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Oct 1, 2000 12:00 AM

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Digital printing requires educated customers, smart salespeople and creative applications

Dozens of digital presses were shown or announced at Drupa (see related stories in the July and August 2000 issues). On the dynamic side (typically used for runs from 1 to 2,000), Canon, IBM, Indigo, Scitex Digital, Xerox and Xeikon showed new or improved machines. Xerox and Heidelberg also previewed their respective FutureColor and NexPress, to be released in 2001.

On the fixed image side, there are new DI presses from Adast, Akiyama, CreoScitex/KBA, Didde, Heidelberg, MAN Roland, Ryobi, Sakurai, Screen and Shinohara. Adast also is teaming with Presstek and Xerox on the PAX DI. These two-up and four-up presses will soon have some eight-up company - Komori showed a prototype of its Project D, a 40-inch DI press. DI presses generally are used for print runs from 500 to 10,000; Project D is expected to handle runs from 500 to 40,000 (see p. 16).

Dealing with variable data also is getting easier thanks to improved digital front ends and the Print on Demand Initiative's (PODi) Personalized Print Markup Language (PPML) specification. The XML-based specification makes almost all vendors' software and hardware compatible. An optimized PPML system enables a digital press to download part of a page once and reuse it on any sheet, as long as it resides in the printer.

"In many cases this technology will allow running the print engine at full rated speed, even for jobs with 100 percent variable content," says Dave deBronkart, PODi program director. (For more on PPML, see

Industry pundits agree that the technology has matured. Press operating costs are declining, reliability is improving and color is consistent. The machines work - but can traditional commercial printers make money with them? Will these printers need to adopt a new sales approach? What does it take to succeed? Here's what vendors, users and industry experts have to say.

BEFORE YOU BUY Tom Horan is the market development manager for Canopy (Seattle), a joint venture of PrimeSource and Xeikon that provides sales, service and support for Xeikon's digital printers in the U.S. and Canada. He stresses the importance of having a strategic plan. "You need to come up with a marketing plan," declares Horan. "We don't sell a press unless we know the customer has one. A digital press is application driven. If you don't have a niche or application, you don't have anything."

Notes Charlie Corr of CAP Ventures (Norwell, MA): "If you just drop in digital technology, you're probably not going to be successful. The ones who are struggling are those who say, `I'm going to move offset work over to a DI press and just do shorter runs.'"

Do your research before buying a press, counsels Bill Farquharson, president, Print Tec Network (Duxbury, MA). "It does not cost anything to talk to your clients and it costs little to nothing to get into a mentoring group or spend the money to go out and corner somebody at Graph Expo who's done it."

EDUCATE FIRST It's also essential for digital print newbies to understand the capabilities and benefits of the equipment. For the traditional offset commercial printer, succeeding with a digital press relies, in part, in realizing that the rules have changed - for operating the press as well as marketing and selling its ouput. While digital press quality is excellent, it isn't exactly the same as that of traditional offset. The savvy printer, however, realizes he or she is not selling print, but timely information, faster turnaround and in many cases, new communication solutions such as 1:1 marketing.

"When people start talking about marketing digital printing, we encourage them to replace the word `marketing' with `educating,'" reports Farquharson. The consultant teaches courses on selling conventional and digital printing, and has written sales and marketing programs for Indigo, Heidelberg and Xerox. "Customers are used to having two solutions: offset and light lens. Now all of a sudden we have this third thing - clients aren't used to that. For years, clients have been trained to think if they have 10,000 they can have color, but if they have less than that they're going to get penalized because the quantity is too small. We have to re-educate them on this new digital printing option."

Recalls Josh Murray, vice president, INKredible Printing (Miami): "We were the 70th Heidelberg DI press installed in the world, so we really had to educate people on digital. As soon as we mentioned digital, there was confusion: Is it a copier? It it a press? What is waterless ink? We had to explain what waterless ink is, how it improves the process and how it dries. We also explained file preparation and worked on changing customers' mindsets from film to direct-to-plate."

The 16-employee, $2 million operation installed its DI in 1997. Murray says INKredible fills the "middle void" between one- and two-color shops and those that can't do fewer than 100,000 impressions. Jobs run the gamut from basic business cards to four-color brochures.

Customer education is only one component of the Miami printer's sales strategy. "We're selling speed and cost savings with incredible service," relates Murray. "We don't sell it as `digital, digital, digital.' We tell customers they are going to get a great product that is fast and cheap - and by the way, we have a digital workflow; we go direct to press. We can sell presses all day long, but in the end, they're not buying a press, they're buying service. There is no better enjoyment to us as a company than to get our customers' products to market faster - that's the advantage we have over most."

Of course, before you can educate your clients, you have to educate your own staff.

"The future belongs to the technically superior," declares Farquharson. "Printers should be focusing on their technical skills, not the equipment. The single most important person is the technical communicator - someone who knows the major software but also has the communication skills to teach clients. Marketing digital means educating digital. If you don't have someone who knows how to deal with four-color separations in Microsoft Publisher, you're in trouble, because clients are going to come in with those files."

