Zipper’s Insights: reporting from the 4th Online Print Symposium


When a symposium aimed at a relatively small target audience – in this case online print providers – is completely booked out five weeks before it is due to take place, the topic it’s dealing with obviously strikes a chord in the industry, electrifies print providers from all over Europe and testifies to the fact that the online print industry’s lead event is of a standard of quality that turns previous delegates into repeat offenders.

These visitors (and new ones too) experienced an extremely varied and smartly arranged program, as the event’s motto, “Agile business models – the challenge of growth” was a challenge in itself. The objective of showcasing new e-business print business models and providing a forum for debate was nevertheless fully achieved.

There were answers to pressing questions, even though these were not publicized. So people were welcome to read between the lines – during Benny Landa’s keynote, for instance.

“You are unique – just like everyone else” – Benny Landa, Chairman Landa Digital Printing
“You are unique – just like everyone else” – Benny Landa, Chairman Landa Digital Printing

I have known Benny Landa since he unveiled his first digital printing press, the Indigo E-Print 1000, at Ipex in Birmingham in 1993, where he summed up his vision in one remarkable sentence: “Everything that can be digitalized will go digital – and print is no exception.” He has certainly been proved right. That statement applies now more than ever – and it also hits the online print nail on the head.

However his keynote at the Online Print Symposium was more than just a vision. It was, if you like, a legacy. A legacy involving what has shaped his life and what still spurs him on today. After all he is no longer the entrepreneur, who fascinated the experts 23 years ago with his digital print vision, and he is no longer the guy, who captivated drupa visitors four years ago with his nano-technology – he is what you would call an “elder statesman” if he were a politician: mature, clever and wise.

He infected the industry with the digital print bug, he bigged Indigo up and sold the company in 2002 to HP, and certainly made a lot of money from the deal. Yet he had needed plenty of money and stamina previously. “These days I have the money and the time, which I didn’t have back then,” says Benny Landa. So he started a new project after Indigo and HP – he established Landa Labs and gives back a great deal of what he earned from his 800 patents and inventions. He funds young people and start-ups in Israel and he is continuing his R&D work. He is fascinated by the nano-world of tiny particles and, as a result of his numerous studies, has come to realize that this could also be of use to the print industry. More than 20 years after his first Indigo, he wants to change the industry again by applying a new technology, Nanography, in order to help digital print finally become mainstream.


Yet he glossed over all that in his keynote. He told his own story, the story of his family, very movingly and in minute detail. And even if Benny Landa, who himself turns 70 this year, was perhaps close to tears when recalling his father, he has derived the certainty from his experiences as a young man and throughout his life that to be successful requires tenacity and stamina, passion and a willingness to take risks and a pronounced culture of being able to make mistakes. “You must make your own mistakes, but you must never repeat the mistakes other people make,” Benny Landa advised. That’s because to make new ideas and dreams come true also requires going down new routes, which nobody has yet gone down before. And when Benny Landa talked about improvisation, ingenuity and practical ideas – these were all agile business models. And he gave the Symposium delegates a piece of advice that his father had given him: “Benny, never forget that you are unique – just like everyone else!”

Evolving Markets

What Benny Landa’s keynote also highlighted is that a new product or a new process is only successful if it is accepted by the market. But markets do not evolve of their own accord. You can’t leave this task to customers. Or would we have the railways, airplanes or the automobile today? Back then, as these pioneers and their inventions were laying the foundations of human mobility that is now an integral part of modern life, people didn’t want locomotives, airplanes or cars – they wanted horses that ran faster. And it was absolutely no different with Benny Landa’s digital print, and this also applies to online print.

Online print was not a response to an actual customer need. Customers didn’t call for it. But there was perhaps a latent need in the air, as the first online print providers appeared on the scene. That’s because people had already gotten used to booking hotel rooms, rail or air tickets online. And tangible products could also be sold online. So it made sense for smart print providers to recognize the new opportunities that the Internet provided and to apply increasingly more efficient computer and IT technologies to their new business models.

