The manifesto explained

Millions of digital publications are waiting to be monetized, and new cloud print providers are ramping up for a fight over the emerging market of transforming digital data into physical objects. Now that traditional print may be dying, what defines the rising realm of print-as-a-service?

We hereby put forth the cloud print manifesto to start the discussion.

Sander Nagtegaal, 2013-04-23

Index

  1. Introduction
  2. The end of publishing as we know it
  3. A brand new day
  4. Cracking the digital silo
  5. From application to cloud print platform
  6. The provider void
  7. Cloud print manifesto
  8. Conclusion

Introduction

Historically, publishers started with a paper publication and subsequently surrounded it with digital services. Although previously worth billions of dollars, this heavily fragmented print market is currently collapsing. Tomorrow’s publishing world is all about the millions of digital assets that will be published on tablets, e-readers, mobile devices, websites and games.

As a result, a smaller market will emerge for on demand print services in 2D and 3D. On a modest scale, the first profitable applications can be seen already, like the print applications based on Instagram data. Platform solutions to support software developers are underway, but it has yet to be decided who will provide the dominant cloud infrastructure for the ad-hoc transformation of digital data into physical objects.

With digital communication taking over, the war for print-as-a-service is about to start. This article argues that cloud print will be the technology of choice to power this new era, eventually supporting sustainability and corporate responsibility in an unprecedented way.

The end of publishing as we know it

The world is starting to notice what the technology scene has been predicting for years: the use of paper as the primary means for communication is slowly coming to an end. And so it should. Low quality, bulk print usually leads to either paper stockpiles or filled garbage bins. Both options are equally bad for the environment.

Significant steps have been taken towards responsible production methods and recycling. Print, however, remains a persistent medium by nature. Once something has been printed, it is there to stay for as long as the paper that it lives on exists. This makes print highly inefficient for transferring non-persistent information like daily news or read-once magazines, as opposed to its digital alternatives. To put it simply: print is always late.

As a result, the general public is losing interest in printed publications in favor of using the internet - a real-time medium for publishing. The numbers are clear. Last year, total newspaper advertising revenue in the United States fell by 7.3% compared to 2010. Print advertising, according to figures compiled by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), was off by 9.2%. The Association of American Publishers (AAP) reports that while sales in all trade print segments fell in 2011, the mass market paperback segment showed the largest decline by almost 36%, or $431.5 million.

A brand new day

Digital communication is faster, generally cheaper and has a smaller ecological footprint than any physical alternative. Digital information is also more personalized and contextualized than any print could ever be. Accordingly, existing print editions are being replaced by digital versions.

Popular blogs have been eating away much of the audience of traditional newspapers for years. Recently, e-books opened fire on printed editions as well, generating an annual $969.9 million in revenue for companies that reported sales to the Association of American Publishers in 2011. This trend has already ensnared its first victims. As of March 2012, even Encyclopædia Britannica announced it would no longer publish its printed editions, focusing instead on its online version - competing with the 17 million articles on Wikipedia.

Yet, all of these changes fall short when compared to the upsurge of digital publishing achieved by individuals. For the first time in history, large-scale personal publishing is within reach for anybody with an internet connection. Digital publishers like Issuu have successfully leveraged this opportunity by building a self-publishing platform. Issuu currently boasts 52 million monthly visitors who are interested in reading digital magazines, and generates more than 3.5 billion page views per month. Most of these are niche publications that are too small to ever see a printed edition.

By far and away, the largest bulk of personal publications are created on an even more personal level. Over 3,000 images are uploaded to Flickr every minute. The photo sharing site hosts over five billion images. Twitter receives over 200 million tweets daily. One out of every nine people on earth is on Facebook, delivering a continuous stream of status updates, social interactions and photos for the world to see. On Facebook alone, the total monthly amount of digital content items surpasses a staggering 30 billion.

So, an enormous amount of digital data is created every day, replacing printed media as the primary conveyor of information.

Cracking the digital silo

Although interoperability between systems is growing, content consumption generally remains a digital experience: it gets stuck on websites, mobile phones and even in games. In fact, an immense digital silo is emerging at a rapid pace.

We are cool with that, but some of that content may have special value to some of us. It may, for instance, be more persistent than daily news and carry deeper personal meaning. Unfortunately, captured within its online container, this precious piece of content is bound to get stuck between all those other floating bits of contextual content, photos, status updates and stories. As a result, taking a persistent snapshot of this special item by turning it into a physical object is a service that will be increasingly sought after.

A recent report from Forrester Research states:

“Consumers want access to digital content and services across their connected devices, anytime, anywhere – and are increasingly embracing virtual ownership models that provide access to vast libraries of content, services, and products under subscription, usage, and other ownership models. eBusiness leaders charged with monetizing their firms’ catalog of digital content, software, or online services must find digital commerce solutions that allow flexibility to trial alternative business models while supporting fulfillment across multiple consumer touch points.”

