Teaching print buyers about the benefits of distribute-and-print workflows—rather than technology reliability issues—can be suppliers' biggest challenge.
If it's not the technology that's holding back distribute-and-print success, what is? This question was recently pondered by several technology and/or service providers who have developed some opinions and solutions of their own.
Educating the masses
"The idea of distribute-and-print is not dead," according to Vern Kellie, specialist, direct imaging, Heidelberg USA, Kennesaw, GA. For Kellie, the status of digital printing technologies is subject to a slow-starting demand. Perhaps this is due to a lack of education among print buyers, he suggests. In response to that concern, Heidelberg USA recently offered a seminar, with the Quickmaster DI at its heart.
"There are many sides to the distribute-and-print equation," Kellie claims. "There has to be a need, and there has to be a know-how."
The seminar was the product of an alliance among Heidelberg, Adobe (San Jose, CA), WAM!NET (Minneapolis) and CAPPS Studio (Chicago), the production facility for Leo Burnett, and was designed to show attendees that the technologies required for distribute-and-print workflows are really quite affordable.
For the study, CAPPS Studio and two of Heidelberg's facilities (in Atlanta and Mt. Prospect, IL) were connected via WAM!NET, which, Kellie points out, is a relatively inexpensive service. The partners worked with PDF files—and Adobe Acrobat is not a costly investment either, he adds. "Printing on our product—the Quickmaster DI—is probably in the $700 to $800 range for printing (in most cases)," Kellie notes. "So these are relatively small dollar items we're talking about."
At the seminar, a Kodak representative shot photographs of the audience to be incorporated in the document that would be printed before their eyes. Kellie explains the results: "Kodak shot the photos. We 'WAMed' them back to the production facilities at CAPPS Studio, where they were put into a Quark page. It was a 40MB file. The file was distilled, sent back to us and RIPed directly at the Quickmaster DI direct-imaging press, which has the ability to accept PDF files directly."
According to Kellie, the audience was "wowed." In his opinion, PDF really makes distribute-and-print possible. "We, and certainly most vendors, are banking on all future workflow tools being targeted to PDF," Kellie predicts. "It's often used in the proofing stage of production. Now you can actually print with it, so it makes sense to make it a part of the manufacturing cycle as well."
Digital presses also play an important role, Kellie suggests: "The idea of a digital press is that it can be calibrated to match a digital proofing device's output. So if I calibrate my printer and proofer, I should be able to get the same quality in Philadelphia, for example, as I get in Chicago. The important thing to keep in mind is that anybody can use these tools for not a lot of money," he adds. For more information on Heidelberg's Digital Imaging Association and a list of installations, visit www.hdia.org and www.heidelberg-di.com.
Simplifying the process
Accountability is also an issue for distribute-and-print suppliers. Who will be held accountable for collecting payment when a job is contracted at a printer in New York City but printed in London? This is an example of why the international headquarters of Agfa Div., Bayer Corp., Wilmington, MA, created Print-Cast—a service that manages the administration and distribution of digital files as they journey across the PrintCast Network, which comprises 400 Chromapress sites. Now in its Global Phase II, PrintCast involves two new software components: PrintCast Manager and PrintCast Remote.
International Marketing Com-munications Manager Gene Hunt explains the features: "The two software modules were developed in direct response to the need for some administrative and back-office procedures, including job tracking, billing, payments, currency, languages and things like that."
Designing the software in two components allowed for greater automation.
"We wanted one piece to remain at the central hub location—that's PrintCast Manager," explains Philippe Duval, international business manager for Print-Cast. "PrintCast Manager is essentially the master of all of the operations functions." PrintCast Remote, he adds, is the software that resides at the Chromapress sites and is used to create and receive job tickets.
PrintCast allows for payments and invoicing to be handled in local currencies, alleviating the need for each Chromapress site to be involved in complicated exchange rate conversions.
"'Distribute-and-print' isn't a new concept, at least in terms of the digital printing world," suggests Hunt. "Today, I don't think that people doubt that it's possible to send a file. … You simply need customers who have long-distance requirements to make it happen."
Customers do understand that it is possible to transmit digital data. They also understand that it is possible to compress these files and have color management values added at the time of printing, based on the type of digital press, which wasn't true even two years ago, Hunt points out.
"However, there's still the need for people to understand that it's a viable alternative to print and then distribute. And I think some companies are catching on.
"For example, Canon was distributing some of its manuals to different countries, and 80 percent of that cost was attributed to distribution. The company found that it could print these manuals in multiple locations and save that 80 percent courier cost. That's a substantial savings," states Hunt.
With 80 percent of Agfa's Chromapress installations residing internationally, there are new opportunities for U.S. companies. "What PrintCast is doing is making distribute-and-print a formal process," suggests Hunt, "so that each Chromapress user does not have to bear the responsibility of the administration, of finding the user and managing the shipment of the file."
Wanted: marketing strategies
As chairman of the International Printers Network (IPN) and President of Xerographic Repro-duction Center (XRC), New York City, Roger Gimbel has been able to monitor the distribute-and-print market closely. "Distribute-and-print has not been brought up to speed to the level of expectation the industry had," he confirms. "Mainly, that's due to lack of marketing."
But marketing is not solely to blame, according to Gimbel. There are other barriers. Some jobs are simply better suited for the traditional print-and-distribute method. Also, Gimbel adds, customers need to be educated. They must be brought up-to-speed on how to provide digital files for electronic transfer.
"Printers need to know how to sell it," Gimbel adds. "And they have to take a look at whether there's a benefit. How does a printer make the same margin with distribute-and-print that he makes by printing then distributing that job? And is the cost differential enough, in terms of the shipping, to justify additional markups? Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't."
Gimbel provides an example of the type of jobs his firm is handling: "We receive newsletter files in from (a major publisher) in New York City. We piece them together, check the data and print about 3,000 to 5,000 copies here at our site. Simultaneously, we send the files to digital printers in Houston and London, where they are printed and distributed. … We used to print them all, FedEx them to Houston and London, and then they were mailed from there. It's about 25 percent cheaper and 100 percent more efficient to do it this way."
Despite Gimbel's thoughts about low demand, he is encouraged about the future. "Once we went to full digital, it became much easier for us to support distribute-and-print, because we were able to send more and more compressed files. So really, the advent of digital has opened up the door," he notes.
-Gretchen A. Kirby
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