Print On Demand – The Future Standard?

13 12 2011

Print On Demand (POD) is another one of the print industry’s terms that seems to be on everyone’s lips at the moment. It is also another piece of lingo that means different things to different people. Sometimes, I think the print industry deliberately invents ambiguous terms just to fool people into thinking print is complicated.

This one though, is fairly easy to dissect and explain.

Print on demand has been around for years as a concept. It was spawned out of the “Print Management” concept that was popular around 10-20 years ago and worked as follows.

Your Print manager (Sales Rep) would visit your premises once a month and physically count all your printed items (good ones would actually tidy up and organise your store-room or stationery cupboard for you). Over time, they would  calculate the usage of each piece and recommend when and how much stock to re-order. This made sure that you would never run out of your printed items.

The Print Manager would also store larger runs at his place and “top up” your stationery cupboard, after his monthly stock check or, on request. This was the first print on demand solution. It was driven  by the need of business form manufacturers requiring long lead times, customers requiring larger print runs and the print industry having a very large slice of their customers marketing budget.

POD today could probably be better described as “instant printing”. The advent of the internet and digital print (described in an earlier post) means that lead times can be reduced to a fraction of the time they were in the past. Proofing times are being reduced by file portability and there is no need any longer for lengthy film and plate processes.  We have been using this POD process for years in Dunedin for some large Corporates and Government  departments. Lists of files are sent to our Dunedin plant every night via our on-line solution. We then collate the orders from all the customer’s branches and then group run all the jobs in the morning, ready for despatch the same afternoon.

Why produce in Dunedin if many of these corporates are in other centres? Well it’s still true that good old Dunners enjoys some of the best small pack carrier rates in NZ. It’s due to many factors unique to NZ, such as the population spread and shape of the country. You can still overnight a pack to Wellington from Dunedin, at less cost than it takes to send a package across town in Auckland – go figure.

The latest incarnation of POD has been the placement of a file directly onto the Digital Press by the customer………..true print on demand. The ability to do this has been around for 10 years or more. So why hasn’t it taken off and everyone started submitted files along with the job online?? I guess it has been a mix of a general lack of trust in new processes and that printing is fraught with risk. Almost every single job is a custom-made piece and  if it’s printed incorrectly there probably isn’t a use for it anywhere else. This was the reason that hard copy proofs were standard practice in the past.

Nowadays, proofing is often handled by the customer and a soft copy PDF supplied for print. The print supplier, in this scenario, is only responsible for ensuring the file is not corrupted or changed before printing ………….and that the  printed piece is matched to the file supplied. This has morphed POD into a new term…………..Web to Print.

Web to print solutions attempt to provide the ultimate in POD – Same day or next day delivery by using web-based tools to speed up quoting, input and order processes. I had to chuckle when I read the latest lingo for web to print. Our North American cousins just couldn’t leave it as (the already broad and multi meaning) “web to print”: that was becoming too easy. Now the concept is known as “web enabled marketing supply chain management”…………..I’m sure that there are folk in this industry whose sole job is to make these terms up.

At Kalmazoo we have a variety of POD processes in operation and under development.

Manual POD

An FTP site is set up for customers to deposit files in.

Orders are placed via email and file placed on FTP site by customers. We use this to place a job into the system and complete as normal. This is still favoured by organisations that want to print large volumes and want an initial, small volume, despatched on production (POD) and balance placed into stock for future distributions. A good solution for group running jobs from multiuple branches on weekly or daily basis.

Online POD (Static)

This solution provides a simple POD solution where items are ordered as required through our ECOS ordering solution. We set up a file in our DAM system and a price per finished piece is set up for billing. Your nominated staff are given online access and can order up to a set maximum. Jobs are instantly routed to the press queue. This solution allows organisations with multiple sites to arrange next day delivery to any branch. The need for printing  large volumes and storage is removed.

Online POD (Variable)

Used mainly for business cards, envelopes, letterheads, compliment slips etc – where an online template form  is populated by the user and merged into a PDF to complete an on-line proof.

Once the proof has been completed the user chooses quantities, billing and delivery details, from a predefined list, and the job is then queued to the printing press.

This can be used for completely digital jobs  or overprinting base stock. Again, this solution most beneficial for organisation with multiple sites requiring fast or next day delivery.

Online POD (Upload)

Similar to static online POD – but here the printing file and the database, or customer lists, are uploaded by the customer at time of order. Our Digital Asset Management tool (Digital Peas) can publish direct to ECOS – so any customers using Digital Peas will only need to upload the database for any POD jobs.

Again the value of this solution is a very small order to distribution timeframe.

Where will all this lead to ??

My pick is that as print volumes reduce and printing becomes a smaller part of marketing campaigns, clever printers will branch out into other parts of marketing. Wickliffe invested heavily in the logistics part of our business with the development of on-line tools and the purchase of warehouses. It would make good sense to look at placing our customer services and POD units into the warehouses. This model would allow other (non print) components of a campaign to be carried out in the same building and for teams to share information quickly.

For example a campaign may involve a text messaging promo and distribution of prizes – then be followed up by a direct mail campaign to respondents. These type of integrated marketing campaigns could be best handled by a mix of call centre/POD digital print shop and warehouse facilities. Stocklink (Kalamazoo’s Logistics Arm)  is currently involved in producing on-line loyalty software and providing the purchasing, storage, customer service and other logistics solutions in maintaining loyalty schemes.

I guess time and the market will ultimately tell us what the future printshop will look like .

Let me know what your view of POD is or contact me if you would like any more information regarding any of my blogs………..and don’t forget to stick your email address in the box on the right to receive updates automatically.

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