on their purchasing habits, and (3) government agencies, transport bodies, and other public services that would like to give information relevant to the specific recipient, depending on such things as whether they hold a driving license, claim welfare benefits, are taxpayers or have children at a particular school.  Personalized content could be pulled together to create a local weekly journal without any of the sponsor organizations needing to share any data.  Costs would be covered by the commercial organization using the journal for their paid messages.  These costs would be lowered because of the economies of scale that come from pooling their efforts with other organizations.  Local and personalized content can be padded out by syndicating national and international news.  The result would be a news bulletin that tells you about big events in the national news, tells about crime suffered in your neighborhood and investment in your children’s school, includes coupons relevant to the products you buy from the supermarket, and reminds you to submit your tax return.  Consider also the benefits to advertisers.  A classified advert to sell a used car would only go to those households where somebody has a driver’s license, and the local pizza delivery franchise can send a coupon enticing a known customer to order their favorite pizza.  The complexities involved in managing multiple content providers can be ironed out, probably using a mixture of the techniques that local newspapers currently use to sell advertising space and that direct marketing businesses use to manage cost relative to the scale of a promotion.  If they are, there is the potential for a genuinely new and attractive print product, made possible by the digital age but uniquely designed for the print medium.

Print will go into inevitable decline if it tries to be a paper-based version of the internet, and will be pushed back into defensible but small niches.  A more aggressive approach to finding new products would yield better results.  New products should utilize the data available to personalize content, whilst exploiting the advantages of a medium that is still universal in a way that digital media is not yet and may never be.  These advantages will be most cheaply delivered to big organizations that want to connect to a very wide cross-section of people in a personal and tangible way.  They may be promoting a commercial enterprise or trying to support a community.  With intelligent use of print technology, they may find seamless, cost-effective and attractive ways of doing both.

Eric is a blogger, podcaster, business consultant, chartered accountant and has a masters degree in Information Systems. Eric has been a consultant for over 10 years, giving data integrity advice to telcos and new media consulting to small business.

Even as newspapers and magazine struggle for their very survival, printing customized and individualized has great potential to usher in a new era of specialized printing products and services, ideally replacing the very low margin on high print volumes that are most common in magazine and brochure printing with high margin, lower volume customized and highly targeted printing projects.

For example a legacy publisher might produce 200,000 copies of a travel magazine giveaway at a printing cost of $100,000 and content/bulk distribution costs of 25,000. Selling 150,000 in advertising on this piece would yield a profit of 25,000. Contrast this with a "new media" print project where travelers to destination websites would be encouraged to create a customized version of a travel guide which they could view online or have printed and delivered to them at a cost that covered the printing and postage.  Assuming the same content +  program costs of 25,000 we find in this example that the publisher only needs to sell 50,000 in advertising to realize the same 25,000 profit.  They have pushed the print costs to the customer in exchange for customization and convenience. The print "wastage" is also reduced hugely as it's clear many travelers never use the free materials they pick up on the road, where it's likely they'd make good use of a customized guide. Although the documented "reach" may be reduced for advertisers in this example the relevancy and targeting are dramatically increased.

Similarly, some fertile ground for print services may be to utilize the *micropayments*, or very small charges to customers using Paypal, Twitter, or other accounts.  Here, publishers might distribute many types of information online in formats that are easily printed and where customers are expected to pay a small amount for that service.

In the gaming sector micropayments have been hugely successful, in many cases creating situations where the game itself is very cheap or free but money is also exchanged to buy "add ons". Adopting this print micropayment model could work well in many niche publishing environments, especially where content has high value to the customer. Some examples are travel guide books, musical scores, new works of fiction, and many more "high value" print targets.

Yet another place for innovation is the self publishing market.   Few authors ever get to see their work in print despite their noble efforts to submit to publishers and rework their pieces.   Inexpensive high quality printing can allow an author to produce a limited number of works for friends, relatives, and their own vanity.   This concept is not new but it remains a fairly small market that likely could be expanded to serve those who are simply unaware these services are even available.

Publisher of travel, history, and news at several regional and national websites and blogs. Major annual conference coverage includes CES Las Vegas and Search Engine Strategies San Jose.

"Print" isn't just books and magazines. The new technologies are bringing fascinating changes that will affect nearly every written word over the next century. Yes, it's full of possibilities, but it's inevitably going to be bigger than we think. Here's some brainstorming not just for new ideas and opportunities, but exploring what they suggest about the underlying concept of print itself.

* Imagine people watching a big football game. Fans could email their cell phone pictures to a central editor, who would splice photos together into the ultimate game brochure. The same could be true for the Olympics, a NASCAR race, a political rally, or an arts festival. Suddenly every event could get the same attention as books like "24 Hours in Cyberspace" -- courtesy of a thousand grassroots photographers.

* Now think NOT local, with people watching a televised event around the country or around the world. Imagine thousands of fans emailing photos of their Superbowl celebrations. Surely there'd be a market for "Today's 100 Greatest Tailgate Parties" (And wouldn't it be cool to see photographs of distant football fans in Sweden, Nigeria, Taiwan...) "Printing stations" could be installed a nationwide chain of stores so the print copies could be issued and purchased within moments of the event.

* That could also be an educational project for school kids: collaborating with a distant school to produce a newspaper or yearbook about a common issue. (With each school's edition customized to highlight their local perspective.) I've already heard of a project where third graders write and illustrate their own storybooks -- and then distribute print editions to adoring relatives. (And there's already been educational books where the child's name is included as part of the story.) It's one small step from that to customizable school newspapers...and customizable high school yearbooks. The high school football team could even publish souvenir booklets after their games with same-day photos of the biggest plays!

