Master Manufacturer: The Modern Printer’s Evolution
Wherever you are headed, there is a printer to accompany you on your journey. While putting ink on paper remains their primary business, most printers are ready to expand—or have already expanded—the definition of their services.
"We are in the business of storing, managing and distributing content," says Michael Simon, executive vice president of Publishers Press. "We just happened to be doing it in print for the last 140 years; but in the future, our digital content distribution mechanism can be every bit as effective."
Most printers are developing in areas such as mobile marketing, content management, document management and e-mail marketing. But they are testing many possibilities, from pooled ad sales for their publisher clients (Bartash Printing, a Philadelphia coldset printer) to editorial photography (Quad/Graphics).
Printers can expand, essentially, in two directions: managing digital content or operating in new media channels that parallel print. In the first case, a printer takes on tasks that publishers have traditionally performed, but undertakes them with high-volume, state-of-the-art technology that individual publishers can't easily afford. In the second case, a printer looks toward what currently augments, and may eventually replace, print.
As an example of the latter, mobile phones represent a new content medium, and printers see a compelling analogy: What we were doing for publishers on paper, we can now do on screens.
Brown Printing has leveraged the European expertise of its parent company, Bertlesmann, toward developing mobile marketing technology for the U.S. market. Released last year, B.Mobile makes print interactive with mobile devices.
After downloading a "reader," a smartphone user can scan 2D barcodes with B.Mobile technology, launching a Web page on the user's phone, which can facilitate more interaction, collecting user information or delivering content, from coupons to commentary.
Mobile ticketing, which airlines have begun to use, requires a scanner that can read an image from a cell phone. As retailers acquire such scanners, the possibilities of mobile marketing expand. A coupon, a sweepstakes entry, or the buyer's demographic data can all be captured from his mobile phone at the point of purchase. Mark Treat, Brown's executive vice president of new business development, noted that Brown sells scanners to complete its mobile technology package.
Mobile marketing can link publications to publishers' social networks or networks like Facebook and Twitter, and encourage reader engagement with articles or topics in the form of comments, tags and forwarding. Advertisers are now tantalizingly close to the two-way dialog they crave: pulling data from consumers and pushing product information shaped by consumer interests.
Brown also offers digital editions in a partnership with iMirus. Treat says he sees a convergence of mobile technology and digital editions ahead as the iPad and other tablets make the mobile screen a much bigger canvas.
A Move Toward Targeted Marketing
Another new expansion area is e-mail marketing. For example, in 2008, Transcontinental Inc. acquired Thindata 1:1, which specializes in permission-based e-mail and data analytics. Bruce Jensen, Transcontinental's group vice president, says, "We want to be a multichannel company. Print is still the core of many of our customers' businesses, but we're following customer demand for new options."
Transcontinental's focus is on all marketing channels—it also bought a mobile marketing company called LIPSO—but e-mail applications fit well with its customer base, which includes magazine, book and catalog publishers, and retailers.
Retailers have set the pace for multichannel marketing efforts. Jensen and Nicky Milner, Transcontinental's vice president of on-demand solutions, described the efforts a grocery chain might use: loyalty cards to track purchasing behavior, an in-store magazine with coupons, cooking tips and recipes, inserts, e-mail marketing tailored to the recipient's purchase patterns or opt-in choices, direct mail, a website that responds to user interests, and mobile apps.
Magazine publishers can take away from this not only the multichannel sales approach, but the possibility that advertisers will expand their publishing boundaries and eliminate their need for traditional magazines. If readers can't detect the difference between promotion from a retailer and information from a publisher, magazines have even more to worry about.
Publishers have leveraged advertising to afford the creation and distribution of high-quality content, and the development of targeted audiences; only the largest retailers can afford comparable expenditures. Publishers, therefore, that can prove their value as intermediaries (custom publishers) to advertisers can find, in this shift, a significant opportunity.
Integrated Publishing Platforms
Milner believes printers are especially capable of integrating multiple promotion channels—which brings us to the other direction printers can go—offering services for content creation and management. Transcontinental also has invested in content management systems, and Milner notes, "For some of our sophisticated customers, any piece of information may be used in nine to 10 different places, from a website to an e-mail newsletter to a magazine—all driven by consumer information."
In another example, Publishers Press created a content management system through alliances with software vendors, with the printer serving as the integration hub. "It's a comprehensive publishing solution," says Simon, "that will take our customers to print to phone and to the Web." Services include data mining and enrichment, content management, e-mail marketing and e-newsletters, and analytics.
This puts Publishers Press into a marketing partnership with its customers, which introduces the question of where the publisher should end and the printer begin. "I'm trying to be the ultimate consortium for my clients," says Simon, who stresses that Publishers Press can afford to invest in and maintain state-of-the-art technology, which individual customers may find difficult.
The company also focuses on the mechanics of distribution to new channels, with web hosting and production workflow tools. Several years ago, like most printers, it developed digital edition technology, ePub Express. Simon concedes, "It's now slightly lagging Zinio, but ready to leapfrog."
This is a fruitful, but challenging frontier. Despite some toehold in the digital editions market, the printers interviewed also were awaiting the iPad's impact on magazines. As early apps from Sports Illustrated and Wired show, both publishers and readers still are testing the new medium's boundaries, benefits to consumers and the cost/benefit balance, as publishers salivate over a mechanism for collecting money via Apple, but view with dismay both sales terms and reader price resistance.
Cutting Costs While Growing
Printers are prepared to develop or acquire digital edition technology, but as David Fry, chief technology officer of Fry Communications, says, "We're in a no man's land between what we can do today and where we'll need to be in five years, when users will consume content on all kinds of devices. It's a beautiful world of the future, but to get there is painful and potentially expensive, until the readership levels provide the necessary economics."
Fry's view of the future includes lowering publishers' costs and increasing distribution to new audiences. To cut costs and streamline the editorial operation through page makeup, the company offers cloud publishing services. "The goal is to provide everything a publisher might need to put pages together, manage ad pages, move content to mobile devices and track results. We put it all into cloud computing," Fry says. Fry integrates software from several vendors and acts as host, with publishers able to access their files and systems via the Web.
The print content management software uses Woodwing's Smart Connection Enterprise and dataplans' Journal Designer, with connections to Adobe InDesign. The user gains all the benefits of document management—version control, a central repository and collaborative tools—plus standardized content management, from pages to mobile to Web.
To help publishers reach new audiences, Fry partnered with nStein, the company whose software powers websites for companies like Condé Nast, The New York Times and Hearst. "nStein is a Web content management system that does semantic analysis of text," Fry explains, "and can generate links automatically and dynamically, finding related content … of interest to the user."
These are just a few examples of each printer's new service portfolio. Your options are even more numerous, as competing third parties also specialize in these technologies, and printers are increasingly willing to sell new services unbundled from printing.
Publishers have three choices: develop similar services in-house to grow beyond print; hire a supplier dedicated to the necessary technology; or expand the printer-publisher relationship to include more services. Printers can make a good, practical and economic case for continuing to serve as content managers and distributors, and are eager to continue their customer relationships into the future. PE