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Stephen A Beals

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Stephen A Beals

Printing Today - Thoughts On Digital Advancements
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Who Gives a Dam?
by Stephen A Beals   

Last edited: Tuesday, October 15, 2002
Posted: Tuesday, October 15, 2002

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A look at Digital Asset Management for printers. Maybe marketing to printers is the wrong approach.

WHO GIVES A DAM?

I'm trying to figure out who gives a DAM? At Seybold in San Francisco and at Graph Expo in Chicago, many vendors will be pushing Digital Asset Management, Digital Rights Management and Digital Content Management. I have no doubt these vendors produce commendable products which are immensely useful. What I doubt is that many traditional printers will have much interest in investigating these booths. Who will actually implement Digital file management schemes, and what business models and industry standards will survive? Who has the expertise and who is going to pay for it? To my way of thinking, this is one area of the industry that will most likely come from the top down. Printers are really at the mercy of their customer's to drive digital asset management. After all, it is generally the customer who owns the rights anyway, and many are reluctant to give their printer's access to these assets.

I'm not saying in any sense that they should not be interested in this field. I'm just saying that most printers have yet to make the transition from receiving files in digital format to gaining expertise in managing those files.

The folks who trek up and down the aisle of Graph Expo in particular are bricks and mortar, iron and steel, ink and paper kinds of people. Not all of them, to be sure, but most of them. They come to see eight color 40" presses and folders and the latest and greatest pre-press equipment and digital presses. Things that they know.

They may have a few computer gurus who work for them, but they see computers as tools to make the business of printing work. It's a matter of putting finished printed pieces of paper out the door.

The industry is just beginning to realize that there is such a thing as variable print and a vast majority have no real clue as to what it takes to manage the files and data bases to make it work in a production setting.

Printers have started to build IT departments to make all of their equipment talk to each other, but it is often one guy who stays very busy upgrading, troubleshooting and installing software. Few have time to deal with setting up data bases and Digital Rights Management systems.

A few are beginning to see the merits of using a browser based system of some kind to send images back and forth to and from customers and even to accept completed files.

But how many printers beyond the very largest companies with substantial IT and R and D departments are giving much serious thought to managing content? Publisher's are. Very large agencies are. Newspapers and magazines are. But are printers?

Who will actually implement Digital file management schemes, and what business models and industry standards will survive? Who has the expertise and who is going to pay for it?

To my way of thinking, this is one area of the industry that will most likely come from the top down. Printers are really at the mercy of their customer's to drive digital asset management. After all, it is generally the customer who owns the rights anyway, and many are reluctant to give their printer's access to these assets.

The really valuable assets are not images and logos, they are data. The mailing lists and company reports and white papers. The confidential memos and budget statistics. All of these things require high security and technical expertise to manage. Publisher's will need to have secure distribution and fail-safe monitoring of transactions to build e-commerce publishing models.

The Donnelly's and Bowker's and Quads of the industry may have the infrastructure to perform this work. I think the rest of us are wise to steer clear.
What printer wants the headache and responsibility of managing this stuff? And what publisher or corporation is going to trust the printer down the street with this information? The mere cost of liability insurance would have to be substantial.

Of course the information printers handle on a daily basis is not without its own value. A system like the Torque BrightBU running Media Manager, or XiNet have some great potential for allowing printers and customers to exchange files, repurpose them and work on them interactively. Creo's Synapse looks like a model that would be useful to printers as does the much improved Proof-it-online model. Collaborative systems like myfujifilm.com makes sense and is finally drawing some users after more than a year on the market (Fuji has built a solid base with commitments from film processors, not printers). And the use of JDF and XML to monitor metadata associated with these files increases their flexibility and value.

I hope many of the folks at Graph Expo will take a serious look at these products. They are going to be increasingly necessary for the survival of even small and mid-size printing companies. the files you already have are too valuable to sit around doing nothing.

But none of these are really the kind of sophisticated Content and Rights management systems being touted to printers at some of the booths at Graph Expo.

Wonderful, powerful products with lots of potential, but I wonder if printers are really the market for them.

Then again, if the market is there, the opportunity is there and the expertise is there, a few companies with very sophicicated IT departments just might find themselves a profitable niche.





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