Wednesday, December 31, 2008

To my readers -- Thanks for a great 2008 and Happy 2009!

As the old year winds down, just a quick note to acknowledge another year of blogging and a hearty "thanks" to my loyal readers.

In 2008 I set new records for page views and unique visitors, by quite a margin. My numbers for both are up 25% from the prior year, and I appreciate all your readership, support, ideas, and, on occasion, disagreements! Let's hope 2009 brings with it many exciting developments in the printing and imaging industry!

Friday, December 26, 2008

Observations: 2008, The Year of Printing Dangerously

2008 -- The Year of Printing Dangerously

Somehow, going back over the year 2008 feels mentally harrowing. Although there are reasons to celebrate, the year was also characterized by nerve-wracking crises that we cannot say are fully past. It was a momentous and historic year for the world, to be sure, but in many ways it was a quieter and more down-to-business year for the printer industry. So in reflecting on a topic for my end-of-year column, no great industry event triggered my imagination. And in fact, the title of this column was the closest thing to a breakthrough I was able to produce for some time, until the rest of the pieces began falling together to support the thesis of the danger in printing in 2008. Why was printing more “dangerous”, at least in some small ways, in 2008? I think there are numerous reasons to be examined as early indicators at least of major changes in the printing and imaging business.

Printing’s association with troubled industries and the accompanying guilt by association is one reason. During this year’s Lyra Supplies Symposium in Las Vegas in August, the expert panel that concluded the event was asked to comment on the future growth, or lack thereof, that they anticipated in the printer supplies business.

While many panelists conceded that printing had recently declined in certain markets, there were counteracting forces leading to an overall GDP-level growth in printing over the forecast period of the next few years. What was the biggest recent source of decline in printing volumes? Banking and finance-related businesses, including real estate, which have traditionally been print-heavy industries. A lull in their business levels showed up in a correlation with pages printed—and this was in August! With the economic chaos since then, it is only natural to assume that when the dust settles, print demand generated from loans, credit applications, title work, real estate bids and assessments will have fallen drastically, because the number of deals is off sharply and so many pages are printed per deal.

The growing “green” consciousness around printing, especially as it ties to cost savings is another reason. The field of managed print services (MPS) has unquestionably been a bright spot for the industry this year. And its success, in finally seeming to take hold after years of discussion, has many pointing to the green trend among end-users (as well as organizations) as the potential reason for this tipping point.

A recent example, not appearing on the Web pages and success stories of corporate MPS providers like HP or Xerox but at the “TechSoup” Web site, is titled “Choosing Print Management Software.” TechSoup bills itself as the “The Technology Place for Nonprofits,” and while its interest in saving money for its readers is not surprising, the site seems to have focused on printing for both cost and environmental reasons. TechSoup ran a special series including features like “Choosing Print Management Software” and “Creating and Distributing Electronic Annual Reports and Marketing Materials” that was presented with a high level of professionalism, although the topics lead customers in the wrong direction for the printer industry.

One further example of how printing became dangerous, or at least on the outs, comes from a Wall Street Journal article from August 22, titled, “Tech Firms Pitch Tools For Sifting Legal Records: With E-Discovery, Lawyers Face Loss Of Client Fees.” The article reports that millions in legal fees are at stake, as hyper-efficient electronic searching supplants traditional manual searching of paper records, which is time-consuming but provides lots of billable hours. While in many cases (sorry for that one) the process involves merely scanning and indexing historic paper documents, there is also much to be gained from those documents never being in paper form to begin with, and then not, at least as a rule, being re-printed from their electronic repositories for legal purposes.

HP and Xerox are two of the “tech firms” mentioned in the article, and you need look no further than the pages of the May 2008 issue of this newsletter to find a story about HP’s acquisition of Tower Software, an Australian based e-discovery firm.

An alarming October 9 article in The Economist brought further squirming from those of us in the industry. Entitled “The Paperless Office, On its Way, at Last: No longer a joke, the ‘paperless’ office is getting closer,” the article contains a case study of a small Austin, Texas administrative business (Breedlove and Associates) and its efforts to go paperless. It includes chilling quotes.

“It is that everyone—clients and staff—is sick of paper. The clients tend to be young, middle-class families…they are good with technology and already pay bills online, use e-tickets on planes, e-file their tax returns, and Google recipes rather than using cookbooks. And Breedlove’s 16 employees are in their 20s, native to Facebook and instant-messaging, and baffled by the need for paper. Now everybody is happier. Next year the firm expects to be completely paperless.”

The article concludes (spoiler alert), however, with the familiar-to-some analogy of the arrival of the “horseless carriage” and the horse population, and the fact that today’s society is home to approximately the same number of horses as 100 years ago, but they are used in radically different ways. So one might argue that paper could be used in ways that we are only now discovering, while being replaced nearly altogether in other areas.