The 222 Online Print Symposium delegates followed the outstanding presentations with interest
The 222 Online Print Symposium delegates followed the outstanding presentations with interest

Market Developments

But it was certainly not a walk in the park. Up to 2005 online print providers were regarded as the “bad guys” of the print industry, who were to blame for the decline in print product prices. And conventional printers feared this competition. That didn’t change overnight, but from 2006 onwards, a kind of market transformation could be detected. New offerings opened up new consumer markets and the competition among online print providers got tougher. Traders and brokers have been increasingly more successful since 2013, business models are no longer so rigid and inflexible, they are becoming more agile, are now more focused on marketing rather than just on production. The industry is now seeing the rapid emergence of what Cimpress CEO Robert Keane termed “coopetition” (cooperation between competitors) at last year’s Online Print Symposium.

Nevertheless all these trends are only partial aspects of the rapid development of the e-business print segment. That’s because digital transformation is having a universal impact. And online print is the key driver of this transformation within the print industry, because competition and price pressure are forcing the rapid pace of transformation. Print providers that support their customers during this process of transformation are regarded as partners along the value chain. Print providers with no online offering remain at the end of the value chain.

In his presentation Bernd Zipper illustrated the development and trends in the online print industry in 2016
In his presentation Bernd Zipper illustrated the development and trends in the online print industry in 2016

That is also the reason why the number of online print stores continues to grow. Some 1,950 stores in Germany, Austria and Switzerland now sell print products and personalized items. Although the number of the major providers’ partner stores distorts the actual number of the roughly 250 relevant stores. According to our market figures, online print sales are also continuing to grow – even if at a lower rate than forecast. This can be attributed to a certain level of stagnation among first-generation stores and to growth by the Top 5 providers at the expense of mid-sized and small providers. Nevertheless the € 2.6 billion generated by ‘open shops’ represent a magnitude that should not be underestimated. If you add the many thousands of ‘closed shops’ (we assume a current figure of 6,100 such stores), which generated an estimated € 4.1 billion in 2016, sales volumes of offerings sold online amount to more than € 6.7 billion, which represents an increase of nearly 10% compared with 2015. This means that around 30% of all print sales in D/A/CH are generated online. The “digital divide” between smaller online print providers and the Top 5, which was mentioned by Dr. Christian Maas the following day, can also be quantified. While Top 5 sales are anticipated to grow by 22%, from € 1.23 billion to € 1.5 billion, several smaller providers are migrating to the ‘closed-shop’ B2B sector to make sure of their share of the growth cake. The reason for this  in particular is that the “big boys” can provide their services on more attractive terms and the price situation will tend to impact negatively on the smaller providers. Although “small” in this context is a relative term, since we are still talking companies with sales of less than €80 million.


I firmly believe that the boom in mass customization will accelerate this industry trend further. We are also seeing the fastest growth among the print discounters (traders). They purchase inexpensively from “brand providers”, in order to resell the products at low prices at a defined margin. The traders concentrate on marketing and price optimization, like in food retailing. However the question is for how long can such discounter models be sustained?




“That’s because I don’t include buying and selling cheap as one of the top trends in the online print sector. The trends in this industry are mass customization, coopetition, cognitive commerce, mobile business and, amazingly enough, high-end print. Although these five trends are to some extent interrelated” – Bernd Zipper


It’s no secret that value is added to products during the customer-specific mass production process. Personalizing a mass-produced box or can at a cost of 87 eurocents delivers a product that is suddenly worth 10 Euros. Since that also applies to packaging, advertising media, books or printed textiles, I can only advise people to action online print concepts that are appropriate to their businesses. In this respect cooperation beyond competitive boundaries (cue: coopetition) can definitely be a useful tool.

The three MCs (Bernd Zipper, Dr. Andreas Kraushaar and Jens Meyer f.l.t.r.) skillfully guided the delegates through the program with plenty of charm and humor
The three MCs (Bernd Zipper, Dr. Andreas Kraushaar and Jens Meyer f.l.t.r.) skillfully guided the delegates through the program with plenty of charm and humor

Everything that is “no-frills” and “standard” will in future be produced and sold at rock-bottom cost and prices. At the same time premium, high-end products will also finder takers, because customers are perceptibly “getting weary of the ‘cheap is cool’ mentality”. That makes sales of premium print products possible, as is the case, for example, with letterpress. Here the lowest price is not the most important issue – what customers want is a print product that is as off-beat and individual as possible. This brings us full circle back to mass customization.

Getting Better

Yet this knowledge of current trends is of little use, if what has been learned in e-commerce over many years is scarcely applied, even by online print market leaders. So, for instance, the trend in mobile is not a controversial one, as numerous research surveys suggest. Customers also want to be kept informed when they are on the move and use their smartphones to prepare for making purchases. However, online print providers massively underestimate this trend.

