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Capturing the power of digital printing

Dec 12, 2001 12:00 AM

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Focusing exclusively on non-digital reprographics will no longer suffice, according to Elaine Wilde, senior vice president and general manager, worldwide graphic arts business, Xerox Corp. (Rochester, NY). She contends that the most compelling new direction in the graphic arts continues to be digital.

"Technology has had a dramatic impact, transforming the focus of the printing business from make-then-sell volume manufacturing to sell-then-make custom-tailored e-based services delivered just in time," the exec says.

This print-on-demand scenario is the result of an ongoing convergence in telecommunications, networking, information management and digital printing that Wilde says has been changing the graphic arts industry for the past 30 years. Today, print on-demand is a $21.4 billion business that will more than double to $52.5 billion by 2005, according to market research firm CAP Ventures (Norwell, MA).

Among the recent high-visibility converts are book publishers. Wilde notes that Xerox’s advanced digital book-publishing solutions revenue has grown from $4 million in 1999 to $73 million last year, and is expected to top $100 million this year, through such high-profile customers as book publisher Bertelsmann AG.

Wilde says that digital printing does three valuable things that are impractical to do with offset presses:

  • Digital printers produce small quantities more quickly and economically than traditional offset equipment. Rather than printing large quantities for storage in warehouses, print providers can now store documents electronically and print as needed, reducing storage and waste costs while improving the timeliness and relevance of the content.

  • Digital printers can vary the content of mass-produced documents from page to page, line to line, or image to image, unlike traditional presses that can print only static content.

  • Digital printers integrate seamlessly into other digital systems, such as PCs, computer networks, accounting systems and the Internet, enabling what Wilde says is unprecedented automation. The same digital coding that comprises a job’s content—its images and information—also serve as the underlying language for accounting, billing, job ordering, job management and quality control systems.

In essence, the transformation to digital-based printing is providing new ways to communicate, new ways for print providers to create value and new ways for them to make money. These services are built around customer needs, rather than hardware capabilities, and are strategic in nature, typically delivered as profitable and predictable long-term multimedia programs. Increasingly, printing and alternative forms of output are ordered and controlled over the Internet, where the business assumes global reach.

"Enterprises that want to capture the new production efficiency, to deliver the new document effectiveness and to offer the valuable new services, must employ digital devices," Wilde declares. "The reward is a profitable business that will meet customer demand in ways that would have been unthinkable at any other time in history."