Why Hasn’t Production Color Digital Print Been More Successful in Japan?

Jim Hamilton
Jul 31, 2009

Alex Sumarta and I were in Tokyo recently for the On Demand Japan Conference. One of the questions that we frequently get is “Why hasn’t production color digital print been more successful in Japan?” No one knows the answer for sure, but as we listened to the analysts from our Japanese office talk about the market, some points became clear:

  • Japanese printers pride themselves in providing high levels of quality
  • Print service providers feel that quality and consistency is what differentiates them
  • The poor quality and lack of consistency of some of the earliest digital color print products has given digital a bad reputation that it is only now beginning to shed

Recent InfoTrends research supports these points. This survey of Japanese print buyers was conducted by InfoTrends in May of 2009 (see Figure below). It illustrates some fascinating points about the Japanese market. In terms of satisfaction level and importance, Japanese print buyers highly value print quality and consistency (i.e., stability). Two other items are clustered nearby: a reliable relationship and the ability to meet deadlines. All four of these factors are considered important by print buyers. These same print buyers are also satisfied with their print service providers’ ability to meet these requirements. Another group of attributes are rated to be important, but the satisfaction level is much lower. These factors include skill in short-run and quick turnaround work, quoting, price, and problem solving. Price, not surprisingly, given that these are print buyers, has the highest importance ranking.

InfoTrends Japanese Print Buyer Survey, May 2009

InfoTrends Japanese Print Buyer Survey, May 2009

What does this say about the Japanese market? Print buyers are quality conscious and price sensitive. They value a personal relationship and the ability of a print service provider to meet agreed upon deadlines. They would like to see better performance in short-run and quick-turnaround work.

These same factors could also have something to do with the slow adoption of web-to-print tools in Japan. Our analysts tell us that Japanese print service providers, knowing that their customers value the close relationship, do not want to do anything that breaks that bond. These print service providers feel that web-to-print automates something that should be part of the personal relationship a print service provider has with its customers. On the other hand, web-to-print tools could easily help print service providers do a better job of pricing and delivering short-run, quick-turnaround work, an area in which Japanese print buyers would like to see some improvement.

Even for longer run offset workflows there are clear benefits to automation. As run lengths drop (along with turnaround time requirements), automation is key to driving profitability. How else to effectively manage more short run, quick turnaround jobs? The down economy and the evolving nature of the offset printing market are additional signs that print service providers everywhere need to acknowledge.

The increased quality level of today’s digital print products combined with automated web-to-print workflows present an opportunity for any geography, but market development work is required in Japan to overcome some of the traditional resistance.

What can vendors of production digital print technology do to help market development in Japan? Our Japanese team believes that they can do more to promote the benefits and value of production color digital printing, not only for print service providers but also for print buyers. They can convince print service providers to take a document life cycle view that includes web to print. For print buyers, the focus on price per piece is natural for offset printing, yet this overlooks other advantages of digital print such as cost effective short runs, quick turnarounds, less waste, ability to update documents, personalized print, and true on-demand workflows that eliminate the need for warehoused inventory. Appropriate pricing and print quality must come first, but to gain the advantages of digital print the focus must move away from the printing process to encompass the full document lifecycle. It will take work to convince Japanese print service providers of the need to become marketing service providers, but the opportunity is large and compelling.

In closing I would like to thank Masato Atoda and Jun Yamashita, the InfoTrends analysts in our Tokyo office, for their insight on this topic. The print buyer statistic mentioned above comes from an InfoTrends report that is currently available in Japanese only, however if you would like to learn more about this research, please feel free to contact me.

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