Monday, March 16, 2009

Focus on growing the printernet. Get out of the "Information Busyness."

The internet is already organizing the world's information. The printernet is the way to output the right information at the right time in the right form to the right communities.

It's a problem of scale. No single vendor or printer can get to the scale needed to create the necessary experience. Without scale, delivering the experience can not earn enough money to be sustained. The longer it takes for everyone in the network to earn money, the longer it will take for the printernet to crystallize.

In a more precise language, networks grow naturally when local ESS game strategies are embedded in systems thinking.

Imagine the value creation
President Obama has to help every American understand what the "Financial Meltdown" means. The mass media can't do it because they are limited to sound bites and manufactured drama to keep their audiences. Long form radio/TV with the space for a nuanced discussion does not work in the mass market.

The internet works, but only for a niche audience of fans. After fine tuning the best use of the internet during the campaign, the Obama team continues to deliver information to a couple of million fans. They communicate directly through their web site and deliver television through YouTube. The task at hand is to reach everyone.

So . . . the Obama staff goes to a Public Relations firm that specializes in using the printernet. Together they map out the Congressional Districts they need to reach - top, middle and bottom of the pyramid, speaking 5 different dialects of English and 6 other languages.

They harvest the information from the website to identify their fans in those communities. They will distribute the print product to everyone. They use anecdotal information from their fans on the ground to fine tune the voice. They link community journalists, both inside and outside, formal newspaper organizations to experts, both inside government, universities and outside to get the content right.

They do small proof of concept projects - beta tests - in selected communities. After incorporating what they've learned, they move to the next low hanging fruits. This sets in motion a recurring cycle of test, improve, deploy, test, improve, deploy.

When the team is ready, with the content and the versions, they pull the trigger. Within 2 days, 300,000,000 million Print products are in the community. Within a week, those Print products are in the hands of the citizens. Versioned first for Congressional District, then for type of community, then micro-versioned for health, education, private sector, small business within each community. The Print products might be in the form of newspapers, newsletters, or posters.

Getting to scale
During the bubble fortunes were spent and lost in the land grab in the information business. Ten years later, Google and Amazon seem to be the big winners. Note that Google and Amazon have remained profitable, while Auto and Finance are struggling to keep their organizations intact.

Google Apps have over 1 million users. Recently Washington DC contracted with Google to use Apps instead of Microsoft to organize the information of the local government. The reported cost is $50/per user/per year. No servers to install. No techs on the ground. Since Google has spent years in "beta" with millions of users, the GUI is optimized for ease of use.

The Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) is a web service that provides resizable compute capacity in the cloud. It is designed to make web-scale computing easier for developers.

To be clear, Google's real advantage is their un equaled capacity with the best and probably the most server farms on the planet. The installed base and the software that runs it allows them to keep the marginal cost of computing very low. It gives them the freedom to price to the market and experiment at a huge scale.

If Microsoft couldn't change fast enough to leverage their ownership of the desktop, how does any print vendor seriously think they can compete in the information business.

The advantage of Print
Print on the other hand has its own disorganized but massive physical base that is virtually impossible to replicate. In yesterday's post, I referred to the Clay Shirky essay that has been creating a buzz in the blabla-o-sphere. He notes that "Printing presses are terrifically expensive to set up and run." That is the sustainable advantage, if and only if, they are networked to create a new experience for consumers and business.

The appropriate metric is not production time. It is the elapsed time to get the product in hand. A distributed print functionality can radically reduce, and in some cases eliminate, the time between "produced" and "in hand."

Printernet is already growing
MPS is bringing standards, metrics and therefore efficiency to formal organizations. Ubiquitous MFP's are bridging the physical document and the digital cloud. Companies such as AlphaGraphics and the other networked "copy shops" are on the ground and growing. Staples has production centers and retail outlets. Consolidated and others have built expensive and hard to replicate multi location print output nodes. Most important are the thousands of family owned print shops with deep ties to local communities.

Seeing the new value
To understand the value it's important to look at this through the lens of parallel processing. That's the production power of a network. 300 offset/digital plants x 10,000 copies. = 3,000,000 copies that can be produced and delivered in a day or so, while still leaving a massive amount of capacity.

With the additional power of versioning - both in offset, with retro fits to existing equipment and pure digital - both toner and inkjet - the new capability is to produce massive amounts of print product, customized for micro communities at an acceptable price.

Like the internet, the remaining problem is how to make money for everyone
Amazon invented affiliate marketing. Google invented ad sense. Once "word of mouth" is incented on the ground, mass market advertising is replaced by mass market selling. Networks grow naturally when local ESS game strategies are embedded in systems thinking.

Printers need a reliable base line revenue stream. As soon as they feel they have one, they will purchase whatever equipment they need, without a long sales cycle. The idea that they can generate demand by marketing their services is demonstrably false. Asking the mass of them to become "solution providers, " in addition to being bad advice, does not work. Telling them to "fight Print as commodity," is also bad advice and a losing strategy for most.

The local pieces are in place. Resellers and trade shops have been very resilient through good times and bad. As they link up , it's network arithmetic, 1+ 1+1+1+1+1+1 can equal 100.

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