Dick Gorelick, president of Graphic Arts Sales Foundation (West Chester, PA), also cites management commitment as a key factor for succeeding with digital print. Observing that digital printers must create new demand rather than just fulfilling existing demand, he emphasizes the importance of understanding customers' and prospects' needs and challenges. The consultant suggests management set the tone early on by visiting customers with their salespeople.

"You can't sell distributed or variable printing without business savvy," Gorelick adds. In addition to understanding the printing process, a good salesperson should know how to read a balance sheet and operating statement.

If you are hiring new salespeople, ask the applicants how much business they created in previous sales jobs and check references, urges Gorelick. Be prepared to reorient your veteran sales staff, too. Those who are new to selling digital print should understand it is "a tool for delivering unique benefits, rather than just a short-run press."

KNOW THE SWEET SPOT Canopy's Horan says salespeople should know the sweet spot on the press - the run length and jobs for which it is most effective - so that they can cultivate those jobs. "If you know the press really well, you can find applications everywhere," says Horan.

Merrill Clark, Indigo's director of North American marketing, suggests that the ideal salesperson should "help customers think differently." A person with a combination of marketing and technical knowledge would make an excellent digital sales candidate, submits Clark.

The more you know about your digital print customers, the better prepared you'll be to offer solutions. "Ask a million questions," advises Gorelick. "Don't overlook easy sources of existing information. If you've printed a job conventionally for a particular customer, review it. Read the copy to gain insight into the customer's needs. Evaluate the design and look for ways digital printing could help."

Good samples go far in helping prospects understand the power of digital printing. "It is very visual," says Horan. "You want the wow effect. If you can get that, the prospect will relate it to their customer."

Showing customers the digital difference using their own files can be even more effective. Mike Chiricuzio is president of OneSource, an 18-employee, $3 million shop in Phoenix. OneSource uses an Indigo and a GTO DI to produce variable data and short- to medium-run work, including business cards, annual reports, flyers, brochures, name tags, letterhead and envelopes. "When we see pieces we know we can do better digitally," relates Chiricuzio, "we'll offer to do a free test for customers. They'll give us a file of a two-color job, and we'll show them how it looks in four color and give them a price on what it would cost. We are able to convert a lot of one- and two-color business and a lot of color copy business."

Chiricuzio is a digital print pioneer. In 1993 at Graph Expo, he saw Indigo's E-print. In 1994, his employer, Heritage Graphics (later acquired by Consolidated Graphics), purchased the Indigo press and eventually created Sequel, a separate division of the company. In 1999, OneSource purchased Sequel from Consolidated Graphics.

"We recognized that the whole workflow, the marketing and everything about digital printing was going to be different than conventional," recalls Chiricuzio. "We wanted to bring along all of the good things we learned from conventional printing and leave behind some of the baggage."

BE PATIENT Management and salespeople should have a realistic sales cycle expectation. "The traditional selling cycle is generally said to be three to six months," observes Farquaharson. "With digital printing it's longer than that, simply because customers are so used to doing it the old way. The printer might have the best solution for clients, but clients will not go digital because they've never done it that way before."

"You have to set proper expectations," concurs Horan. "You look at the account and determine the ultimate goal. It's a baby-step approach. You start with one piece to prove the concept and build success incrementally. It's not a quick sale - it takes time."

Many digital printers report that once they've won the first job, subsequent jobs are a much easier sell. OneSource, for example, has found that while business card work typically generates modest revenue, these jobs help position the printer as a supplier in the customer's mind and often lead to additional projects.

Pricing also pays a key role in succeeding with digital printing. Consider the whole project, not just the printed piece, advises Larry Zusman, marketing manager of 1:1 solutions, Xerox. Printers' prices should reflect all of the upfront costs associated with the project. If there is an online fulfillment element to the project, for example, the price of the project should include Web development costs.

SHORTER SUPPLY CHAIN "The end user doesn't care how the marks got on the paper," declares David Sigler, director of OnDemand Print and Publishing for Oce Printing Systems USA (Boca Raton, FL). "The value is in going after inefficiencies in the supply chain."

Sigler cites Day-Timer as an example. Since January, the company has been using the Internet to collapse the supply chain between itself and its customers. Visitors to the Day-Timer website now have an option to order Personal Page Refills, a yearly refill set that is digitally printed with the events and dates of the purchaser's choice, such as birthdays, anniversaries, meetings, etc. Day-Timer thus provides customers with a unique, personalized product while reducing its own inventory and warehousing costs. Information is retained for two years, facilitating repeat business.

Lee Dietz, chairman of (Portland, OR), also has identified digital printing and the Internet as an effective way to meet customer needs. Founded in 1992 as a black-and-white copy shop, Dietz thought his company could be competitive in the four-color market. After a couple of false starts with other digital presses, the company installed two Xeikon DCP/32 D presses late last year. He now describes his company as "a high-quality, low-priced, on-demand print shop."

Dietz says the company is producing 16,000 color pages a day and is expanding. The average order is $92; during a seven-hour period the number of jobs typically ranges from 200 to 300.