Anyhow we have to get and do better. But it is apparently easier to sell products “cheap” than to apply e-commerce methods in way that make sense. Nearly every online store has optimization potential. Often enough I just don’t see smart use of e-business mechanisms. The solution could be an extension of the classic marketing tenet: providers, who apply the ‘price + product quality + marketing = sales and profit’ formula, are successful. Those providers that apply the forward-looking ‘price + product quality + marketing + e-commerce = sustainable sales and quantifiable profit’ formula will be even more successful.

There was plenty of opportunity for the delegates to network during the event.
There was plenty of opportunity for the delegates to network during the event.

Cognitive Commerce

Oh yes, we still need to mention the cognitive commerce trend. That means very roughly making better use of existing data. That is not because the wrong or too little data is available, but because the right handling of this data is becoming increasingly important. Modern analytical methods therefore have to be applied to identify trends; realtime personalization needs to be employed to virtualize products and usage behavior and customer dialogs need to be analyzed properly. That is ultimately the only way to increase customer loyalty. To put it in plain terms, permanent dialog with customers is the only way of generating new product ideas and flagging changing customer behavior in good time.

This trend, which certainly needs explaining, is definitely set to provoke debate in the online business. After all we are talking a sizeable portion of psychology, where the mental processes of an individual, like thoughts, opinions, attitudes, wants and intentions need to be examined, analyzed and interpreted.

On the Path to a Digital Shopping Experience

That very much applies, given the fact that e-commerce now accounts for 8% of global trade volumes and, according to the “Global E-Tailing” study, is set to increase to 40% by 2025. In his presentation in Munich, Prof. Dr. Bela Mutschler explained what is driving this process and mentioned three areas in particular: market penetration (this involves products, markets, access, reach, target audiences etc.), professionalism ( in terms of product presentation and information, delivery and reliability) and innovation (like mobile shopping, apps, technologies such as AR, payment etc.). Yet he attaches as much importance to payment as to technologies in the Virtuality and Augmented Reality category.


In Prof. Mutschler’s opinion there are almost no unoccupied market niches any more, as he explained quoting numerous examples. These days the objective is specialization and focusing on customer behavior – visitors should be persuaded to remain loyal to the stores. That makes interaction with customers (also see Cognitive Commerce) more and more important – via social media, as well.

Therefore he gave the Symposium delegates five surefire tips on how to miss out on a bright e-commerce future. “Separate everything you do systematically into online and offline. Consider your online activities as a non-success-critical part of your business. Continue to discuss long and hard about the right online strategy, without ever trying something out. Consider investment in online merely as a driver of sales growth. Assume that the future begins the day after tomorrow – in other words that you still have plenty of time.”

Exiting the Comfort Zone

Even if the term “mass customization” is currently being overused rather excessively and some folk may have their doubts about this trend, there are examples that demonstrate that customers definitely understand and “love” the concept of “mass customization”.

Mymuesli, one of the pioneers of “food customization“, is one such example. Mymuesli customers can create their own mueslis as they like online, factoring in personal preferences or allergies. Mueslis created in this way are then mixed exactly according to the customer’s specification and delivered in a can. Initially this was a purely online business, but you now find ready-packed muesli mixtures on the shelves in a range of supermarkets and in proprietary muesli stores. This idea is also an international hit; mymuesli is expanding in five more countries and employs around 600 people.

Yet mymuesli has not stood still, but has again demonstrated a pioneering spirit in terms of the can as “food packaging”. Not only the muesli but also the can are customizable. Customers select their preferred images, texts and colors, and the personalized can is printed live directly at the POS. The print application is controlled via a web-to-print tool, and is therefore an excellent example of how e-business print can be of benefit to customers both online and in local stores.

The success story of this “crazy idea” is downright incredible. At the Online Print Symposium Max Wittrock, CEO and one of the founders of mymuesli, not only told the story of the company, which was established in 2007, but he also captivated the delegates with his presentation, which he headlined “Exiting the Comfort Zone”. He dispensed with the usual charts, PDF or Powerpoint presentations and exited his comfort zone by backing up what he had to say with handwritten posters.

