by Jim Lyons
as published in The Hard Copy Observer, March 2007
Last year, Jim Lyons wrote a special column titled “A Tale of Two Conferences” that compared and contrasted the 2006 Lyra Imaging Symposium and Demo 2006 (Observer, 3/06). In this article, he revisits this topic after attending the 2007 versions of both events.
Before discussing some of the interesting confluences between the 2007 Lyra Imaging Symposium and Demo 2007, let us take a brief look back at 2006. In my March 2006 column, I pointed out the clear differences between the two events in terms of their target audiences, technology and market scope, and presentation format. Despite the differences, I was able to find many points of commonality. For example, several of the 2006 Lyra Imaging Symposium presentations identified end-user issues and opportunities in the global printing and imaging market, and some exhibitors at Demo 2006 addressed these same user needs with specific products and services. In 2006, both Riya and Sharpcast took steps to alleviate the end-user pain associated with the disorganized morass of digital photos being captured. Directly related to printing, one of the consensus hits of Demo 2006 was Blurb, a physical bookmaking service that was just getting started on its venture to create books from blogs. Another company called Smilebox captured my attention by straddling the physical and ethereal worlds and specializing in greeting card and scrapbook design and printing.
This year, Demo 2007 and the 2007 Lyra Imaging Symposium were held during the same week at the end of January just down the road from each other. Not long after hearing a stimulating Lyra Imaging Symposium presentation on personal bookmaking by Frank Cost, associate dean of the College of Imaging Arts and Sciences and codirector of the Printing Industry Center at Rochester Institute of Technology, I arrived at Demo to find a particularly relevant demonstration by SharedBook. Based in New York City, SharedBook was similar to Blurb at last year’s Demo in that the firm succeeded in getting the Web-2.0-oriented Demo audience thinking about, at least briefly, actual physical books.
SharedBook is taking a different tack from Blurb. Enabling Web-site managers to give users book-making capabilities, SharedBook uses a “reverse publishing platform” to pull together assorted Web content into virtual book form. The solution then offers physical book-fulfillment capabilities to other Web sites using Xerox iGen3 digital color presses. (For those of us who have observed the development of the Web over the last 10 to 12 years, “repurposing” originally meant converting printed content to Web applications, so now it is interesting to see a shift in emphasis to the opposite activity with “reverse publishing.”)
The idea of pulling Web content into something that can be created in physical form inspired another company at Demo 2007: ink2. The company offers a Web-based service, also named ink2, that enables users to produce print-on-demand greeting cards and products using images from the Web. The company does have a link to the Lyra Imaging Symposium, albeit an older one: ink2’s parent company is Touchpoint, a company founded in 1999 that found success taking greeting-card orders via the Web and delivering the cards via hard copy. Touchpoint’s personalized print-on-demand greeting cards made it to the Lyra Imaging Symposium stage in 2002, when Benny Landa, Indigo CEO (and soon-to-be HP employee), touted Touchpoint’s cards as part of the overall “killer app” solution that personalization represented and that digital typesetters enabled (Observer, 2/02). Touchpoint was an early Indigo digital press customer and remains an HP Indigo customer (along with ink2) today.
Preclick Corporation was a demonstrator back on the photo-sharing stump this year. (Of course, these days, video and music sharing also get lots of attention at Demo.) The company has experience as a software supplier to photo-printing Web sites such as Costco, HP, and Wal-Mart. Preclick announced its Preclick Instant Photo Messenger (IPM), which aspires to solve photo-sharing issues that arise from the use of multiple e-mail and instant messaging methods. Preclick infused its presentation (and its value proposition) with the importance of printing for both end users and industry intermediaries, including manufacturers and resellers, in the whole photo-sharing equation. To highlight this point, Preclick included a giveaway of 3M Post-it photo-card kits as part of its individual presentations.
In most years, Preclick’s presentation would be about as close as you can get to hearing about printing, especially personal printing, at the Demo conference, but Demo 2007 proved different from previous conferences in this respect. One of the big stories of the first day was Zink Imaging, a company that demonstrated a real live printer product on the main stage, and Zink’s new printing products feature radical technology and designs to boot.
The company had some fundamental advantages in wooing the audience, at least based on the observations of this ongoing Demo attendee. Being one of the first presenters on day one helped, and Zink featured a “gadget” among the sea of Web 2.0, social networking, and/or multimedia-sharing products and services at Demo 2007. After all, this is the conference that premiered historically significant devices such as the Palm Pilot and Tivo.
Paul Baker, vice president of business development for Zink, and Stephen Herchen, Zink CTO, were clearly favorites among the Demo crowd, and this popularity was made evident at the closing banquet when a video featuring a number of the Demo companies drew spontaneous applause when it focused briefly on the Zink demonstrators. In an ambitious attempt to rank all the Demo products and services, several blog postings at the venture-capital-oriented Deal Blogs (www.thedealblogs.com) ranked Zink’s printers among the top ten most important announcements of the show.
Frankly, the Zink prototype printers’ specifications are not particularly impressive on a speeds-and-feeds basis. The printers’ cost, quality, and speed are about what we have come to expect for traditional ink jet photo printers. But the prototypes that Zink displayed, an iPod-sized portable printer and an integrated camera/printer, are stunning, and the fact that the printers eliminate ink cartridges with heat-activated dye crystals embedded in special paper plays well both as the firm’s purported means to miniaturization and as a means of addressing end users’ concerns about the high cost of ink. Although Zink’s machines are still dependent on special paper as a supply, at least some users and journalists value the machines’ “Zero Ink” approach.
I asked myself why Zink chose to announce its new printers at a conference like Demo, with its more general-interest audience, as opposed to Kodak’s bet-the-company photo ink jet printer announcement on February 6, for which the firm rented Studio 8H at NBC in New York City. One advantage of Kodak’s industry-focused introduction can be found in the timing of the two firms’ coverage in The Hard Copy Observer. By working inside the printer industry, Kodak’s announcement was covered in the February 2006 issue, while Zink will be covered in the April issue, even though Zink officially announced its products a week earlier than Kodak.
The choice to go mainstream, however, does represent a very interesting marketing statement and ties back to the 2007 Lyra Imaging Symposium and the presentations that included forecasts for prints from digital still cameras and camera phones. For years now, our industry has extolled the potential for printing more of these captured images once people figure out how to get the photos out of their cameras. In the simplest of marketing truisms, fewer steps always beat more steps when it comes to user adoption, so a printer in a camera makes more sense than a multidevice system. When someone can easily print their photos with a tiny printer inside the camera and printing becomes the preferred method for people to get photos out of their cameras, we may really have something.
I leave the last statement a little open-ended because Zink has lots of work ahead, not the least of which is recruiting capable partners to get a product to market. I will be keeping my eye on the company, however, and will update readers on Zink’s progress in the future.