Kodak’s Pipeline of Innovation (Part 2) and Other Post-Print 09 Thoughts

Jim Hamilton
Sep 21, 2009

I wrote about Kodak’s Pipeline of Innovation in an earlier blog before the show, but the fact of the matter is that you really had to see it to appreciate it. Once I saw it, I liked it even though I arrived as a skeptic. It’s true that the user interface needs some work and the supporting detail could be improved and expanded upon, but I thought it worked well and I believe that many who saw it there would agree. Kodak also did a good job of promoting the Pipeline of Innovation within its booth, encouraging show attendees via frequent promotions to try it out. It was important too that the Kodak employees in the booth were on board with this innovative approach, and I saw every indication that they were.

Kodak Pipeline of Innovation at Print 09

The interactive nature of the Pipeline of Innovation drew attendees into the booth for Kodak’s larger purpose, which was to use it as a conversation starter for discussing print applications. In fact, the Pipeline of Innovation could be seen as the gateway into other parts of the booth, such as the interactive stations where visitors could get more information on specific applications that had been marked with “byte tag” labels that the system scanned and used to draw additional information when the print sample was placed on the table-top display screen.

In the end only Kodak will be able to judge whether this “no equipment” approach to their Print 09 booth really worked. Did the money Kodak spent on Print 09 generate enough leads to justify it? Putting together the Pipeline of Innovation and other interactive elements of the booth display may turn out to have been cheaper than shipping equipment in and installing and prepping it, but it still must have been a very significant expenditure. I continue to believe that there is considerable value in having key pieces of equipment on display. Even Kodak had a printer in its booth, albeit a small one, which was there as part of a digital photo demonstration in which participants had their picture taken and walked away with a souvenir of their image on a simulated magazine cover.

I think what concerned me most about Kodak’s virtual display was the lack of easily available Prosper color print samples. Kodak has been promoting its Stream technology (soon to be available in full color and black & white systems under the Prosper brand) for many years now. It showed industry consultants exceptional color print samples in an August non-disclosure briefing. Print 09 seemed to be the perfect event to showcase its quality. In advance of the show it became clear that many vendors would be handing out print samples of their high-speed color inkjet technology. Agfa, InfoPrint Solutions, Océ, Olympus, RISO, Screen, Xerox and others all did so, in many cases showing remarkable quality levels. Kodak, which officially announced the branding for its Prosper color and black & white systems (the Prosper 5000XL and 1000), did not make samples available publicly. Such samples were available to Kodak prospects, but only to those who agreed to sign a non-disclosure agreement. (Other samples, including for the Prosper S10 printing system and the Versamark VL series products were available to anyone.) This strategy stood in stark contrast to HP, which handed out multiple T300 samples on a range of paper stocks. (T300 is the new name for the 30″ color Inkjet Web Press.) Kodak and HP are both still in the beta testing phase for the T300 and Prosper color systems, and so it can be argued that it’s a little early to be providing samples, but clearly HP took a very different approach at the show than Kodak.

There may be patent-driven intellectual property concerns behind Kodak’s reticence. In announcing the Prosper 5000XL (available in the first half of 2010) and Prosper 1000 (available in the first quarter of 2010) Kodak noted that the Prosper devices would have an in-line treating module that would coat the paper with a pre-treatment allowing the use of “virtually any paper.” I suspect that it’s this pre-treatment that is at the root of Kodak’s Print 09 print sample strategy for Prosper. Perhaps it feared that by handing out print samples its competitors might gain some insight into the chemical nature of the pre-treatment. The time will come when color Prosper samples will become widely available, but by then Kodak will have its ducks in a row regarding any patent implications.

To get back to the point about “no equipment” booths, a good example of the importance of equipment came from Xerox’s XMPie group. XMPie brought show goers through an interactive display of a marketing campaign for a concert series. First they scanned your show badge and immediately produced a printed postcard. They then showed how a follow-up e-mail could lead to a personalized URL for ordering. You could choose from different kinds of concerts and associated dining offerings at a variety of price points. As a follow-up, XMPie software and Xerox 700 color printers were used to create a personalized calendar and an innovative “FunFlip” marketing piece. (See a photo of all the print components below. It’s hard to describe the FunFlip in words, but suffice it to say that it’s folded and glued in an innovative way that allows you to flip through a series of messages and return to the opening page without ever turning the document over. M.C. Escher, the artist who did those quirky floating staircases and Mobius strips, would have been impressed.) XMPie’s demonstration was very memorable and was made more compelling through the use of timely on-site printed color output.

Xerox XMPie demonstration

Despite all of the interesting things to see on the show floor, Print 09 was overshadowed by concerns about low attendance. The downturn in the economy prompted many to believe that companies that usually send multiple people would only send one or two, and that some companies would not come to the show at all. This turned out to be the case. Attendance was very light in the early days of the show, a point that was made abundantly clear by the oft-mentioned fact that you could easily get a cab at day’s end when at past shows a long taxi line was the norm.

Though many companies were concerned about attendance, only one company, Agfa, actually did something about it. Agfa strategically placed life-size cardboard cutouts of people at the edge of its booth in an ironic attempt to make it look like crowds of people were lined up to get a look at what they had to offer.

Agfa cardboard cutout people

Despite the low attendance, the good news was that traffic picked up on Monday and Tuesday, and, perhaps more importantly, the people who decided to come to the show were there with a purpose. They came to research, explore, and, for some, to buy. Print 09 provided a good opportunity for them to do that.

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