Joined at the Hip – How printers and publishers can use content services to build relationships (and profit): An interview with David Zwang on behalf of OnDemand Expo and Conference

by Sandy Hubbard, Print Futurist

This week I spoke with David Zwang, who was on his way to Singapore to deliver his message on the opportunities in content services. Zwang is the principal consultant of Zwang & Company, a firm specializing in process analysis and strategic development of firms around the world in the fields of electronic publishing, design, prepress and printing.

An advisor to the OnDemand Expo and Conference, Zwang sees growth potential in offering more and more content services — either in-house or outsourced — where savings and profit can be gained through affordable labor, repeatable processes and automation, greater variety of products using the same data or information, better systems for managing and processing content, tight integration of the client’s workflow into the workflow of the provider, and on and on.

It’s a solid strategy and one being presented and dissected at this year’s OnDemand Expo and conference, June 13-14, 2012 at the Javits Center in New York City (http://www.ondemandexpo.com/cross-media-technology/take-control-your-content-maximize-profits)

Subtitled “The Business of Content,” the show is co-located with info360 Conference & Expo (formerly known as AIMM), which is geared to the IT side of marketing. Together, the events emphasize that content support, packaging and distribution — along with the right tools — are doors that printers, publishers, marketers and agencies can use to reach clients in fresh and profitable ways.

In looking at the opportunities for this growth in the content arena, it helps to look back on the evolution of prepress houses in the 1990s. The growth in outsourced prepress services began when prepress departments of printing companies and publishing houses became very complicated places.

Some printers and publishers handled the complexity by investing in their own staff and resources, on their own premises. Others turned to professionals to either run their departments in house, or to do some or all of their prepress work as an outsourced provider. Still others developed specialty divisions and outsourced prepress work to other printers.

Because many prepress providers evolved from the typographic side of the industry, they had the technical skills and work habits to acquire the right kind of equipment, establish accurate workflows, and offer timely and customer-centric services.

As computers and prepress equipment evolved and as platforms became more open, the need for prepress houses diminished. In some cases those providers kept certain services (such as plate making, high end photography, and color management) and added others, such as digital printing and marketing services. The prepress houses of the 1990s that are still in business today have maximized the changes in our industry both technologically (by being indispensible partners) and strategically (by adopting and mastering new services when their customers needed assistance).                 

The prepress providers in my circle of friends spent a lot of money on the best machines (scanners, cameras, film output devices, workstations, color management modules), the freshest updates, the best materials, the newest software in every version their customers were using, ongoing technical training, service agreements from their vendors, and development of top notch customer service skills. It wasn’t for the faint of heart. Those who were technically proficient became the providers of choice and made a very good living. Those who were strategic kept it going as the industry changed.

Today, Zwang says, there is a similar of window of opportunity to develop platforms, products and services for content producers.

The OnDemand Expo and Conference (http://www.ondemandexpo.com/on-demand-conference-expo/monetizing-optimizing-and-controlling-content) will focus on tools for handling content through the chain as well as the business requirements for building the infrastructure to implement such an approach.

Content producers are creating and repurposing content across many platforms, including printed documents, books, magazines, direct mail, websites, blogs, tablets, mobile devices, standard email, e-newsletters, video programming, vlogs, webinars, podcasts, and cross media campaigns.

Zwang reminds us that, in many cases, developing and distributing content is not the core business of these companies and individuals. Therefore, many are finding that the technical issues, platform choices, workflow challenges, and time investment is more than they wish to master. And, as new ways to repurpose content continues to evolve, they want to be on the forefront of reaching and serving their audiences.

As these potential clients look around, they view printers and publishers as well as marketers and agencies as trusted partners in other content and communication-related services. Do they view you as a potential solution for their current and future content needs?

Just as prepress houses did two decades ago, you can structure content services in a number of ways:

* You can offer it in house and intermingle it with your other services

* You can have your employees operate as a third party specialist on site at your client’s business

* You can outsource some or all of the work on behalf of your client

* You can build a specialty division for handling this work.

Zwang explains that, from content development and acquisition through content packaging and distribution, there are any number of places where you can provide support. Just as prepress houses capitalized on their technical skills and process-oriented work habits, those kinds of strengths serve providers in this realm as well.

He says the opportunities revolve around being able to:

 – consult on projects early with clients, not at the point when they are ready to print, publish or distribute

– offer seamless integration of their chosen technologies and platforms

– prove that you are reliable and trustworthy

– continuously improve your operation and keep your employees well trained

– help clients envision their own opportunities for products, services and profit

– inextricably tie customers to you through data management and interwoven workflows.

In serving this market, Zwang encourages service providers to get their own houses in order, integrate their own processes, examine their own areas for profit potential, and mold themselves into the kinds of companies that clients would trust in these interwoven relationships.

The arena, Zwang says, is already set for this strategy.

On the users’ side of the equation, content already is being sought and sourced, meta-tagged, aggregated, bookmarked, optimized, controlled, curated, archived, re-”published,” and deployed on the fly to hyper-segmented audiences.

On the production side, the tools exist. The multiple platforms and delivery systems are robust. The outsourcing operations and platform vendors are experienced in collaboration. The low hanging fruit is waiting to be harvested, and the orchard is ready to be strategically planted.

“This new wave of growth potential in the industry requires that content service providers become true partners with their clients,” explains Zwang.

Zwang’s vision requires providers to:

– dig deep to see how they can help their customers with their core issues

– identify the places where everyone can make money on both the services and the content itself

– educate themselves on the device platforms

– understand the technical and editorial standards

– become logistical manufacturers

– participate in ongoing skill advancement

– facilitate and build interoperable systems

– and leverage relationships to the fullest.

“Providers will need to be joined with clients at the hip to make this work,” Zwang concludes.

Educational opportunities such as the OnDemand Expo and Conference (http://www.ondemandexpo.com/cross-media-technology/cross-media-marketing-and-publishing) as well as other printing and publishing events allows providers to find and test tools, introduce staff to these transformational concepts, hear case studies and experiences from those who are leading the way, and learn to drive change and manage complexity within the organization. Understanding the challenges and positioning yourself for the opportunities is crucial to success.

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David L. Zwang is the principal consultant of Zwang & Company, a firm specializing in process analysis, and strategic development of firms in the fields of publishing, design, premedia, and printing across the globe. His experience includes expertise in Cross Media Publishing, with an extensive background in pre-media and printing processes. He has consulted with many users, vendors, and government agencies in the industry on a wide variety of issues. Projects include global production and data management solutions; book, magazine and package publishing technologies and processes; remote production systems development, color management and process collaboration systems. He is currently the Chairman of the GWG (Ghent Workgroup), and sits on many national and international standards bodies. Please contact him at; david@zwang.com

Sandy Hubbard is Print Futurist for PrintMediaCentr. Her print, publishing and marketing background intersects with her unflagging quest to make sure print is a platform of choice among the communications channels of the future.