Max Wittrock

And he didn’t act as if mymuesli had been planned with military precision and steered towards success, but instead talked about coincidences, reverses, failures and that “gut feeling” that you need when making many decisions. “You sometimes just have to try things out“, said Max Wittrock. “Even if market research is telling you the opposite and customers are less than impressed.”

“Perseverance” was one of those disciplines that Wittrock recommended to his audience, if they want to break new ground. And here there was an unmistakable common thread between his presentation and Benny Landa’s keynote. You set off obsessed by an idea, but you don’t know where the journey is going to take you. If you reach your goal despite unavoidably going astray, coming to dead ends and starting from scratch, then you deserve your success.

Stumbling Blocks in International e-Commerce

To help online print providers avoid hitting dead ends in the first place, Franz Schlickum, Vice President Digital Goods at asknet AG, provided the audience with a systematic checklist of what needs to be borne in mind if you intend to internationalize your operations and where the stumbling blocks might be. That doesn’t just include the distances involved, different currencies and languages but also local or national requirements and sensitivities. And you don’t have to travel that far – these issues already kick in at the Swiss border. Here we encounter a different mentality, a different currency, legislation is different and four languages are spoken in this small country.

International expansion is therefore a strategic exercise, where a wide range of challenges need to be mastered, and that even applies to companies that have already established an e-commerce channel. In Franz Schlickum’s opinion the task of adapting internal organizational structures and processes should not be underestimated. And webstore localization is a task that requires more than just a pure translation. Critical success factors include possibly multilingual content management and market-specific methods of approaching and appealing to target audiences. In this respect you need to be aware of differences in buying behavior.


Local circumstances that have an impact on the international market environment, such as  consumer law, data privacy, user expectations and last but not least the competitive landscape (including local competitors), are usually uncharted territory as well. Key issues also include finances, billing and payment processes, which have to be depicted and embedded according to local user expectations. Different tax rates have to be factored in, currency risks have to be evaluated and hedged and currency streams have to be optimized.

The key consideration above all is how logistics should be organized. Ultimately this whole process involves more than just shipping goods – products may possibly be returned. In this regard Franz Schlickum mentioned outsourcing as a risk- and expense-reducing option, as well as short delivery lead times as a critical success factor. That’s because the buyer doesn’t care where the online partner is based – they don’t distinguish between local and international providers.

These challenges can all be mastered, but any decision about internationalizing an online print business model is directly dependent on a company’s willingness to take risks and to invest, said Franz Schlickum in summary.

Trends in B2B Online Commerce

Online business risks certainly include the fast pace of market development. In the last decade a completely new dynamic has evolved, which is set to accelerate even more and lead to progressive commercial market consolidation. Quoting several companies as examples, Lars Schade, CEO of Mercateo Service GmbH, highlighted this fast pace of change.

Lars Schade

“Seven years ago Nokia was the sole market leader in mobile or cell phones – gone. Quelle, once the largest mail-order business, online as well – gone. Amazon, the perceived bookseller from Seattle, has long since morphed into a logistics business and is increasingly causing DHL grief”, Schade stated.

Although that applies to the B2C sector, other markets need to be alert to what’s happening too. Retailers tend to overestimate the inertia of the B2B market! “While this market obviously gives retailers a bit more time, it too is undergoing a dynamic process of change. Increasing transparency and margin pressure are doing the rest,” said Schade. That is resulting in significant purchasing process optimization among mid-sized businesses. However digitalization can only be regarded as a first step in this respect; the formation of networks is the logical consequence of this process. Stand-alone solutions have increasingly been transformed into complex networks, onto which big data has been grafted, Schade stated. “Given this perceptible marketplace evolution, Google is losing its relevance as a B2B market platform,” he concluded. That’s because the digitalization of procurement processes is creating new, provider-relevant B2B online marketplaces and platforms.

Think Global. Act Local.

One such new platform is what Ali Jason Bazooband is striving to achieve. The Chief Innovation/Marketing Officer at Unitedprint wants to successfully implement an internationalization and expansion strategy by partnering with local stores. He believes that companies don’t always have to have operations abroad in order to sell abroad. In his presentation Ali Jason Bazooband demonstrated what options local print providers have that enable them to become international print providers with proprietary stores and thus enable them to reach out to new target audiences.


