The Changing Face of the Retailer/Printer Relationship

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The printing industry, like all industries, is going through tremendous change, the most dramatic of which is the evolution of a printer's role to premedia production from prepress. The paperless Web has become a major force, resulting in the expansion and growth of traditional prepress departments -- allowing printers and their customers to move beyond vendor/client relationships and become true partners by reducing cycle times and enhancing customer satisfaction.

Today, more and more printers are helping retailers and catalogers save time while enhancing quality by managing content for repurposing for multimedia distribution. While this shift in roles and responsibilities is to be applauded, retailers and printers can greatly benefit by actually creating materials for use in both print and electronic form. This is prepurposing -- a process that enables catalogers and retailers to save time, increase efficiency and provide more depth. By moving as far upstream as possible, right to the point of materials creation, catalogers and retailers can save substantial time and effort that currently goes into bundling materials for one purpose, unbundling them, and then repackaging them for use in another medium.

Prepurposing allows retailers to expand their online offerings while serving the needs of print and electronic readers alike. For example, clothing catalogers would be hard-pressed to offer unlimited combinations of shirts and slacks to enable shoppers to mix and match as they shop. The nature of Web sites, however, allows customers to find items and combinations just by doing some creative clicking. Space is infinite in the on-line world, and catalogers who create materials from the outset with this mind can efficiently and cost-effectively offer content that satisfies myriad customer interests.

Best of all, rather than competitive media, printed and online publications actually complement each other. Hand-held, portable, printed catalogs are and will continue to be of tremendous value to customers, while digital materials can perhaps be more immediate and offer shoppers unique features of interest. Catalogers and retailers that understand that the two media are complementary stand to benefit greatly from this new landscape.

Clearly, catalogers and retailers are re-examining the way they manage and present their content as the Web matures into a widely accepted medium. Looking ahead, changes in presenting materials will occur as the medium matures. For example, today e-tailers provide branded houses -- online pages exclusively dedicated to their products. While such online offerings benefit customers who prefer to shop by computer, e-tailing can be taken further.

A shift from the retailer's perspective to the customer's perspective will benefit everyone in the equation; a shopper would rather go to one site for many options than to many sites for a single item at each. And, retailers should welcome the opportunity to present items of interest in a shopper-friendly way. Premedia suppliers can and do help convert many retailers' and catalogers' content to a common look and feel to make this happen.

The changes in the realm of premedia present unprecedented challenges to all industry players. The potential synergies between print and online media and between retailers and printers make now an exciting time for everyone involved. As printers' roles expand from prepress to premedia providers, and as the role of e-commerce continues to evolve, production becomes a more collaborative partnership than it ever has been, promising ever greater opportunities and growth.

Mary Lee Schneider is president of PreMedia Technologies at R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co., Chicago. Her e-mail address is

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