I take the liberty to examine the state of printing about once a year, and thanks to my readers for indulging me yet again. Indeed, to me anyway, printing, or at least relying on traditional printing, does seem dangerous at the end of 2008.

Nevertheless, while trade-offs will occur, vendors will continue to find growth areas where they can prosper.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

iPhone Printing boom!

When it rains it pours!

After expressing perceived pent-up demand for Apple (NASDAQ AAPL) iPhone printing for the last year and a half (see the first of many posts at "iPhone Printing"), we now have two iPhone apps (so far) that deliver on the promise.

The two iPhone apps enabling printing from iPhones have surfaced this holiday week. First, there's the application simply titled "Print" from EuroSmartz, Ltd. I've purchased ($2.99) and tested this one and was able to print a photo right away on a networked HP (NYSE HPQ) LaserJet 1320, but had trouble printing a web page. This app requires a corresponding server program running on a Mac or PC. So far, 15 user reviews have been logged on the iTunes iPhone apps store, with an average rating of 3.5 stars.

HP's "HP iPrint Photo" was officially announced yesterday (see release, "HP Introduces Free Photo Printing Application on Apple App Store") and will be showcased at the upcoming CES and MacWorld shows. It's average 3.0-stars review comes from an amazing 163 reviews, as of this morning at just after 10am (12/23). That number indicates the interest in this free app - it was 59 reviews when I started writing this post no more than 1/2 hour ago!

See this PC World note, "HP Enables Photo Printing on the IPhone", for a few details. So far I have not been able to get it to work, btw. Many users are reported good results, though.

More to follow, included my own hands-on work and an analysis of those reviews (now up to 189 five minutes since I checked last!).

Monday, December 22, 2008

PoGo printer now $75, Polaroid bankrupt (again)

The Zink-based PoGo printer from Polaroid, covered here multiple times and most recently just two-and-a-half weeks ago (see "Zink Milestones"), has been identified in The Chicago Tribune's "Eric 2.0" blog as one of 2008's "Great gadget gifts for less than $100". The two Erics (Benderoff and Gwinn) point out a Best Buy price of $79 in their December 17th piece. This morning, five days later, Best Buy's showing an "add to cart" price of $74.99. (Thanks Techbargains.com.)

In related news, Polaroid has declared bankruptcy, again, less than eight years after entering Chapter 11 in 2001. The Cnet blog Underexposed by Stephen Shankland, carries an interesting summary in "Fraud case leads Polaroid to bankruptcy protection". The company's woes relate back to their primary investor, Petters Group Worldwide, and their troubles of earlier this year, when Tom Petters, and others, were charged in a ponzi scheme.

'Tis the season, for great deals and holiday shopping. Unfortunately, this year, that also means stories of bankruptcies and ponzi schemes are becoming all too familiar.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Scribd.com gets venture funding, new president

The "social publishing" site Scribd.com, or more specifically the company behind the site, received a major shot in the arm Friday, with the announcement of a new round of funding. In their release "Scribd Secures $9 Million in Series B Financing, Bebo COO George Consagra Joins as President". Also included in the release is the announcement of the addition of high tech executive George Consagra as the company's new president.

Particularly interesting is this funding in the light of depressed venture activity, going along with the economic crisis dominating thinking as 2008 comes to a close. Mike Masnick of techdirt had an interesting post the other day -- see "Venture Capitalists: Buying High, Selling Low".

Back to Scribd specifically for a moment -- back when I covered the company in my May 2008 Observations (see "The YouTube for Documents"), I reported the site was experiencing up to a million visitors a day, equating to 15 to 20 million visitors per month. The current tote is up to four million daily visitors.

Michael Arrington of TechCrunch.com, via the Washington Post, also has a good recap of the funding along with identificiaton of several new competitors to Scribd.com, Docstoc and Issuu.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Say it ain't so, Steve!

That take-off on the old refrain dating to the Shoeless Joe Jackson and the Black Sox scandal was my first thought when reading today's business news (e.g. "Apple says 2009 Macworld Expo will be its last; Steve Jobs won't give keynote next month; stock falls after announcement").

It was only two years ago this coming January when the entire CES show in Las Vegas was thought to be down due to attention and attendees drawn off by San Francisco's concurrent MacWorld and Apple's initial iPhone announcement. But for those visiting crowded Apple stores recently, the idea that the company has other newer ways of reaching customers holds water. But the MacWorld show, and the keynote especially, is stuff of legends. I'll never forget, for example, being on the floor in the HP (NYSE HPQ) booth as the first Macintosh-compatible LaserJet printers were on display.

Best-headline award, so far anyway, goes to John Paczkowski at All Things D's Digital Daily, "Macworld Without Steve? That's Like 'Baywatch' Without Hasselhoff".