“Unitedprint Shop Services is the name of our program, for which more than 20,000 partners have already registered. It combines the know-how and portfolio of a top online print company with the customer proximity and services of local providers,” said Ali Jason Bazooband. “Our proprietary web-to-print online store is made available to each partner free of charge and is designed for B2C marketing, thanks to the FreeDesign Editor feature. This offers full-on opportunities at zero risk!”  If a partner is offering premium products, but not yet selling these online, they can do so via their USS store. “This enables them to make their products available to the pan-European USS network and its customers,” Bazooband stated.

The partners decide which products they want to produce themselves and which they outsource to print24, the largest Unitedprint brand, for example. Partners can thus have their presses operating at targeted capacity and increase their range of products to their customers exponentially at a stroke. The first national and international partners are already operating their free Unitedprint Shop Services (USS) web-to-print stores, including mobile websites, and are not only able to market hundreds of print products with immediate effect, but also have access to top-selling ranges of textile, photo, advertising technology and packaging products.

And Unitedprint of course also aims to benefit from that. If just 10% of the 20,000 registered partners placed orders worth € 80 with print24 every day, that represents potential sales of € 58.4 million, Bazooband explains. The plan could indeed work, because of those 20,000 potential partners, 56% are resellers, Ali Jason Bazooband confirmed in response to a question.

Quo Vadis Online Payment?

New e- and m-payment solutions are continually coming onto the market. Apple Pay and Android Pay have launched in the USA and will shortly be coming to Europe as well. Samsung provides NFC technology for mobile payment and PayPal will also be offering non-contact POS payment alongside its app. The Otto subsidiary, Yapital, for example, opted for a different concept based on QR codes – and failed. Yet which system should we be gearing up for in the future? Which innovations are relevant to e-business print? Who will be setting the pace and what do customers actually want?

Dr. Ernst Stahl, Director of ‘ibi research an der Universität Regensburg GmbH’, attempted to provide answers to these questions. In doing so, he established that: “The e-commerce percentage continues to grow, customers have got the hang of using these processes online and mobile and learned to appreciate them; young people are getting older, e-commerce solutions are also provided in the over-the-counter trade and increasingly backed up by mobile devices. Payments are also changing.” The only question is when, using which technologies and involving which providers?


According to a study by ibi research, merchants want banks and credit card companies in particular to offer non-contact payment solutions. But people believe that Internet businesses like Apple, Google, Amazon or PayPal are most likely to establish such payment systems in the next few years. However payment systems need to be measurable. Dr. Stahl stated system costs as being the key benchmark. Merchants have to be able to afford innovations, otherwise they are just a “gimmick”.

And time savings are another benchmark. “With some exceptions, cash handling is often not as slow as you may think. Furthermore cash is here to stay, as anonymity is a prized asset,” said Dr. Stahl. “In terms of mobile payment, what matters is implementation. These days, non-contact card payments up to €25 are already feasible – and happen very quickly.”

However the real killer application for mobile payment systems is quality, in which usability or user experience plays a major role. “Fingerprint-activated approval is ingenious – the benefits of biometrics include speed and permanent recall. The prerequisite however is secure and proper implementation,” Dr. Stahl stated. Yet in the next few years Germany will not morph into a mass m-payment market, as payment behavior in Germany only changes very slowly.

Day 2 – Keynote: Online Print Suppositions

Various sources forecast that competition in the print industry will continue to intensify. That isn’t  actually a surprise in a competition-focused society. If you scan the trade media headlines, you get the impression however that the prevailing response to this trend is investment in new printing presses. “In future it won’t be the print providers that print the best and the fastest that gain competitive advantage, but those that sell their products in the smartest way,” says Dr. Christian Maaß, member of the Management Board of flyeralarm Vertriebs GmbH.

But how? In his presentation Dr. Maaß touched on the essential trends within the print and online overlap and illustrated possible solutions, given the increasing dominance of automated and  IT-focused strategies. He presented these trends and developments in such a multifaceted way that you would have needed to listen to his presentation at least a second time. Firstly that’s because online print is per se an extremely complex topic and secondly visionary concepts can’t be explained using established terms. In this context two worlds collided – on the one hand the analytical e-commerce expert, Dr. Maaß, and on the other print companies that have tended to move away from the skilled crafts and trades environment towards the online print world. However the presentation was not just a digression into the marketing world of the future, but also provided something tangible.


