Thursday, September 17, 2009

Print, What's Next? I don't know but it's going to come from Japan

revised 8:12 am EDT. data point on Japan and the Yen from Seeking Alpha

The under appreciated titans of Print are in Japan. Fuji, Screen, Cannon, KM and probably many others that are not on my radar. On the offset side is Komori.

What is digital print without Japan? HP and Cannon, Xerox and Fuji, Ricoh and InfoPrint. I'm not sure who makes the inkjet printheads for Oce, I think KM. Stream seems to have their own channel for digital web presses.

The other "globals" are mostly VARs for "Made in Japan" and made someplace else. What's the real value of Kodak without the Creo piece (Netherlands, I think) What's the real value of HP with Indigo (Israel, I think). iGens are assembled in US, but the pieces are made elsewhere.

Oce is a niche player from the Netherlands. Awesome engineering. Terrible(2me) marketing dna. Even mighty Heidelberg is now in fierce competition with Komori for the offset piece. I don't know exactly how Goss fits but their long term problem is not the "End of Print." It's new competition from Asia.

A new government has come to power in Japan. It's plausible to believe that the Yen is on the path to realistic valuations. A while ago, Ricoh paid a price for Ikon that was close to the market cap of Kodak.

The QR code was invented in Japan. The MFP was invented in Japan. Social media is most advanced in Japan and Korea.

The question(2me)
Can the Japanese based companies change the culture of exceptionalism and prideful competition with their peers in Japan? Will they be able to change the notion that "Japan is different - which often masks the notion that "Japan is smarter and better?"

If they can break through to something more like the spirit that runs through America and Australia of tinkering until just the right tech is joined to just the right business model, I can't see why some combination of Japanese companies become the Alcelor-Mital of global print.

But, will they learn to play nicely in a group? Chances are no.
The prospect of Fuji talking nicely to KM talking nicely to Ricoh talking nicely to DaiNippon talking nicely to Screen is pretty unlikely. Until that sorts itself out, the outfits I'm trying to keep an eye on are Fuji Xerox and InfoPrint.

From what I can see from Brooklyn, Fuji Xerox in Australia is doing some interesting stuff. In the States, if InfoPrint can get the IBM teams to take Print seriously and Ricoh to keep giving them the room to move, they could well turn out to be big winners.

The genius of America is innovating business models and making art. Google and Apple are the best examples. Our movies are the other. If everyone can learn to be satisfied with doing what the do best, and not trying to "own" the rest, it all gets to where it's going any way with the minimum collateral damage.

Only time will tell if Japan will be able to change fast enough to keep India and China from eating their lunch. Welcome to the new normal.


  1. Fuji-Xerox is going to make magic happen! I can see it already. I dont think any company can really compare to their potential, and they are about to make advancements in the industry that will set new standards for the development of 2010. The other companies are sleeping on Xerox, and are not ready for the planning and preparation of Fuji-Xerox.

  2. That would also be my bet, if I could make a bet on Fuji-Xerox. Buying Fuji shares are the same problem as buying HP shares. It's like buying a single source mutual fund. Much too much risk with much too little visibility.

    But will Xerox USA be able to execute on new products from FUJI? maybe yes, maybe not. Meanwhile Ricoh, Cannon, Kyocera et al are not sitting quietly waiting for magic to happen. They seem to be quite able to make their own.

    The problem I see is that Xerox UK seems awesome. I like what I've seen from Xerox Canada. But, I have to say that from everything I can see Xerox-Rochester/Stamford is still trying to get their act together.

    Maybe Uk+Canada+Fuji dna will gain a real foothold in the States. Or perhaps some VC money will get into the action, the way KKR did at Kodak.

    At any rate, there is no question the value is there. In my mind there is little question that sooner or later someone is going to unlock. The only question I have is who and when.