While the total print market is still growing, the number of print shops continues to fall. Quebecor World is the first major player to collapse, but this is affecting all firms, from local shops to international giants.

It was inevitable that, in this climate, print hardware and software providers would need to consolidate as well. There simply aren’t enough purchasers to support an ecosystem of this size and complexity. HP’s purchase of Exstream Software is the latest step in this process.

This follows a series of related moves over recent years. Most similar is Xerox’s acquisition of XMPie in 2006. Owning their own VDP software suites allows major print and digital press vendors to offer a turn-key solution, rather than just a piece of hardware.

As complexity rises and the number of big buyers declines, this is critical. There simply aren’t the resources available to customize each installation. The short-term implementation costs and long-term support costs make this unworkable for all but the largest players (who don’t buy enough to make it work for the vendors).

Craig Le Clair has pointed out that document output management is becoming an increasingly major software category. I think that the ability to combine software and hardware into a single solution for clients is the real solution for this space. HP’s purchase makes particular sense in that context.

Of course, this leaves the huge segment of the market that can’t spend a million dollars or more on internal print capacity (or simply don’t want to). This is the area where Postful and other web-to-print vendors are rapidly expanding. The ability to standardize on a digital workflow and simply plug in print as one output option is a huge advantage for businesses.

These two trends will be highlighted over the next few years. The largest firms will increasingly rely on drop-in hardware and software solutions provided by single vendors. Meanwhile small and medium sized firms will handle their print needs through internet-based fulfillment services. Whether managed through internal or external appliances, print will be a service.

The general push at CES combined with Apple’s introduction of the MacBook Air has moved cloud computing back into the spotlight. Steve Rubel points out:

As we become more dependent on technology, people crave small and thin computers and mobile devices. They want to travel light, yet still remain as productive as they can at home or work with a desktop. This will require that manufacturers rely more on “the cloud” (e.g. the Internet) and local area networks, rather than on-board hardware to do more of the work – at least for now.

What’s true for the internals of computers and devices is doubly so for the hardware with which we surround them. Very few people want to carry a printer with them on the go. In fact, few even want one at all.

Postful takes the printer off your desktop and moves it into the cloud. Regardless of what device you’re working from, what files are on that local machine, or even where you are, you have access to a high-end printing and delivery service.

As we increasingly treat the network as the foundation of our computing experience, hardware and physical processes must become an integral part of the cloud. Those tools can no longer be represented by physical devices that are tied to our presence in a particular location. They have to be accessible, integrated, and connected.

Our focus at Postful has been on bringing printing into this world of services. This is just one piece of the puzzle, but we think it demonstrates the potential, viability, and even necessity of this strategy.

Alternate Outputs

January 18, 2008

Chris Anderson has been compiling a growing list of media business models. Included is “Alternate output (pdf; print/print-on-demand; customized Shared Book style; etc.)”.

Obviously this model is near and dear to our hearts [does that phrase refer to the lungs?]. Postful makes it easy for sites to add in a print and delivery system for their online content.

But it’s not just about providing a monetization mechanism, it’s about expanding your audience. There are still billions of people worldwide who aren’t online much or at all (including over 100 million people in the US alone). Providing a mechanism for reaching those people is not just a way to earn an extra buck, it’s a way to establish your brand for the next wave of internet expansion.

More, it’s a way to allow your users to interact with your content as they prefer. The expansion of choice is one of the fundamental strands in the modern web. It’s becoming one of the minimal standards to be considered credible and useful (the convergence of those terms in an information economy is perhaps a topic for another post).

Keep letting us know how you’re using us to better serve your patrons (and earn money for yourself in the process)!

International Mailings

January 5, 2008

Postful has been testing global mailings for several months now. We’re now expanding from our initial test group to support over 200 countries. Finally you can mail letters, photos, invoices, brochures, and more anywhere in the world as easily as sending an e-mail.

Pricing is slightly higher for letters mailed outside of the US. International letters are $1.49 for the first page, $.39 each additional page. The difference is due to international airmail pricing which runs about $.50 more than US domestic postage. However, given the rapidly weakening dollar, favorable exchange rates mostly make up for this difference. For example, $1.49 converts to about 1 Euro (as of 1/4/08).

Our experiences with mailing times have been better than expected. To Europe, we’ve seen mailing times from three to eight days. Delivery to Asia has varied from four to nine days. As we open more regional print centers, we look forward to making every letter sent from anywhere in the world into a local letter.

Below the fold is a list of all supported countries. We’re looking forward to connecting more families, helping more businesses reach their customers and contacts across the planet, and taking another big step towards bridging the online and offline worlds.

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