This report shows that content owners are looking to monetize their data in new ways, paving the way for on demand print services. Already, quite a few early applications take advantage of print as a means for monetization. The simplest examples can be found surrounding Facebook’s Instagram photo application. Postagram, Printstagram and Canvaspop, in particular, have been built to monetize Instagram images. There could be many more, but the execution is not that simple.

From application to cloud print platform

The opportunity is large. The consumer need is clearly there and the amount of potential target content is staggering. Still, building applications that can transform digital data into print can be a daunting task, to say the least.

For new application developers, existing digital content owners and end consumers, the quality of the print facility integration is hardly an issue at first sight. It should just work, like water from your tap or electricity in your house. In reality, much of the organizational and programming costs of opening up digital data for print are spent on negotiating and integrating with one or more print facilities. International expansion, international delivery, order monitoring and customer service all add to the investment.

Therefore, an entirely new infrastructure is required to change all this into a commodity service. By accessing professional print as a hosted commodity resource, users can avoid the cost and complexity of buying and managing the underlying hardware, software and processes.

A few companies have attempted to provide print as a service before, but only with the arrival of cloud computing has this actually become a feasible solution. Transforming digital data to print-ready components requires serious processing firepower. To keep the associated costs always relative to the amount of orders, such a system should be able to scale up and down with demand. In other words, to cope with both the Christmas peak and the January low at realistic cost levels and with as little energy consumption as possible, the system should be fully elastic.

It can be concluded that print as a service can only be powered by automatically scaling cloud capacity. So, the world needs a cloud print provider.

The provider void

Unfortunately, there are only a few providers working towards a cloud print solution. So far, large steps have been taken in the consumer market. Google and its Google Cloud Print service are noteworthy here. This service is directly aimed at consumers and connects any application to cloud-enabled home printers that you own or have access to. Xerox and Ricoh followed in Google’s footsteps with their mobile cloud solutions, while Hewlett-Packard implemented a similar mechanism with their ePrint solution.

Although these initiatives are really great, they do not commoditize professional print. Only a few independent players have ventured into this area - and most of these operate in their own niche, focus on mobile only or are simply not large enough yet.

Some examples:

All of these companies support the digitization of information in their own way, by providing on demand manufacturing for digital assets.

However, the absence of a dominant cloud print infrastructure provider for professional products does not make it easier to grasp the nature of cloud print and its benefits. Its amazing potential to revolutionize the current publishing industry and drive corporate responsibility should not be underestimated. Thus, this new topic needs a starting point for a straightforward conversation. To ignite the discussion, we distilled the cloud print manifesto.

Cloud print manifesto

Definition of professional cloud print

Cloud print is the infrastructure service that allows for the ad-hoc transformation of digital information into physical forms in 2D or 3D, by leveraging networks of production facilities through cloud computing technology.

Benefits of cloud print

Services based on cloud print technology replace a priori mass production by local production on demand, thereby reducing carbon emissions, energy use and the amount of raw materials needed.

By accessing professional print as a shared commodity resource, content owners can avoid the cost and complexity of buying and managing the underlying hardware, software and processes.

Principles of cloud print

Professional cloud print providers strive to:

  1. Allow any virtual information to be accessible as tangible objects.
  2. Allow clients to connect their service in the simplest way possible.
  3. Allow production facilities to connect in the simplest way possible.
  4. Produce on demand only, to avoid excess stock.
  5. Produce in best-of-breed facilities only, to ensure the highest quality.
  6. Produce locally, to minimize the ecological footprint.

Conclusion

While the digital publishing industry thrives, the decline of print as a primary means of communication is taking its toll on traditional publishing companies. Personal publishing, in particular, generates huge amounts of data in the digital space, ranging from blog posts to Facebook photos.

In this article, it is argued that the role of print will shift from a communication medium to a luxury good meant to preserve some of the available digital data in a persistent shape. This opens up a new market for the ad-hoc transformation of digital information into physical forms, whether it is in 2D or 3D. However, the entry barrier will remain steep until print becomes a readily available service.

Websites, applications and games could be powered by a single cloud print infrastructure that allows access to a network of professional print facilities, leveraging print as a shared commodity resource while avoiding costs and complexity. By providing sustainable, on demand manufacturing, cloud print providers could support the global transition away from mass paper production towards full-blown digitization.

However, there is no dominant cloud print infrastructure provider for professional products yet. The cloud print manifesto, as proposed in this article, is a starting point for a discussion on what such a provider should focus on. We hereby invite you to support, discuss or dispute the manifesto at cloudprintmanifesto.org.

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Sander Nagtegaal is co-founder and CTO of Peecho, a free service that allows anyone to sell professionally printed products from their application or website, and make a profit with every sale. Customers simply sign up, get the cloud print button code and embed it in their website. Visitors can then buy digital documents or images like photo books, magazines, reports, canvas prints, licensed merchandise and more. An API is also available. Learn more at http://www.peecho.com..