The company has developed partnerships with organizations such as the California Assn. of Realtors - real estate work accounts for 98 percent of the company's business. Dietz says realtors are good candidates for digital print, because most are eager to project a professional image. Also, since real estate agents are independent contractors, they act as their own purchasing agents. Jobs range from business cards to listing flyers to personalized, variable data postcards describing recent home sales in the recipient's neighborhood.

DIGITAL PRINTING AND THE INTERNET How do you drive customers to a digital-print website? Dietz has tried banner ads on real estate-related sites with mixed results. The most effective method had been to exhibit at real estate conventions around the country. Visitors to the booth can see the print quality and get a first-hand explanation of the company's services.

"Production is very efficient," reports Dietz. "We keep feeding job after job after job to the machine - we don't use a slip sheet between jobs. When we fire up the machine at 5 a.m., it runs until 4 p.m. without stopping." To avoid stopping the web-fed press to change paper rolls, the company uses just four paper stocks. has launched a four-color template digital printing service that makes it easy for customers to create and order color brochures, listing flyers, newsletters, postcards and business cards. Users select a template, upload the photos or logos of their choice, and enter the appropriate data. Within 30 seconds they get a PDF file, and if so desired, submit the order with one mouse click. If receives a file by noon Pacific time, the job is delivered the next day to the customer anywhere in U.S.

Fast turnaround, nationwide delivery and a tightly focused market will help Expresscopy compete with other e-commerce offerings, says Dietz."We look at competition as the inkjet printer on someone's desk. Every realtor, every small home business, they all need that small printer in that office. But if they need 100+ copies, they should come to us."

Who's successfully selling digital print? They may call themselves printers, but they're actually solution providers. According to Farquharson, they sell value, not volume. "A client that you win on price, you lose on price. Win that client on solutions, and he or she is yours forever."

Dream Color (Chicago) did its research before taking the digital plunge. Founded as a full-service trade shop in 1992, the $4 million, 19-employee operation has always had an electronic workflow. "We bought the latest that Linotype-Hell had to offer," recalls Bill Staar, president, "a high-end PostScipt system, two DaVincis, two film recorders and a 3800 scanner, plus a Kodak Approval. We could produce higher volumes of work than other companies with a fraction of the people."

Nonetheless, by 1997, as more printers brought prepress capabilities in-house, it was clear trade shops would have to expand their reach to remain in business.

"We looked for something we could sell our client base," recalls Staar. "We surveyed our customers and there was a demand for short-run, quick-turnaround printing. We bought two identical Quickmaster DIs and put them side-by-side. We had backup; we weren't adding one DI to go alongside a 40-inch press."

Averaging 350 jobs a month, DreamColor did well with its two DIs. On several occasions, however, it found itself with RFQs for work that wouldn't fit on the two-up DIs. The company considered getting a used 40-inch press and platesetter but didn't, because "we thought that make us like everyone else," says Staar. "We wanted to differentiate ourselves from the existing market."

Ultimately, DreamColor decided to go with a four-up DI press, the Speedmaster 74DI. Again the firm did its homework. "The decision was based on a survey of customers," relates Staar. "We asked them if we expanded our capabilities, would there be opportunities to do more work for them. They all said yes, so we went with it."

DreamColor has had the 74DI for about three months and is averaging about 10 jobs per day on it. Staar describes the five-color press as "custom-made with a cold-cure UV coater and extended delivery." He reports that the average makeready takes between 15 to 20 minutes, with plates being imaged in about five minutes.

Dream Color does a wide variety of on-demand work including customized catalog covers and targeted coupons. The trade shop-turned-printer has ordered a second 74DI, slated for delivery this December.

"It's a continuation of what we had been doing with the QMDIs, only higher quality," says Staar of the printer's 74DI work. "This is not a gimmick for us. Others might just be sticking a toe into digital printing. We're making a business."

Press manufacturers and distributors also are harnessing the power of the Internet to create new digital print applications. At Drupa, Indigo partnered with to show Web-driven variable data solutions, while Xeikon's U.S. distributor announced Internet-enabled print (IEP) solutions that automate the digital print workflow by linking its digital color presses to the Web. The IEP servers can accept data from Collabria and e-commerce networks and automatically drive Xeikon presses, facilitating online literature fulfillment. MediaFlex also recently announced it is working with Canopy (Xeikon's U.S. distributor) to co-develop technology and end-user applications for linking users to the Xeikon printers. Initial applications will assist sales managers and representatives, responding to customer inquiries via Web-based ordering of customized, one-to-one brochures and mailers.

"We're providing a full-service approach for print and Web applications," says Larry Zusman, marketing manager of 1:1 solutions, Xerox. This support goes beyond the actual printing process. For example, if a company wanted to pursue online digital-print fulfillment opportunities but lacked in-house Web development or database programming expertise, it could turn to the press manufacturer for help.

Xerox also has debuted its Digiflow personalized marketing communications solution, which combines Web-enabled customer data capture and variable data printing by integrating operations management software, CreoScitex' Darwin, GretagMacbeth color management tools and a job integrity system from Inspectron.