Kodak’s digital print strategy for commercial printers

by admin on June 26, 2008

There are two avenues of attack for Kodak to compete with the big boys: Variable data-printing with NexPress and competing in the inkjet arena by lowering the cost of ink. I'll tackle each one separately.

First, cheap ink for inkjets. Really, this is a no-brainer. HP and Epson have such a lock on the market that if one of the companies didn't exist, the other one would be in antitrust hell before Bill Gates would have time to shake his head. So you kick the giants where it hurts and go after the fat margins on the ink. Will they have success in the consumer market? Ahhhh, I don't know, I mean just how cheap are they making the cartridges? Are they making promises written with the blood of their CEO that they will never boost the cost of the ink?

Do you know what would be cool? If they came out with a vegetable-oil-based ink that was sold in a one litre tank (refillable). You hook up the tank to the printer via gravity feed. Oh yeah, and the tank of ink sells for ten bucks. I would buy that printer for sure, as well as every offset commercial shop from here to Bejing via London. Even if the printer sold for 10 times the cost of an equivalent HP or Epson, I bet the commercial guys would go for it. Why? Because the MBA geniuses at HP or Epson don't understand is that every offset print owner in the world has had to pay off a press at time or another, so they are VERY familiar with TCO - total cost of ownership. Heck, it's tatooed on their foreheads.

But will Kodak go down that path? Or will they fall prey to the "click-charge" screw game? Boy, don't you just love that when the sales guy walks in the door with the elaborate "click-charge" Excel spreadsheets? Mmmmmmm, tasty 8^p

Their second strategy is the variable-data printing with Nexpress which has been around as long as hmmm, the internet. Just kidding. Actually, I remember the Nexpress buzz when I joined Creo back in 1997. I've never seen one, so I truly speak from ignorance (but that has never stopped me before.) Kodak has a vast amount of technological acumen with regard to variable-data printing via the former Spire RIP development team in Herzlia. Apparently there is some buzz out of Burnaby about giving Prinergy some variable data printing capability but don't quote me on that, that buzz has been around for about five years.

Now before I started ripping the Nexpress, I just wanted to say that I think variable data technology is pretty cool. If you are doing a mass-marketing campaign, and you can tailor a catalogue mail-out with individual data feeds, then you can up your conversion rate from 1% to 5,10, or even 15%. In theory, a printer who can offer variable data-printing should be able to sell their services at a premium.

So why hasn't variable-data printing taken off? My guess is that to make the workflow system "work" with variable -data, you need a helluva front-end which hasn't been developed yet. I never saw the Spire front-end but I evaluated some variable-data software from an independent vendor and it completely sucked, even a experienced system admin would have trouble making it work, and you are talking about digital printing. Remember one of the supposed main advantages of digital printing is that you can get rid of your high-priced (and whiny) prepress sys admin/operators and replace them with cheapo teenages who can't get a job at Starbucks because their acne is too bad.

Variable data printing needs an operator with a brain or better more intuitive software but the latter requires an real frickin' software development team, not a group of 2 Indian programmers working on the code in between taking classes on proper call-center etiquette. I know the Spire guys always had problem maintain head count because in printing, you don't make money selling software, but on the consumables (plates, ink, or click-charges). Variable data printing reduces consumption of consumables, ba-ding.

So what I am saying is that variable-data printing is stuck in purgatory until somebody figures out a business model that works. That's where a wizard MBA is worth his or her weight in platinum. If Kodak can convince printers to buy their inkjet at a premium because of cheap ink, then they will do fine. If they can build a kick-ass front end for the Nexpress, then they can move that piece of gear too. Easy, easy.

Easy? I'm sorry, I meant to say that's going to be tremendously hard. The value proposition is there but you are going to need good salespeople who can present a good business plan.  And people really knowledgeable about the traditional printing business.  Oh, and a little bit of courage too, because what I have just said flies in the face of all conventional wisdom of the last fifteen years. But that's all.


Mark Weller June 27, 2008 at 11:37 am

Hi admin!

I hope you allow me to ‘adjust’ parts of this blog content.

The Kodak NexPress has a NexStation (now named NexPress front end) as a digital front end. This front end was developed by NexPress Kiel (Germany) and Rochester (U.S.).

With the NexPress V front end we can easily RIP most variable data (and other) in printing speed. Talking about 100 pages (A4/letter size) a minute (NexPress S3000).

If the NexPress V front end standard configuration will not meet the needs: it’s fully scalable to the desired need.

The mentioned ‘Spire’ does exist for the NexPress. It’s called NexPress Vcs front end (cs = color server) and is offered for existing ‘Spire customers’ to fit their workflow. It was announced at Drupa 2008.

So, don’t ask me why variable data printing has *not* been taking off because if I would know the answer I would by myself several NexPress machines 🙂

“Apparently there is some buzz out of Burnaby about giving Prinergy some variable data printing capability but don’t quote me on that, that buzz has been around for about five years.”

At Drupa Kodak showed Prinergy 5 which is capable of ‘handling’ variable data printing files (VDX). Prinergy 4.1 is capable of that too.


joshua July 20, 2009 at 10:32 am

i am looking for where i can go for Kodak p repress engineering training in Nigeria.please i really need this information.thanks

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