Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Holy Pink Pearl, Batman!

Xerox (NYSE XRX) has been making noise this week about Erasable Paper! Wow!!! The company that brought us -- through their Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) -- the mouse, the graphical user interface, Ethernet, the page description language, and on and on, now brings about the unthinkable! Actually, I don't mean to be flip. Combining the media attributes that make paper so popular (widely available, cheap, transportable, etc) with reusability is somewhat of a Holy Grail in the printing industry. Read about Xerox's latest approach and comment, please!

Epson AIO -- Biggest Specification Yet?

That's the quote from GadgetSpy's lead paragraph of a review of the Epson DX6000. Great site, nice review, but I never did get to what the "biggest specification" really was. All-in-one functionality? That's my guess. And yours?

Monday, November 27, 2006

Printers, Black Friday and Cyber Monday

These days at least, it's really never the case that printers are the big draw on Black Friday or Cyber Monday. HDTV's, laptops, and memory (jump drives and flash cards) seem to be the most-promoted items, at least in my view. However, inkjet printers are mentioned in this humorous personal account. from Honolulu.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

EK Needs To Be More Like WU?

Yes, that's Kodak (NYSE: EK) who needs to be more adaptive and innovative in their business model transformation. That's according to Business Week's Steve Hamm and William C. Symonds, in their "Inside Innovation -- In Focus" piece titled "Mistakes Made On The Road To Innovation" and dated November 27, 2006 (see, read JimLyonsObservations and see into the future!). And the suggested model for Kodak? None other than the venerable Western Union (NYSE WU). In a great quote, Hamm and Symonds observe that WU "never confused the business it was in with the way in conducted its business." Highly recommended reading!

Dell Does It

Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) more-or-less "pulled up" their postponed earnings announcement with good results after today's bell, beating the Street. The stock is up nearly 10% in after hours trading. Printers weren't specifically mentioned in the corporate press release.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Dude, You're (NOT) Getting a Dell

A Dell (NASDAQ DELL) earnings report, that is. The formerly #1 computer maker will be delaying their report, originally scheduled for this afternoon, citing their ongoing SEC investigation. HP (NYSE HPQ) is still on for their announcement after today's bell.

It's starting to seem like a long time ago when Dell's PC business seemed invincible, and the company boldly ventured into the printing arena. Their stated intent was to disrupt HP in those markets, and hurt that company's ability to fund a losing computer business with their large printer and supplies profits.

Things do change!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Welcome to the Blogosphere!

At the risk of that title sounding dated (the term "blogosphere" must be passe by now!), I welcome my long-time HP (NYSE: HPQ) colleague into the swim with The HP LaserJet Blog. Vince joins a handful of other HP exec bloggers, with a blog devoted to printers and solutions.

One comment in his most recent entry regarding third-party supplies caught my attention:

Very often those “recycling” bins you see for remanufactured cartridges are actually just giving cartridges to companies so they can sell them back to you, at a greatly decreased level of quality.

While I grant the free market and "caveat emptor" allow for offering consumers a choice for their printing supplies, eliciting used cartridge donations under a "green" banner takes a certain amount, if not a lot, of nerve. When I see these bins in schools, churches, and even our local organic food store, I am disgusted, knowing what I know about the business.

And on the subject of printer blogs? I was at a seminar the other day featuring a blogger from one of our local printer and copier resellers. They're an innovative company, and the gentleman in question is doing some great things with technology. But when referred to as doing a blog about printers and copiers, he quickly corrected the panel's moderator, noting that would be "far too boring" so he blogs about larger IT and business concerns.

So looks like it's just Vince and me for now!

PS -- Kudos to my buddies at Istockphoto.com and their amazing collection of, yes, stock photos. When searching for a graphic to liven up this entry, I was given a choice of 124 different images tagged with "blog". Wow!

IE7 Improves Printing (and someone notices)

We've been following the progress on Internet Explorer 7 and its printing enhancements through Beta, but it's been a bit disappointing to see the lack of media attention to this important improvement. It's understandable why some of the summary reviews don't cover better printing when there are other, glitzier features to cover like tabbed browsing (only new for Microsoft) and other features. However, a check on some more comprehensive reviews does show recognition of this big improvement in IE7.

I like the quote from Paul Thurrott of Supersite for Windows:
...the one area where I can unequivocally say that Microsoft has finally gotten it completely and utterly right. Nice job.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Samsung's Internet Printer

Watching the election-night web news action, I HAD to click through to this ad for the Samsung "Internet Printer". Where have I heard this positioning before? (Hint: HP LaserJet 5L, circa 1995!) But it just goes to show, good ideas last!

Observations: The Shipping News—Print on Demand on the High Seas


I am dedicating this column to those of you thinking ahead past the looming holidays and the closing of the books on 2006 to that all-important winter vacation somewhere sunny. While the Lyra Imaging Symposium held in late January in Rancho Mirage, CA, might be enough for some, others are thinking about something more substantial such as a tropical cruise. So for you soon-to-be-cruisers, I am offering some advice based on recent personal experience about how to stay in touch while you are at sea—with the added bonus that my advice relates directly to the printing industry!

I just returned from a long cruise across the Atlantic Ocean. While all that time at sea was extremely relaxing, I was worried that a cruise might bring about a personal crisis due to information withdrawal. “Getting away from it all” was definitely an objective of the trip, but keeping up with world, national, business, and sports news was still important to me. Thanks to the ship’s print-on-demand service, I was able to get my news fix with the assistance of NewspaperDirect, a Canadian company that emerged during the Internet boom and that has adapted, survived, and even prospered.