* Daily newspapers with "very locally-targeted ads, where every subscriber could get
a unique mix of advertisements based on their known consumer preferences -- and which businesses are nearest their home! The inserted coupons could  also be customized (even more than they already are). These ads would be more effective for local advertisers, doing something even Craigslist couldn't do. And micro-targeted junk mail could get a lot more interesting...

* I'm really surprised "TV Guide" doesn't have a local competitor that's not just printing local TV listings, but location-specific content with local advertisements and interviews with local news anchors -- but I'd gladly pay extra for a printed TV guide that doesn't list channels all those channels that I'm actually not receiving through my current cable package. (And as an added bonus, it could be customized to my preferences, deleting show and channels that it knows I'm never going to watch...)

* I've still got hundreds of business cards leftover from a job I quit in 1995...the best argument ever for print-on-demand. But cards could be customized with a personal picture that's periodically updated. (Not to mention the added potential for people who would like to tweak their job titles!)

* Imagine a "high school reunion yearbook" -- complete with before and after pictures of all the attendees. But these could also be handy at business conferences -- disposable same-day guides -- and they could even be updated with "same-day directories" listing the hotel room phone numbers for each of the attendees.

* Maybe there's an opportunity for customized menus at restaurants, including pictures of today's specials.  (Plus, if the kids are going to color on the placemats, why not add print special placemats with a picture of the family?) And movie theatres could even offer commemorative tickets where the  stub includes the movie's logo...or a picture of you with your date.

* The comic book industry is struggling, but what if Superman's newest sidekick was named after each individual reader? Maybe readers could supply their preferences so favorite characters appeared on more pages. (I heard Archie just proposed to Veronica...but surely some readers would prefer an edition where he's marrying Betty?)

* Imagine handing out candy bars with your child's picture on the wrappers. (And think of the possibilities on Halloween!) Plus, someday I'm sure McDonalds will print a child's picture on the cardboard boxes that contain their Happy Meals -- hoping to make them even happier. I also sometimes get paper grocery bags with the logo of the supermarket on their side. I imagine high-end gift shops would like to customize the bags to correspond to the season, special promotions, or maybe even the time of day.

Customizable print is a technology that could follow us throughout our lives. When I was five, on a family trip I saw a postcard of "the Jackalope" -- a doctored photo showing an enormous rabbit being saddled for a ride...including a pair of antlers. Now I'm imagining a resort (or truck stop) creating their own fake-photo postcards that include pictures of visiting tourists. (I'm surprised Graceland isn't already selling postcards  where their visitors pose with Elvis!) "American Idol" could create print memorabilia that honors their teenaged fan community. And honeymoon resorts could offer souvenir booklets which end with photos of the happy couple. And I'm reminded of my friend Richard, who interviewed his 80-year-old grandfather's to record his memories of World War II. It'd be wonderful if people could issue a cheap limited-run print edition of memoirs to distribute to relatives -- and send a copy to the Library of Congress.

But maybe there's also a new market in "local history books" -- where the memories of people around an event or a specific location are collected together, and then printed in customized editions. The Chamber of Commerce could offer them whenever a new family moves in.

But the best time to update a print-on-demand history book would be when a new baby was born into the community....

David Cassel is a professional technology journalist...and a dreamer.

As a person who respects printed matter as well as electronic ones, I am motivated to contribute an idea that combines value in being entertained and being informed satisfactorily with a need for an advanced technology.  

I recognize that daily life brings me into contact with numerous, disparate resources for information and forms of communication.  Be it a detailed and newsful article, a business report, about new releases of this or that, a long e-mail or blog entry, technical material, scientific article, or a series of "tweets" and text messages, I believe the related activities fit into my routine when I have personal time to spare and/or share.

For example, when on travel for vacation, a business meeting, or a conference an old habit emerges.   I will suddenly recall and collect all of the interesting reading material that I haven't yet imbibed into a small pile.   After factoring in downtime, the pile is culled and compiled into a carry-on bag for consumption during the course of the trip.  I hope to return a better human being for the effort.

A desktop printing device (hardware and software) that would allow me to pool a collection of readings from the books on my shelfs (from fiction to fact), magazines on my table tops, news headlines from internet resources (perhaps aggregating several days of recent events), and material pertaining to my interests for the meeting or vacation at hand could be an item I'd find continued use for over time.   

So, as an author, quasi-editor, and at times content provider, I would somehow have available sequenced readings from a novel or two, a chapter from a textbook, a few magazine or journal articles, some factual history about the place I'm visiting (and a bit of practical info such as where to dine on seafood), and perhaps some blog entries or even e-mails tossed in the back, with comics and a crossword from the past week, for review.  Of course, photos, or sketches for a remodeling project could be included.  

I imagine the resulting printed document to be about as thick as my laptop, but easy to handle and a pleasure to read.  For certain sections, it may be nice to dictate to the software to obtain and include content topically by providing parameters for constraining the selection.  For other sections, I would be required to detail the content or the resource explicitly, etc.

Individual sections could be reprinted as content is revised or according to certain rules, established explicitly or heuristically.   And the product could be designed to address the variable needs of ad hoc personal use, the focus of business oriented users, scientists (with field work for example), students, journalists, politicians, and so on. 

The document itself is therefore not quite a thick newspaper, nor is it a dashboard, a book, or topically specific, but it is content rich, high albedo, easy to manipulate, and useful for notes.

Yang Man
Mon May 20 1:22am
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