Network Publishing: Part Two

I'd like to pick up where I left off in last month's column about network publishing and its implications for printers. I have spoken with many people since writing about this in both this publication's column and my monthly e-newsletter. Some are intrigued by the idea of becoming the data streaming hub for customers. Others believe this could be another good idea/bad timing scenario. Still others think putting effort into developing these new media capabilities will be money down the drain, since they believe customers will choose to manage this in house.

Before I address these viewpoints, I first want to review what we mean by network publishing and why we believe printers are perfectly positioned to become its service providers.

Digital technology, of course, is the foundation upon which the principle of network publishing is built. Print, the Internet and wireless communications are the cornerstones. As adoption rates for the Internet and wireless communications increases so, too, will their practical applications. While the U.S. has thus far lagged behind Europe and Japan in use of wireless devices like cell phones and PDAs, experts project the wireless market to explode over the next two to three years, which in turn will spawn new, improved handheld devices at lower cost.

In fact, as I write this column, the FCC is holding a weeks-long auction of 422 airwave licenses to meet what CNN describes as the "exploding demand for wireless phones and other devices." Companies like Verizon Wireless, AT&T Wireless and Sprint PCS are expected to bring between $10 billion to $18 billion to U.S. coffers this year alone.

As it implies, network publishing streams data across the full range of print, Internet-based and wireless media. Network Publishing Service Providers would be responsible for managing the data¼s conversion to html, xml, PDF, GIF, JPEG, MPEG, Java, etc. for the Internet and wml for wireless appliances, as well as streaming the data to the appropriate media per customers¼ requirements.

Printing With New Media

Many printers have already taken steps to broaden their range of services to include new media, such as digital photography, CD-ROM production and replication, interactive video, etc. Some companies have even entered the brave new territory of cross-media delivery. North Carolina-based Daniels Graphics/Communications (www.danielsgraphics.com) and Ohio-based SpringDot (www.springdot.com) were recently profiled in Volume 5, Number 4 of The Seybold Report on Internet Publishing. These two companies not only offer commercial printing, but also variable data printing, Internet services and, now, targeted messaging in multiple media via alliances with Twelve Horses (www.twelvehorses.com), a hosted ASP service formed by veterans of digital printing.

Twelve Horses' MessageMaker system combines print with new media by allowing businesses to create and send over the Web personalized messages to customers with embedded digital versions of printed literature, which can be ordered from inventory or "dynamically" generated, with "on-the-fly" PDFs, and printed on demand. One can order via email or through the Web interface on the printer¼s website. The article quoted SpringDot¼s CEO, Thom Deutsch, as saying that the service provides commercial printers with "a hybrid solution that addresses both print and electronic components of customers' communications.

The Skeptics

Not surprisingly, there are many who are less enthusiastic than I about the potential network publishing brings our industry. And they have solid arguments. I've had many printers as clients who several years ago eagerly embraced FTPing and digital asset management as profitable value-added services for customers. The problem was that customer demand just wasn't there.

Later, when we held a focus group for one client's customers and prospects, we discovered that many customers, particularly larger corporate printbuyers and ad agencies, were unwilling to relinquish control of their artwork depositories, choosing instead to set up their own internal asset management systems. I want to note, however, that as the years have passed customers have become more comfortable with the concept. Customers are stretched to the limit performing their primary responsibilities at work; they appear to be increasingly receptive to partnering with providers whom they trust and who can relieve them of such tasks.

The same situation existed with FTP usage. Three years ago, customers couldn't, or wouldn't, take the time to learn this time-saving transmission system. Today, nearly all of my clients' high-volume, high-color customers FTP their art files.

The good idea/bad timing argument is certainly one to contemplate, particularly given the stock market jitters and recession foreboding. But I'm a firm believer in the adage "there's no time like the present," which I think is especially true in this age of lightning fast change. Since most prognosticators are giving the wireless revolution a couple to three years to take firm hold in this country, we have some time to start experimenting.

Commercial Versus Digital Print Providers

Because digital printing is the natural heir to the industry throne in this digital age, it would appear that these printers would have a leg up on offset web and sheetfed commercial printers. While this may be true in the short term, I believe all printers will be able to easily adopt a network publishing strategy. In addition to Twelve Horses, there are a number of other emerging services whose goal is to facilitate cross-media purposing.

I came across MercialXpress the other day. Describing itself as "a patent pending media and content control technology that allows marketers to design, package and deliver highly compressed rich media files and other promotions and documents that require no reader software," the service is primarily email-based, but also offers html versioning for the Web.

This past year, my company started providing clients with combination email/website campaigns, consisting of "teaser" emails with live links to a client's website page where recipients can find more information on the promotion or register for freebies. Thus far, the campaigns appear to be working, increasing website traffic and generating leads.

In my next column, I'll talk about ways we can begin to explore the viability of our assuming the Network Publishing Service Provider role, and steps we can take to start repositioning our companies to meet tomorrow¼s demands.


Charlotte Mills Seligman is president of Traversant Marketing Communications. The firm specializes in planning and executing integrated marketing programs for printing and allied graphic arts companies, with nearly two decades of expertise in the industry. Previous columns and issues of the company's Ti Monthly e-newsletter are posted on http://www.traversant.com. Inquiries should be directed to (415) 357-2929 or charlotte @traversant.com.

© 2000 Charlotte Mills Seligman

December 20, 2000
Print & Graphics
Col#21, 12/00
Printing Journal
Col #21, 12/00
Network Publishing II
By Charlotte Mills Seligman

 

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