THIS YEAR'S On Demand show, the third in the young series, featured 225 exhibitors and 12,300 visitors, according to show management, both increases from last year's event. By most yardsticks it was a successful event, featuring enough new products and enhancements to satisfy most attenders. We sent a trio from our editorial team to check on the state of this aspect of the printing market -- a facet of the industry that is much older than the desktop publishing revolution, although many people would be taken aback by that comment.
We skipped the conference sessions this year in favor of spending time on the show floor, where there was plenty to see. While it is true that the one major product introduction (the Xerox DocuColor 40) stole most of the thunder -- and most of its characteristics had been well publicized in advance -- we found a lot of interesting items, including a number of brand-new, albeit less flamboyant, product introductions.
With its combination of growing attendance and increasing prestige as a place for product introductions, On Demand looms as a real threat to the Xplor show, with which it has substantial overlap. Xplor began as a user group for users of mainframe output printers, but it has been looking for ways to compensate for the decline in its traditional constituency (which is inevitably linked with the decline of the mainframe computer itself). In the last few years, Xplor has made a good start at becoming a show to see print- on-demand products, as well as tools for dealing with documents in electronic form.
But Xplor remains a show where AFP printing, utility and bank statements, personalized letters and large mailroom operations top the agenda. PostScript printing, 600-dpi resolution and printing in full color are still relatively unimportant at Xplor shows. On Demand, by contrast, views PostScript and publishing (in one form or another) as the only application. It will be tough for Xplor, which is still a much larger show, to continue to compete for the publishing audience against the more focused On Demand event. Corporate uncertainty. This year's On Demand came during a period of corporate uncertainty in the vendor community: Indigo is downsizing, Kodak is casting about for a partner or acquirer for its Office Systems group and Oce has just acquired the Siemens printer business. And this comes on the heels of a period when the top executives in charge of printers at IBM, Xerox, Kodak, Delphax, and Nipson had all been replaced (see Vol. 25, No. 7).
Adding to the uncertainty was the absence from the show floor of Delphax and Nipson, both of which are significant players in the high-volume monochrome printing market and both of which exhibited last year. Does this absence indicate their lack of interest in print-on-demand applications?
These corporate uncertainties make it harder for potential customers to commit themselves to a major purchase, even if they are sure they need to. And many are not so sure. Building a business plan with a convincing ROI is still a major hurdle for many prospects, and it will continue to be a problem for those trying to find a way to turn an existing offset-printing application into an on-demand one. For the time being, on-demand printing is too expensive to compete head-to-head with traditional approaches on traditional print jobs.
The payoff will come, if at all, when you do something brand new, something you can't do with any other technology: …