Thursday, March 23, 2006


A World of Change

There were two announcements this week that received much less news coverage than I thought they should. They both illustrate how the industry is changing, how competition is coming from new directions with greater intensity, and how communications technologies offer new opportunities for companies whose primary focus has been to put ink on paper.

The purchase of OfficeTiger by R.R.Donnelley combines with its prior Astron purchase to provide transaction services on an outsourced basis around the world. While the OfficeTiger purchase is more in the spirit of transitioning the old Moore-Wallace line of business from creating forms to capture data to actually collecting and managing the data on behalf of clients, there is a more important aspect to this deal. Both purchases put them in closer contact with all kinds of content creation, especially of the kinds that already and can use digital printing technologies more for a wide range of applications. By being in such close contact with the original data, they can offer more proactive and programmed implementation of communications initiatives, and can do so globally.

EFI made a major sale to office superstore Staples, designed to build their printing presence online, and to allow them to expand their offerings. While sending files to a printer is nothing new, for many of Staples new customers, all printing is a novelty, and they are shaping the perceptions and purchase habits of new print customers who think that printing is something you buy from an office supplies store.

Where are the franchise printers? A visit to the corporate web sites showed little capability to send files or tie in with the work habits of small businesses. FedExKinkos has aggressively pursued this on a corporate basis. Franchises still seem to be operating under the strategy that individual shops are where the action is, and focus on “find a location near you” as a means of directing sales to franchisees. In the process, the office superstores and FedEx, both outsiders to our industry, as many feel, are taking advantage of the most important trend that the Internet has brought us. First, that time is a scarce asset, and convenience is of great benefit to consumers. Consumers don't want to know the technical stuff, they just want their work. VistaPrint seems to be keenly aware of this in their offerings.

Second, geography and proximity are declining in importance. The idea of “a store near you” is good in many cases, but the Donnelley deals show that production and processing can be anywhere. The standardization offered by Staples and FedEx have a predictability that many small print users want. Too often “store near you” among printers means dealing with a different sets of personnel, different pricing, and different workflow preferences.

Ink on paper? Toner on paper? Sure, that has to be done well, but the business processes that get the jobs to that point are changing more dramatically than commonly realized, and often divert work away from commercial printers without them ever realizing it.

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