Saturday, December 09, 2006

Movers and Printers

It is easy to forget paper in a digital world where we all have email, mobile phones, laptops, and are permanently ‘connected’. Yesterday’s paperless visions have still to happen. We all still print documents, either for ease of reading or because we still want something tangible. Most homes now have a printer and many people even convert their favourite digital photos to print.

This week an anthropologist at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center stated that the average office worker prints 1,200 pages per month, of these 44.5% are for daily use, things like assignments, drafts or e-mail, of these 21% percent go into the waste bin on the same day they were produced. The information is stored digitally but printed out when its needed for meetings, editing or reviewing information.

In response, Xerox has now developed reusable paper. The prototype system uses specially coated paper and works without toner and producing a low-resolution document that appears to be printed with purple ink. Within 16 hours the information disappears and the paper can be reused and the individual pieces of paper can been printed upon as many as 50 times. Toshiba have also developed a printer that uses plastic 'paper' that can be re-used hundreds of times.
Is paper ‘different’ or are we witnessing the death of the A4 sheet?

On the other hand, the book industry appears to be taking another step to embrace Print On Demand. Long heralded as the answer to excess print runs, static inventory and ‘just in case’ production. Amazon has just announced its investment with Hewlett-Packard to provide Amazon with industrial-speed colour printers for their Booksurge books-on-demand service.
Hewlett-Packard predicts that digital printing will grow from about $1bn today to $10bn by 2010. This doesn’t mean that we are printing more, just that we are shifting towards a digital model and printing smarter.

POD has long offered fantastic opportunities to move the production down the channel and closer to the consumer. In ‘Brave New World’ we cited the New York Library’s facility to print in the Library. Anyone visiting the National Portrait Gallery in Trafalgar Square we see a print facility in their shop, which will produce full colour quality reproductions of various sizes on demand.

So why aren’t bookstores working co-operatively to have community services to print locally? Why doesn’t retailers such as Staples or PC World provide the facilities?

Today publishers still own the production button but as the availability of digital content increases so does the opportunity to do things differently. Why not consider distributed licensing of production closer to the consumer based on local demand?

For an excellent perspective for the academic world click here

Paper is different and physical books are different. Some may be happy with digital text, but today the majority isn’t. Some accountants may welcome Xerox’s ‘disappearing ink but given the way I fold, crease and misuse paper, it may not be fit to reuse. Technology is here today to make things easier and it is therefore logical that we start to consider smarter ways to print locally and not ‘just in case’ but more ‘just in time’.

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