Digital print

With so much information freely accessible on the Web, surely print is doomed? No way – there’s an existing technology that combines almost instant availability, great customisation potential and the reassuring tactility of quality papers, and it’s called digital print

Anne-Sophie Gombart
Business development manager
Sappi Fine Paper Europe

The way we receive and consume news and information is undergoing its most dramatic transformation in centuries. The global, unlimited nature of the Internet means that the data available is constantly growing. Although we may have predicted that all print would be transferred to electronic form, in fact the reverse has also been shown to be true. For instance, information that exists purely electronically, such as on a website, is sometimes printed and kept for future reference. Photobooks, self-publishing and catalogues with personalised content are just a few examples of how the digital world allows the ‘long tail’ business model – selling a large number of unique items in relatively small quantities – to be profitable.

Today, you can read the news online – much of the time for free – or on a tablet PC or even report news yourself without being a journalist via your Facebook profile or blog. Communication has never been so interactive, so instantaneous, or reached as large an audience in so few clicks. These are all great features, creating millions of opportunities and a wealth of knowledge that surpasses anything ever achieved or experienced by humanity before. Now that knowledge and information is so much easier to access and share, why bother with books or traditional education? Google, Wikipedia and hundreds of television channels are all available at the touch of a button, after all. On the other hand, we can feel overwhelmed and out of control when faced with such a barrage of information. What about accuracy? What about relevance? Media consumers, who are also our customers, are exposed to an often contradictory mix of facts, opinions, product information and commercial offers.

Too much information kills information, and escaping the confusing maze of data by unplugging for a while can be a relief – as satisfying as ‘posting’ that pile of direct mail straight from the letter box into the recycling bin.

The Internet revolution has hit the media just as it has hit every single aspect of our lives. It is exciting, but where is print and what will happen to it? ‘It will die,’ say some of us.

‘It will go digital’, says Benny Landa, founder of Indigo.

Certainly, print is challenged by electronic media. Letters become e-mails, newspapers become Web pages, CDs are uploaded to iTunes. Does this mean gloom and doom for the print industry? Not necessarily. We must learn to adapt to the changing environment. Communication now takes place at the speed of light and has a very short lifespan. We have to understand that traditional customer segmentation methods are now obsolete and instead we must treat everyone as a unique individual – after all, there they all are celebrating their individuality through their blogs and social media profiles.

What if print could materialise at close to the speed of light, while holding our attention for longer than it takes to click away from its electronic equivalent? What if print could make perfect sense to each recipient and address them as individuals?

Digital print can do that. The digital printing process streamlines print production flow and dramatically shortens the overall production time. Content can be created anywhere: at home, on the train, or even from abroad, and it can still find its way to a local printer, instantly. Thanks to variable data printing, it is possible to push the boundaries of customisation further. We can do so much more than just slap a name and address, in black, on an envelope. The entire contents of the envelope can speak directly to the recipient – knowing their habits, needs and expectations – and all in full colour.

This explains the growing success of printing companies moving to digital capacities and offering Web-to-print, data management and variable data printing.

Thanks to digital printing, print can learn from new media, while retaining what has made print successful throughout the centuries. Printed communication falls into our hands the moment we make time for it. Just think about where and when you last read a book, skimmed through a magazine, a catalogue or the brochure of your next car? How did you feel then?

Studies show that printed material – either on its own or in combination with another medium – is the best driver for making a potential customer act. Printed communication holds the reader’s attention longer than others, can be very pleasant and relaxing, and instils confidence and trust. So when analogue and digital play together in digital print, the game can really start and print can reinvent itself. This is what digitally printed newspapers do with cross-promotional pieces and personalised catalogues. The content is personalised to your interest – if you’ve no pet at home, then there’s no pet food in the catalogue. The possibilities are, of course, endless.

Digital printing offers alluring commercial opportunities and has opened gigantic blue skies for both the print and advertising industries.

However, this is only true when the best of the print and digital worlds are combined. Should print quality be poor, paper stock ill-chosen and colours approximate, then the overall look of the printed piece is disappointing and the magic evaporates. Quality is the key to shaping a bright future for digital print. This is why the major players of the digital print industry and the paper industry are coming together to create reliable and effective solutions for digital print.

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