Like, for instance, the fact that the focus will be on IT and data structures in the future and not on printing presses. While they are necessary, they are only part of an online print provider’s infrastructure. What is far more important according to Dr. Maaß is mastering and interpreting customer data (c.f. Cognitive Commerce). That’s because e-commerce has evolved from being a sales channel to a business model that is now becoming a part of a platform system. In this respect marketing decisions are increasingly of a technical nature and being automated. Dr. Maaß regards this as a completely different way of marketing thinking and as a much–needed new management strategy of launching more agile structures at departmental and corporate level.

If online print providers view and practice technology as a point of differentiation, they could pick up even larger volumes from the print market, Dr. Maaß argued. “The market opportunities are superb,” he said. “After all 80% of print sales are not yet generated online.” However he only sees space in this market for perhaps five serious players.

Fostering Supply Chain Partnerships

One of these five is most certainly Cimpress. Founded in 1995 by Robert Keane, Cimpress has grown steadily, by standardizing its product portfolio and harmonizing formats, which were aimed at “do-it-yourself” customers. The company has been expanding since 2012 by acquiring other online print providers with their own in-house production facilities. By purchasing Exaprint and WIRmachenDRUCK, Cimpress has now acquired two businesses that rely on a growing network of suppliers and production partners. Cimpress’ 19-strong brand portfolio, each providing their own performance promise to customers, today generates around $ 1.7 billion in sales and it operates offices and production facilities in 20 countries around the globe.

The 6500-headcount Dutch company’s core activity is customized mass production of product categories like advertising/marketing media, signage, classic print products, photo books, promotional products, clothing etc. Will Jacobs, Senior Vice President at Cimpress, explained in his presentation how the company intends to develop supply chain partnerships to enable Cimpress to expand yet further. Jacobs heads up Cimpress’ global production operations and is responsible for the organization’s supply chain and logistics. At the same time he has also taken over responsibility for the company’s strategic positioning.


“We can’t produce everything ourselves,” said Jacobs. “For that reason we are seeking and relying on supply chain partnerships.” In order to integrate these partners into the Cimpress cluster at an international level, a proprietary open platform was created, which is designed to optimize the processing/handling of print jobs from ordering via document handling, production and logistics through billing. This system is set to interlink the various brands and partners with each other as from July 1. In this case very different production facilities offering equally different specialisms are designed to provide the ultimate in production flexibility. Will Jacobs’ statement at the end of his presentation hints at the dimensions in which Cimpress is thinking.  “Customers don’t want to wait any more. Perhaps time zones can also be utilized to deliver as fast as possible.”

Online Print Made in Denmark

Given that the Online Print Symposium has already discussed the internationalization of the online print business widely, it’s appropriate that colleagues from abroad were also involved here. Esben Mols Kabell, CEO and co-founder of, introduced Scandinavia’s largest online print provider at 180,000 purchase orders from 40,000 B2B customers per annum and sales of €42 million. Since founding the company in 1999, Kabell has spent his time creating and developing concepts and products like Bookbox, an innovative on-demand book printing solution that uses an existing distribution system, and Brand Central, an order platform that has managed to persuade some of Denmark’s largest companies to go online. Kabell showed in his presentation how customer retention can be enhanced by a mix of online ordering and integrated market positioning.


The Power of One to One

Mass customization is also breathing new life into the print business, where usually a fraction of one Eurocent per copy makes the difference between getting a job or not. “Suddenly the ‘cost price + minimum markup = selling price’ equation no longer applies,“ says Michael Todd. Having invested in a B2 digital printing press, the Irish print entrepreneur believes that the following personalized product equation applies instead – “cost price + emotions = selling price”. Todd promoted a new way of thinking and highlighted what you should be concentrating on to increase the emotional element of a product and thus to maximize your margins. He also provided an insight into the specific challenges of the market, consumer expectations and the significance of the role played by social media. And he also mentioned experience of direct customer contact, because if something goes wrong with the customization process, customers ultimately take it very personally!


Barcodes and 2D Codes

And what happens if something goes wrong with a printed EAN or QR code? This issue was addressed by Dr. Andreas Kraushaar, Head of the Prepress Technology department at Fogra. Perfect readability of barcodes and 2D codes is an essential requirement for any print product. Print service providers frequently take responsibility for readability. More and more frequently readability shortcomings are not only a killer for the online print provider’s logistics but also for those of the customer supplied. While offset and toner-based print providers have essentially mastered the issue of readability, inkjet printing is posing new challenges to the application of proven standards, according to Dr. Kraushaar. That includes the avoidance of reading errors or major readability fluctuations. He explained these problems in his presentation and provided practical tips as to what kind of remedial or corrective action can be taken at the pre-press, printing and quality control stages.

