The Future of Prepress I : Where is the customer?

by admin on January 2, 2009

So over the next few weeks, I hope to find the time (and discipline) to write three essays on the future of prepress, or I should say, trends that affect those of us in the prepress space. I know what I want to write about, but the problem will be to explain why the subject matter is relevant to prepress, so I think I have to expand a bit on the definition of prepress, or why I think the very historical concept of prepress has expanded its borders beyond its narrow technical origins.

I started out in prepress when the equipment assigned to us was a drafting table, an exacter knife, and a wax machine. We got our type from a typesetter and pictures from the photographer. And then computers came on the scene and everything changed. Now, every person in the offset printing industry knows that the center of a printer's IT infrastructure is in the prepress department. De facto, prepress is synonymous in printing with Information Technology. And thus, the internet for offset printing lives in prepress as well.

So this leads to an interesting conundrum. IT in printing over the last 15 years has been used for logistical ends, that is to say, to streamline production, eliminate waste and above all reduce turnaround time and increase productivity. But in the last five years, by means of the internet, the latest and greatest revolution has come in the marketing space, not production.  Specifically, the use of keywords queries in the search engines to drive customers to online ordering through company websites. Most offset printers have not grasped this yet, and continue to see prepress as a cost center that is chiefly responsible for preparation of digital files for eventual consumption by the press by way of CTP. Marketing still rests with the sales departments, who for the most part, are woefully uninformed of the highly technical nature of marketing in the query space of Google, Yahoo, and

On the other hand, the body of knowledge (BOK in project management lingo) needed for successful internet marketing AND for running prepress systems have a remarkable degree of overlap. But of course, virtually all prepress shop are disenfranchised from adding value to the sales team. Or to speak bluntly and without jargon, most print shop owners don't have the slightest idea why a prepress manager should be bidding for queries on Google Adwords and tailoring landing pages on the company's website.

Which bring us to the next question: Why should a print shop owner care about Adwords? Okay, well, let's ask a question back. Where do you go to look for information nowadays? Do you pull out a trade directory? The phone book? Or do you open up a web browser and type in a keyword? According to Google, about 50,000 people each month type in the keyword "offset printing". And on the right-hand side, these are the ads that they will see:


On January 1st, (which means a lot of campaigns aren't even turned on, as it's a holiday,) there were 104 advertisers bidding on the keyword offset printing. So that means there are either 104 companies wasting their marketing budget or maybe of 50,000 people who type in the keyword "offset printing" a significant percentage are potential customers looking to make a buy.

But there is more to internet marketing then bidding on keywords and driving traffic (hits) to your website. Many printers do this, and pay no attention to the more difficult technical task of measuring the traffic and implementing systems in place that track keywords to conversions. The most sophisticated marketing campaign can determine which keyword drove which user to a certain landing that triggered a measurable action by the customer that triggered a buy. It's that quantifiable, and when subject to scale, immensely profitable. For example, a printer can bid on the keywords "print catalogs" and "four-color catalog printing" and drive both traffic sources to the company site. But if the site is not engineered to measure the clicks, or the call-to-actions, then the printer will never know that $200 was spent on "print catalog" keyword bidding while $150 was spent on "four-color catalog printing" but the latter brought $6000 of sales while the former brought in zero. Measuring the conversion rate of keywords is essential to scale to profitability, but it's extremely difficult to do except by internet professionals who specialize in analytics and tend to have consulting rates that scare off most offset printing owners.
That, in a very small nutshell, is internet marketing. The printers who embrace it will do very well in the next couple of years, financial apocalypse or not. The others who don't well... ...has anybody ever heard of a company called Vistaprint?

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The Future of Prepress: Expansion of the Virtual Bubble | Prepress Pilgrim
February 26, 2009 at 11:19 am


Laurens January 4, 2009 at 2:02 am

Interesting article, I am already forward to the next one.

I remember a discussion with a printer who complained about paying quite a lot to a consultant with the promise of getting the top spot in non-sponsored links for searches involving the printing of kalenders. They never got that top spot. You have to be careful in selecting a consultant for this type of business. I guess there are lots of nitwits around who make a good living selling hot air.

Before investing in buying keywords , I think every printer should make sure that their web site pops up in the first page of results for any search for ‘printing’ or ‘offset’ or the specific product they offer combined with the name of their city or region. Get the basics right first before spending money on trying to capture specific types of prospects.

admin January 4, 2009 at 11:11 pm

Hi Laurens:
A common rule of thumb is that long-tail keywords (2-4 word phrases) bring in traffic that converts (ie customers that spend) while one-word phrases are only typed in by curious people who haven’t made up their minds yet.

Also, if you ask anybody in the digital print business, they would much rather rank for keywords like “colored business cards” rather than something general like “printing” where the traffic is just looking for maybe a home printer.

Organic SEO, or getting your web site to bring in “natural” ie unpaid traffic is a black science in itself.

Jeff Lazerus January 8, 2009 at 1:35 pm

Great post. I’m looking forward to the next part. I have linked you over on my blog: my blog:
Two things come to mind for me here. First, its not a gigantic leap, skillwise, for a good prepress operator to take other tasks like IT. Successful prepress operators are very data oriented, as opposed to object oriented or idea oriented. This skillset is the same for those in IT. I’m not saying that we are data oriented to the exclusion of the other two, but good prepress people are strong in that skill area.

Second, we are now using the internet and networking in general to accomplish day to day tasks anyway; things like file transfer, proofing, and basic communication think email. In web to print and digital printing (my own gig) almost the entire process exists on remote servers accessed over the net. Harvesting customers using AdWords seems like just another extension of the already heavily “internet focused” effort that prepress work finds its home.

Jeff Lazerus January 8, 2009 at 1:37 pm

P.S. Sorry about the messed up HTML up there! And, I like the new WP theme. Looks good.

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