Digital Printing Yet to Catch on

Consumers interested in purchasing a Subaru can choose the desired model, color and features on the company's Web site ( and receive a customized card with a photograph of the car they requested and information about the nearest dealer within two days.

The response rate of a campaign by seed manufacturer Novartus, Greensboro, NC, was almost double what it expected because catalogs sent to farmers included customized artwork with red tractors for owners of red tractors and green tractors for owners of green tractors.

These are just two examples the Print On Demand Initiative (PODI) uses to demonstrate what digital printing can do for mailers. PODI, Rochester, NY, is a nonprofit strategic marketing effort dedicated to promoting greater awareness about the applications and benefits of digital color printing.

“[Companies are] losing sales by not going digital. They're losing the ability to build a relationship with customers,'' said PODI president Rab Govil. “People are very slow to change. They need to be constantly educated and shown where the right business models are.''

PODI will join more than 250 companies participating in the On Demand (no relation) Digital Printing and Publishing Strategy Conference and Exposition May 5-7 at the Jacob Javits Center in New York City.

Formed in 1996, PODI now has close to 30 members, including executive members Adobe Systems, Apple Computer, Electronics for Imaging (EFI), Scitex and Xerox, which joined the initiative in March.

“The Print On Demand Initiative's focus on end-user education, illustrating business opportunities and generating awareness of the potential benefits of digital printing are all necessary activities that will allow this market to reach its full potential,'' said Joseph McGrath, Xerox vice president and general manager of Production Color Systems.

PODI seeks to show companies that digital printing can transform the creative element of a direct mail campaign in much the same way that the development of databases has sharpened the targeting element.

“Combined with database marketing, digital print can treat your best customers better, but traditional print treats all customers the same,” Govil said.

In addition to affordable customization, digital can shrink turnaround dates for printing projects from weeks to days, allow for changes right up to deadline and print only what is required. But digital hasn't caught on widely yet because companies are reluctant to abandon familiar models.

“It's tried and true,'' Govil said of traditional printing. “Return on investment for direct marketing companies has been worked out around a traditional print scenario. There are not enough success stories out there for people to say that this a valid model and that I might spend a little more on a cost-per-piece basis, but my response rate will be a lot higher.''

Marketers and advertisers have been the first to recognize and accept the benefits of digital. Although most members are printers, these agencies are encouraged to join the group and bring digital solutions to their clients. PODI also has targeted financial services, pharmaceuticals and insurance as industries with the greatest growth potential for digital products and services.

For companies that lack marketing savvy, PODI and its members can provide methodologies, locate vendors and offer guidance on designing campaigns. According to industry estimates, 31 percent of all printed material and 41 percent of promotional literature is discarded because of obsolescence. As information and computing power continue to change at unprecedented rates, PODI says digital is poised to keep pace.

“Everything that can go digital will go digital, it's not a question of if but a question of when,'' Govil said. “Within five to 10 years, most of the folks will be outputting information digitally. They need to do that if they hope to compete with Internet as a medium.''

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