Andreas Kraushaar

Why PDF/VT is Set to Change Online Print

Towards the end of this otherwise rather “low-tech” event there was a presentation that is of major relevance to (not just) online print providers, where the issue of mass customization or 1:1 marketing and direct mailshot services are involved.

Martin Bailey joined what is now called Global Graphics Software over twenty years ago, and was involved with developing the Harlequin RIP and is now the company’s Chief Technology Officer. During that time he’s also been actively involved in drafting a number of print-related standards, including chairing the CIP4 and the ISO PDF/X committee. He’s currently a member of the ISO committees working on upgrading PDF and PDF/VT standards.

In the same way as the PDF/X standard codified existing best practice and provided mechanisms to embed additional data, the PDF/VT standard is intended to take PDF/X to the next level and makes use of existing best practices, Bailey explained. But variable data printing business models differ markedly from most PDF/X workflows in terms of which players perform which functions.

Martin Bailey

In Martin Bailey’s opinion the PDF/VT standard already works, but still needs to be simplified further and refined in respect of some workflows. Nevertheless he is confident that PDF/VT will in future lead to more reliable production, even if extensive documents are involved.

How Much Money is Needed to Acquire Customers?

“I do find a print event, where print is not spoken about, quite remarkable,” outlined Dr. Michael Fries, CEO of Onlineprinters Holding GmbH, during the closing discussion forum. “Yet the real issue was e-commerce technologies and understanding them properly.” Who can acquire how many customers for how much money is also a key issue for Dr. Fries. “Printing and production are important, but e-business technologies are right at the top of the agenda. That can be a problem for smaller providers. Instead they can focus on specialties that can’t be automated and standardized so easily.”

“What have we learned?” Bernd Zipper, zipcon consulting GmbH, and Michael Fries, Onlineprinters Holding GmbH, asked themselves this question during the discussion forum
“What have we learned?” Bernd Zipper, zipcon consulting GmbH, and Michael Fries, Onlineprinters Holding GmbH, asked themselves this question during the discussion forum

And there’s more to come! Let’s consider packaging, labels etc. just for a moment. And meanwhile the first letterpress print provider has gone online. Here yet more niches are being opened up, people are experimenting and trying things out. For example, flyeralarm experimented with 3D print and is now calling it quits after gaining some valuable experience. That’s agility for you. “But the print industry has always been agile and dynamic,” Dr. Fries firmly believes. “In terms of production not that much can be changed rapidly, but in terms of software definitely. But you then have to use it or lose it.”

And what impact does drupa have on online print? Silence. Does it have any? “Perhaps on production facilities, but online print providers have got printing at their fingertips anyhow. The major challenge is the complexity of the business,” said Dr. Fries. And when conventional models and structures disappear, you have to experiment, try things out and operate with agility.

Of Trolls and Other Troublemakers

Did we learn anything else? Yes, there is a new disease and it is called nomophobia – the fear of having “no mobile phone” and not being able to cope – said Dr. Stahl at any rate. It describes smartphone users’ fear of having an empty battery, and no longer being able to surf, tweet or like is many people’s nightmare. For this reason I believe that the presentation given by Tina Halberschmidt was really important. She is Social Media Editor at Handelsblatt and described her day-to-day routine.

Plenty of good things happen in social networks. Yet there is a dark side to Facebook et al: malicious people and trolls do their worst here, rage against the media, write hate posts about refugees and ruin any factual or objective discussion, she says. On the other side are the community managers. Previously their credo was: don’t feed the troll. However such posts are increasingly being responded to by trolling back or by deleting them, especially at media companies. Sometimes it’s even necessary to report such activities to the authorities.


Perhaps that is not such an issue on the online print providers’ social web. But social media managers need to concern themselves with how to deal with unwelcome comments, malicious people and trolls.

Closing remarks

The Online Print Symposium featured an event app for the first time and it provides important information about the event and its partners before, during and after the OPS 2016 and also facilitates communication. This app provided the movers and shakers of the online print industry with a community and network of their own, not just in the context of the 4th Online Print Symposium. You can still network and share inspirational solutions, ideas and visions after the event, at least until April next year.

The next Symposium takes place on April 6 and 7, 2017. 

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