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PrintAction - 1415
Media Agility
PRINTACTION ­ March 2004
The new millennium is not going to be as easy for
printers as the last two decades have been. Armed
with a realistic view of the challenges and opportu-
nities ahead, the best printing companies are going
to thrive.
The role of vendors
Printers have always relied on vendors to support
them in their major capital acquisitions, and often
in their smaller, but more complex, prepress tech-
nology purchases. But is that what the vendors' role
should be? Clearly they do supply new technology
and in most cases provide financing and training
and support. But can you continue to rely on your
major vendors to give you the kind of unbiased
advice that is best suited to the future of your busi-
My answer is no: you can no longer turn to a sin-
gle vendor, or even a comparable set of competing
vendors to make major capital investments. Their
vested interests are certain; you need a wider view-
point. You can get that from consultants, of course,
but you can also get that from an even better source
­ your colleagues and competitors. Most are willing
to trade battle stories. Reach out and listen!
(VuePoint has always been an excellent conference
for this specific purpose.)
Here are some questions that must be answered:
Is anyone else now using the proposed system?
What's the vendor's financial state? Does the ven-
dor have the necessary cross-industry alliances and
support? Does the system support current stan-
dards? How will this impact my current workflow?
Does it work? Does it really work? What are the
support requirements?
Printing has always been an invest-
ment/equipment-centric business.
Buy the big machine and they will
come! This is no longer appropriate.
We need to ask far more questions
than we ever did before, and we need
answers from the source: your real
customers ­ current and potential.
Are my customers looking for this?
Will they welcome it? Are they ready
for it? Is it beneficial for them?
What will it take for them to adopt
it? What will it take to monetize the
transaction? Before you buy any
new piece of equipment or soft-
ware system, you really must have clearly written
answers to these questions.
The business
Another matrix, well worth evaluating, is the over-
all direction you perceive for your business. If I buy
this equipment, can I say that this is the way I
believe the industry is moving? Is this the way my
competitors are moving? If not, why not?
I talked about training above, but let's get to the
nitty-gritty: Do your existing operations and tech-
nology staff have the necessary skills to evaluate
and operate the new equipment? Who else should
be on the team? What skills will they need to par-
ticipate? Will your sales team be able to market this
new technology?
You will benefit in direct proportion to your
commitment to ongoing training and support of
your staff. Take a chance. Send key staff to confer-
ences and training course. Open up the budget for
print and online subscriptions. Encourage internal
mentoring. Remember: most of what your staff
knows today will be obsolete within the next 36
months. How are you going to replace that knowl-
edge and experience with the next knowledge that
A method for managing
Managing technological shifts is a process, not a
state. You have to manage for change. The idea is
not to decide upon a single solution for the future,
but to build a structure that will accommodate
incremental changes. Never assume that you can
pin down the single right answer. It might be right
today, but it will almost certainly change in the next
one-two years. The ideal technology manager is a
great all-around manager who
also understands technology
and its implications.
The bottom line
Printing is never again likely
to be the lush business that it
was in the 1980s and early `90s.
The underlying structure has
changed. But there is still going
to be lots of printing out there,
certainly for the rest of our
lifetimes. The winners will be
the best-managed and best-
capitalized companies, able to
continue to invest in the best
new technology, and smart
enough to implement it
quickly and effectively. Small
and large, there are a host of companies that can
meet those qualifications today.
Publishers Information BureauÕs latest report was
overly optimistic in stating that, "The data shows the
magazine industry holding its own against a strong
January in 2003." Magazine advertising revenue in
January 2004 increased 10.4% when compared to
January of last year, but ad pages decreased by -0.3%
over that same period. Ad pages are dropping steadily:
0.95% in 2003, 3.2% in 2002 and 11.7% in 2001. Print
advertising is gaining revenue while losing volume. How
long can this continue?
Clearly classified advertising has been the
hardest hit in the last few years. As the NAA
notes: "The sharp employment drop three years
ago had a devastating impact on help-wanted
advertising in newspapers, which suffered a
dollar decline of 35 per cent in 2001, another fall
of 23 per cent in 2002 and another estimated 10
per cent reduction last year. From a peak level of
$8.7 billion in 2000, recruitment advertising
plunged more than 50 per cent to just under
$4 billion last year."
ThereÕs a new trend in Hollywood Ñ that
of converting feature films from silver-
halide to digital, in order to use digital
tools to improve the images, and then
converting them back to film (silver-
halide) for theater viewing. For anyone
in the printing industry who has lived
through the shift to digital imaging, this
brings a touch of nostalgia. WeÕve lived
through all of the challenges of the
move from analog to digital. Why is it
that Hollywood, with its infinitely
greater financial resources, wouldnÕt
have called upon a few printers and
prepress experts and learned exactly
what it could expect?
The process most used today creates a
"digital intermediate," reflecting that
fact that thereÕs good old film on both
ends of the process ("the medium still
generally considered to provide the most
reliable quality").
The most touching aspect of the
problem concerns that old bugaboo,
resolution. Gosh, they should have
dropped by the IPA technical
conferences for the last 20 years if
they wanted to find out more than they
could ever digest about that subject!
Holywood says that "film normally has a
resolution of about 4K (4,100 pixels
across by 3,000 deep). Most
postproduction houses convert that film
into a computer file by scanning it at a
resolution of 2K (2,048 pixels wide by
1,556 deep)." Eeek, half as much
(actually, much less than that, but
obviously no one is really counting)!
Yes, the opinions in the printing industry
were always shaped by an elite old guard
too, folks who, in all due respect, really
could see the difference between a drum
scan and a flatbed scan. But we soon
enough learned that most customers
couldnÕt see a difference, and that
buyers were decreasingly willing to pay a
significant premium to satisfy the tiny
minority that could.
And so in Hollywood, a digital trend is
finally emerging: "Almost a hundred films
using digital intermediate will appear in
movie theaters this year, compared with
about a dozen last year," the article
points out. Many of this past summerÕs
blockbusters used the technology,
including "Pirates of the Caribbean,"
"Terminator 3," "Seabiscuit" and

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