Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Is the Color Cube the missing link for Printernet Publishing?

The issue is remote hard copy proofs for commercial printers.

The dirty little secret is that the problem with soft proofs is that you can't hold them in your hand when the job is delivered. It has little to do with exact color accuracy. It has to do with protecting your butt and managing fear.

The nature of the customer's fear is that either a supervisor or a peer will say, "That doesn't look like I thought it would look." The fear of the printer is "That doesn't look like it looked on the screen."

For printernet publishing to reach the potential massive scale there has to be a way to go from Ground > Cloud > Print for hard copy proofs in real time.

Given that the Color Cube is inkjet this could be solved. In one of yesterday's comments, Art Post visited and asked
No Fiery or Creo, can't see it being much use for proofing, am I missing something?
then I said,
This really needs to be answered by a color engineer, which I am not. But, here's how I think it can work:

1. The printer has to have an RGB color managed workflow. (yes, there are some, not many, that have this.)
2. The color cube customer gets a color target PDF supplied by the printer.
3. The printer does a read on the test sheet to get a color profile.
4. The printer attaches that profile to the PDF that he puts in the Cloud. (email, FTP, website)
5. The customer pulls down the PDF and prints on the Color Cube.

Given that the Color Cube is inkjet instead of toner, it should be stable enough to make this work good enough, most of the time.
Getting an inkjet device to work as a remote proofer is well defined. Epson has it nailed for photographers. It has become embedded in a photographer's way of doing business. Ink jet proofs have become standard in many commercial workflows.

I don't know if I'm right about this, but if I am it means that Xerox could use their PSP network, over 650 in Premier Partners alone, to sell Color Cubes. it could also mean that they could get PSPs to talk directly to Independent MPS to cross sell to the same clients. It could also mean that the the immediately addressable market for Color Cubes are OPM/PSP's for their own pre production proofing needs.

A possible HP counter move
They could implement the same strategy. In house color inkjet proofing for the Indigo. Once under control and well understood, Indigo users could sell, give or lease those ink jet proofers to their customers. If they are embedded in a MFP, so much the better. If not, the inkjets work as an inexpensive stand alone.

They are the strong runner up in the MPS space. They are experts at inkjet. Their base of installed Indigo owners is powerful and distributed.

But HP has the same focus and execution problem that infects most of the globals. The real danger for globals and the opportunity for a robust printernet is from the ground. The color management process is open and well defined. Every commercial printer and independent will move on a dime to add quickly monetizable value to their offerings.

More to the point, they will use a new offering to lower good customer acquisition costs and embed customers into their developing printernets. Donnelly, Consolidated and Cenveno might decide that it's a competitive advantage to have hard copy remote proofing at a fraction of the normal cost for their publishing clients. Staples may sell the box. An independent Color VAR will mentor adoption of the hard copy color management piece.

The process is well defined. The marginal cost of software is negligible. The price is what the market will bear. The marginal cost of embedding color intelligence into the network is negligible in terms of stuff. It does require focus. But focus now, leads to a more intelligent network going forward.

The smarter the network gets, the higher the margins going forward.

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