by Jim Lyons
The Hard Copy Observer, February 2007
In the world of high-tech public relations, many try but very few make it to the mountaintop. The summit to which so many PR departments aspire is the Wall Street Journal’s "Personal Technology" column, written for many years by Walter Mossberg. In the pecking order of where a new (or old) company would ideally like to see a favorable review, this column is the long-reigning number one—the holy grail of high-tech PR—even in these days of new media. And GreenPrint Technology, a young company based in Portland, OR, that offers a single product, made it to the top with a full “Personal Technology” column and a corresponding appearance on CNBC in December 2006, both espousing the virtues of the firm’s GreenPrint software.
The reason GreenPrint’s triumph is worthy of mentioning in this column is that it is a printer software company. We all know that our industry tends toward the soft sell and normally goes about its business quietly, even as millions of printers are sold every year, along with tons of ink, toner, and paper, satisfying customer needs the world over with great-looking, easy-to-generate, and affordable hard copy output. The rigorous printer reviews that once appeared in the general technology press, feeding the PR cravings of us marketing and technical types, now mostly appear in specialized industry publications such as The Hard Copy Observer. But when a new printer or something printer-related captures the attention of someone as prominent as Walter Mossberg, we all need to pay heed, even when the technology being reviewed on the one hand seems to threaten our business (promoting less printing) and on the other hand is aimed directly at our customers’ interests and has the potential to increase their satisfaction with our products.
Even Mossberg seemed a little amused at his own interest in GreenPrint. In his December 7 column, he writes, "In the digital world, all the hype and attention paid to flashy products and services often drown out simple solutions to smaller, but still important, consumer needs. Yes, it is great that we can listen to music on iPods or post and view videos on YouTube. But why do we still have to waste paper when printing Web pages?" By way of further explanation, GreenPrint is a complete print solution that intercepts print jobs (on Windows-based PCs only, for now) before the pages are sent to the printer. Then, through a combination of user intervention and automated settings, the software reduces the number of pages actually printed. The GreenPrint solution, while amazingly simple, is quite complete and works with virtually all Windows-based applications, including Web browsers, Microsoft Office applications, and Adobe Acrobat Reader. Speaking of the latter, GreenPrint includes an excellent print preview for reviewing and culling print jobs and a PDF writer (sourced from Ghostscript supplier Artifex) that worked flawlessly for me and provides a nice tool on any PC. The remainder of my testing also went well, including printing duplexed pages, a function that GreenPrint fixed after Mossberg reported some problems. The only issue with the software that I found is a problem with Microsoft Word’s envelope-printing function, which the company had previously identified and is fixing.
GreenPrint’s stated mission is enabling a reduction in the use of natural resources, but Mossberg focuses on his personal number-one issue—that last, useless, nearly empty page that is inevitably output when printing from Web browsers. Having been directly involved in HP’s initial efforts to improve Web printing, I must admit that this “last page” problem has never been solved until now with GreenPrint’s solution—and I’ve been paying attention. A memory that still stings a little is when William Ryan (Internet expert and keynote speaker at the very first Lyra Imaging Symposium in 1998) accused me of being part of an industry conspiracy that liked the fact that every Web printout included one useless page that consumed extra ink or toner.
Over the last few months, I have observed a variety of user needs and the efforts within our industry to offer creative ways to meet those needs, including small businesses needing in-house marketing capabilities, Internet users just wanting a simple black-and-white print, or teachers needing to output inexpensive color prints for their classrooms. GreenPrint has done a great job of focusing on real customer needs, observed firsthand from an end-user and corporate standpoint. Hayden Hamilton, founder of GreenPrint, tells of being inspired to start his company by his work at the massive Ford manufacturing plant in England, where the printer stations would be clogged by midday with stacks of useless, unneeded, and discarded pages from print jobs. These pages represented a waste of resources and a loss of productivity, as they got in the way of employees finding their intended printouts.
So what happens when a young company reaches the top of that metaphorical mountain and receives a favorable review from Walter Mossberg? According to Hamilton, GreenPrint’s index of interest, as measured by e-mails in the thousands, soared after the review hit the streets. And the attention comes from end users and enterprises alike, with some great customer stories for my next column!
Adding on 5/2007 -- Link to original Wall Street Journal review.