For a little background, let’s go back to the beginnings of the Internet revolution, when some of the more imaginative leaders in the printing and imaging business began to see that the industry was facing a classic threat/opportunity paradigm, maybe the biggest the industry would ever face. News and information that flowed physically to people, from centrally printed newspapers and magazines, would eventually be replaced by electronically distributed material that readers would print at the point of consumption. Industry pundits referred to this paradigm shift as moving from a “print-and-distribute” model to a “distribute-and-print” model. Not only was the new model much more efficient in terms of both cost and time, it was also a potential boon for manufacturers of desktop and workgroup printers, as these devices would take much of the workload (and revenue) from centralized printing plants.

In the mid-1990s, some industry leaders sought to validate this trend and learn how to facilitate the new model’s adoption by searching for some corner cases where special circumstances had caused the shift to already occur. One such early example was TimesFax, which was a version of the New York Times edited down to a concise eight-page summary (including the crossword). The TimesFax was faxed to far-flung locations around the globe, such as out-of-the-way hotels, U.S. embassies, and, of course, cruise ships. The eight-page fax was then copied and distributed to guests and employees who needed their Times for the day, even if they were in Qatar or the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. By the late 1990s, TimesFax had moved to using e-mail distribution of PDF files, and the service is now known as TimesDigest.

In 1999, NewspaperDirect was formed. The firm’s value proposition was similar to that of TimesFax, but NewspaperDirect served more in the capacity of a distributor. The firm reached agreements with multiple media companies to provide electronic versions of complete newspapers and offered hotel chains the ability to sell their guests daily printed copies of their local paper, which were printed on demand on-site at participating hotels in the wee hours of the morning. The HP LaserJet 8100 was the printer of choice for local printing.

HP and NewspaperDirect formed a partnership during my time at HP. At the time, I had doubts that the business model could produce enough volume to justify the hardware overhead and supplies hassles. The print volume for such a service was dependent on increasing demand for hard copy newspapers among the growing segment of laptop-carrying, Internet-addicted road warriors. Along with accessing e-mail and other company information, this group was getting more and more of its news via the Web, spurred on by better news sites and the increased availability of broadband connections at hotels.

This takes us to the present—NewspaperDirect’s product (or is it really a service?) was available on my cruise in late 2006. The company had made it after all, and I decided to learn more about the firm’s story.

An interview with James Woloszyn, NewspaperDirect’s director of operations, and Gayle Moss, the firm’s director of marketing, answered some of the questions I had about the company’s path from its humble beginnings to the present. Woloszyn and Moss freely admit that the firm had to shift from its initial business model of 1999. One important change involved the transition from in-hotel printing to a “semi-distribute-and-print” model in which printing occurs at a local distributor’s off-site location. Physical distribution then replaces electronic distribution over the proverbial last mile—rather from every individual hotel’s printer to each guest room. In addition, the print distributors refocused their customer list beyond road warriors and business hotels to include luxury hotels, cruise ships, and yachts.

Variety is a key part of NewspaperDirect’s value proposition, so the company has continued to expand its offerings. In the beginning, the firm had agreements with 30 newspapers. Today, NewspaperDirect has arrangements with more than 600 newspapers. For example, on my cruise, I was offered the choice of 370 newspapers from 66 countries in 38 languages. (Call me boring or pedestrian but I picked USA Today.) Perhaps most importantly, in addressing the large and growing customer segment that prefers on-screen viewing of the news, NewspaperDirect has leveraged the print-on-demand newspaper offering with a feature-rich newspaper-viewing alternative called PressDisplay.com, recognizing there are two segments of information consumers: those who prefer hard copy and those who prefer electronic display.

While I am more display-oriented, the ship’s satellite-based Internet service was costly and slow. News sites took quite a long time to download when they did display at all. So my chaise-lounge-friendly alternative was a hard copy ledger-sized USA Today—duplexed, stapled, and printed in monochrome. (The irony of getting USA Today, which pioneered the broader use of color in newspapers, in black-and-white was not lost on me.) At $3.95 a day, the hard copy was not cheap, but the additional cost was in line with the premiums one typically pays on a cruise, and the newspaper was a welcome lifeline to civilization.

So how does the cruise line provide on-demand printing? While still tied up to the dock at our embarkation point, I realized that the daily printing demands of a cruise ship are massive even on an average-sized-ship—let alone the mega-cruisers being commissioned these days. Typical printed documents include daily menus, newsletters, and advertising flyers for several thousand passengers. Adding in a few dozen newspapers does not add much to the ship’s overall printing workload, and the newspapers produce profits and satisfy guests’ needs to keep in touch with the world back home. I did not see the ship’s behind-the-scenes production facilities where NewspaperDirect papers are converted from ether to hard copy. It seems that cruise staff are well trained to keep passengers away from the ship’s “backstage.” And, after all, I did not try too hard—I was on vacation!

So, future cruisers, check with your individual cruise line before departing, but the odds are good that NewspaperDirect’s daily news fix will be awaiting you at sea. And remember how I missed getting a backstage peek at how a ship’s printing workload is produced? I think I might take another cruise soon just to check it out.

Jim welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions for future columns at jflyons@gmail.com. Past columns, links, and other musings may be found at jimlyonsobservations.blogspot.com.