PrintingForLess.com -- printing with the wind

In a unique announcement that helps to cap off what has been a huge year for "Green" efforts across the printer and printing industries, PrintingForLess.com is out today with the news that they'll be doing business in their Livingston, Montana facilities using electrical power generated by the wind, through their local Park Electric Cooperative.

In the company's press release, PrintingForLess.com Goes Green with 100% Wind Power -- America’s Print Shop Commits to Wind for All Its Energy Needs, PFL CEO Andrew Field describes the effort as follows, "Though wind-powered electricity costs a little more, we believe that as more businesses purchase energy from renewable sources, green power will gain momentum and go mainstream, eventually providing our country with the best of all worlds: energy that is clean, cost-effective and made in America."

In direct follow-up discussions yesterday, just as the company was preparing the final release, Field described the reaction to this newly-announced effort which he classifies among the "smart environmental efforts" that PFL is practicing, as an initiative which "both employees and customers are excited about. It's real and they're happy to be part of it." Field also reinforced his belief that PrintingForLess.com's step as being a force in the supply-and-demand chain that will promote and grow usage of renewable energy overall. "It's a chicken-and-egg dilemma, and we're taking the lead," Field said.

As far as the bigger "Green" picture, parallels to recent observations in the Managed Print Services are worth pointing to in this case. The positive employees-and-customers reaction to the "Green" priority in MPS engagements has served as the tipping point for success in numerous cases this year.

Regular readers will recognize PrintingForLess.com as one of the companies I've covered in this blog on at least a semi-regular basis. Part of my interest is based on PFL's Small Business focus and the trade-offs the company offers between in-house publishing and professional printing (see, for example, "Small Busienss Printing, when to stay in-house, when to go out-sourced"). And yes, part of my interest is that we're neighbors. PFL's home base of Livingston, Montana, is just one state up and over from Boise, Idaho. And now we know that Montana, in addition to being Big Sky Country also is Big Wind Country! Just a quick check on my Weather Underground status page shows Boise calm, but Livingston currently with 15 mph winds, from the West. (That's a windchill of -22 for those interested!)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Point/Counterpoint on consumer printing

I covered the Wired Gadget Blog's "Five Useless Gadgets" post from about a month ago, with "covered" in this case meaning barely more than a mention, and an admonition to please recycle. Writer Charlie Sorrel's November 3rd post took on printers, scanners, and fax machines, along with "built-in optical drives" (i.e. DVD burners and the like) and landline telephones as has-been devices ready for the junk pile. Overall I thought he made some good points but as I mentioned in my brief brief, he seemed to have tongue firmly (or loosely anyway) in cheek.

Now one of our leading printer industry blogs, the Databazaar Blog, takes on Charlie's arguments with a vengeance in a piece by Writer Kara Soos, "Ditch Your Printer Says Wired's Charlie Sorrel. We Say Ditch Sorrel's Silly Argument."

It's an interesting face-off, with the snarky gadget blogger up against the ink-and-toner-sponsored counterpart. Wisely Kara lets the Wired blog's comments do most of her arguing, and she has an advantage with the bulk of those seeming to go against the "useless" rant. However, there's a stretching of the point, especially around an implication (that I read in anyway), of the category of consumer printers being "as healthy as ever". As just one quick-and-dirty data point, industry leader HP (NYSE HPQ) and their recently announced quarterly metrics, reflects a decline in consumer-class hardware unit sales, down 8% in the most recent quarter, year-to-year.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

ZINK Milestones


In addition to SharedBook and their latest announced covered here recently (see "SharedBook announces LucasBooks personalized edition"), another company from Demo I've followed here on a semi-regular basis is ZINK. They're the "Zero Ink" printer company that hit the market in early 2007 at Demo (see "Zinking In From Demo 2007") and then announced their initial partner plan at CES a year later (see "Zink Partnerships Make Really Big News").

The partner plan yielded an initial product, mid-this year, with the Polaroid PoGo. (See "Summer Fun with the Polaroid PoGo Printer.") This and last month, the milestones have continued. In November, the ZINK and partner company Tomy announced the "TOMY xiao™ TIP-521 Digital Camera with Built-in ZINK Printer" with availability (in Japan only) beginning November 28th. And in early December, ZINK announces another milestone, "the sale of over 50 million sheets of ZINK Paper™ in less than six months" produced at their North Carolina media plant (see "Zink makes investment in manufacturing plant".)

In addition to trumpeting these accomplishments, it's worth observing that the PoGo is currently priced at $99.95 at Amazon.com, which is a reduction from the original $150 price, and has recorded 16 user comments netting a mean star rating 3.5, which of course could be higher. With that noted, the company is proceeding along their ambitious path of bringing printing to places it hasn't been before, and the printer industry needs more innovators like ZINK!