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Print’s Darwinian Evolution

Print's Darwinian Evolution:
Overview | Printers | Vendors | Print Professionals

Charles Darwin taught us that the smarter, faster, and stronger are the winners in the game of life. The process of natural selection ensures the "survival of the fittest." These changes, spanning millennia, in human evolution are often categorized by ages. The Stone Age where humans mastered the use of rudimentary tools is personified by the recent Capitol One commercials. Stones were eventually replaced by the Copper, Bronze, and Iron Ages, as our knowledge base and mastery of tools progressed.

Every Age has disruptors along the way. These "revolutions" are marked by relatively short periods of rapid change. The Industrial Revolution during the 18th and 19th centuries had profound and lasting effects on society, cultures, and economies. According to Wikipedia, "It started with the mechanisation of the textile industries, the development of iron-making techniques and the increased use of refined coal. Trade expansion was enabled by the introduction of canals, improved roads and railways. The introduction of steam power fueled primarily by coal, wider utilization of water wheels and powered machinery (mainly in textile manufacturing) underpinned the dramatic increases in production capacity. The development of all-metal machine tools in the first two decades of the 19th century facilitated the manufacture of more production machines for manufacturing in other industries. The effects spread throughout Western Europe and North America during the 19th century, eventually affecting most of the world, a process that continues as industrialisation. The impact of this change on society was enormous."

The Industrial Revolution conveniently coincided with the Golden Age of Print. The tremendous changes and knowledge of this period needed to be shared, debated, and recorded for posterity. Print was the perfect medium for the job. Print was relatively fast and cheap as compared with previous methods and could be easily distributed. As a result, print as a communication platform flourished and would remain a dominant medium until the dawn of the Information Age.

Blame the microprocessor and the Internet for the rapid change in communication and information exchange. The Internet as a distribution network has been adept at reducing the need for printed material. Online forms with back end databases have replaced form printing. Advertising collateral such as direct mailers, posters, flyers, are supplemented by social media and mobile campaigns (text, QR, apps). A portion, yet to be determined, of book and magazine printers' work is being distributed digitally on Kindles and the soon to be released iPad. No amount of optimism or dreaming will revert the tide of printing lost to bits and bytes, but stop blaming what cannot be controlled and contained. Companies and individuals involved in print need to quit dwelling on recent "woes" and focus on getting "fit."

This is not a sad story, nor is it printing's swan song. Contrary to The Buggles song, video did not kill the radio star. Just as TV did not kill radio, all-things-digital will not kill printing. New technology simply causes existing technology to adapt – to evolve.  After all, the medium that delivers the intended message to the targeted audience with the best cost to action ratio is the winner.

How are you getting fit?

photo by: Corey Ann

The Business of Free: Then and Now

The Business of Free Series

Free Generation | Then & Now |What’s Your Model | How’s That Free | Psyched Out

The concept of free has been around for quite some time. In the late 1800’s, many American watering holes began offering free food to any barfly who purchased at least one drink. The bars, of course, were profitable because the tendency of human nature to socialize meant patrons stayed longer and drank more. The bar goers were effectively subsidizing their meal by purchasing their drink of choice. “There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” gained popularity as a phrase, so did people’s distrust from this earlier form of free.

Fast forward one hundred plus years and the concept of free is more abundant and viewed with less contempt, especially by the younger generations. Many items that were once paid for are now free without any “strings attached.” Radio and TV, the original free broadcasting options, continue to be free with even greater accessibility (mobile devices, Hulu, etc.). Open source and cloud computing are rapidly driving down the cost of software and its distribution. Yahoo! Mail, gMail, and Open Office are prime examples of free software. Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, Yahoo! Games, Pandora, and countless other online services designed to keep us connected, entertained, and engaged, are FREE!

Of course, all of these services are digital with all of the marginal cost benefits of bits and bytes. In other words, the cost of Facebook adding a single, additional user is an insignificant cost because the hardware, software, and bandwidth, necessary for a single user approaches zero. This is a direct of Moore’s Law which stated that computing power will double ever two years. With this doubling effect prices have also decreased, effectively meaning that the cost of a Facebook user today will be half as much next year.

Free is not isolated to the digital realm. Albeit not as common, free can even be found within the printing industry. Want 250 free business cards? Vistaprint offers those. How could they possibly make money offering a “real” product for free? Their recent press release should be enough justification that this model can work – 27% revenue growth.

photo by: AGoK

Future of Print: Cloud Computing

Wisps of white, then pink, then orange, floated across the sky as I watched the sun set yesterday. Being a technologist, this got me thinking about cloud computing and what it could and will mean to the printing industry.

What is Cloud Computing?
Cloud computing is defined as "a computing capability that provides an abstraction between the
computing resource and its underlying technical architecture (e.g.,
servers, storage, networks), enabling convenient, on-demand network
access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be
rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or
service provider interaction." Simply put its like renting a movie from Netflix where you pay a flat rate to have a movie delivered to your home. When you order the movie you are not at all concerned, let alone interested, in the complex web servers, databases, or delivery route through USPS that is used. The same is true for cloud computing where you are renting time on another company's equipment and services to accomplish your computing needs without having to know the technical minutia of how it is done.

Five Characteristics of Cloud Computing
  1. On-Demand, Self-service
  2. Broad Network Access
  3. Resource Pooling
  4. Rapid Elasticity
  5. Measured Service

Say again, what is it?

Chances are you have used at least one service, as most consumer based examples of cloud computing are masked as software as a service (SaaS). Perhaps you have used such as service to log into your company's corporate network through a VPN. Virtual Private Network service was one of the first forms of cloud computing but there are others., web based e-mail like gMail, Adobe's Photoshop express, are some other examples. Currently, the only real examples to be found within the printing industry are Web2Print applications that are not hosted by the print company, although most Web2Print vendors offer both varieties.

How does it work?
Web savvy companies such as Amazon already offer up their hardware for cloud computing, but new entrants like Rackspace are popping up to compete in this new market as well. You pay the provider a per hour charge for the usage, including the amount of data transfer, and receive a virtualized server with a fixed amount of memory and storage space. Again, it is similar to having your own server with the heavy lifting done by the provider. A 2GB memory server with 80GB stoarge from Rackspace is estimated at less than $100 per month with up to 10GB of upload and 45GB of download. The cheapest server currently offered by Dell is listed at $699 or $58.33 per month which does not include the price of hosting and administering the server. With wider adoption, the prices and performance of cloud computing will outpace the need for small businesses to purchases and maintain complex computing configurations. This technology is not yet ready for explosive growth and adoption because the uses for cloud computing are limited to what software and services can run within their infrastructure. After all, how many graphic arts vendors currently offer any software that their customer can easily deploy and run in a cloud?

Why will it be important?
Software vendors who supply the industry with solutions from MIS to shipping software will start to utilize this technology where appropriate. By effectively outsourcing the technical overhead, the solutions could offer many tremendous benefits for both the vendor and the printer.

  • Cost of ownership will be contractual based upon usage instead of high
    upfront capital expenditures. Imagine being able to utilize a prepress
    production system via the web instead of hosting it on servers within
    the print shop.
  • Updates will be done in the cloud, reducing the amount of expertise and administrative IT tasks done by the print shop.
  • SaaS applications create and empower a more dynamic workforce that can be geograhpically dispersed. Employees can work when they want and where they want while still providing value, not to mention higher retention rates for the company.
photo by: k4dordy
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