To survive the changing business environment and contend with technological upheavals, printing businesses must assess and promote the value of what they do rather than simply focus on product and process.
The life cycle of any product or market goes through four distinct phases. They are invention, invention extension, functional substitution, and devention. As dramatically as wide-format digital technology has evolved, it is still in the functional substitution/devention phase of the lifecycle of printed graphics. Digital is the functional substitution of analog screen. Devention is where we replace the printing completely with a new technology that offers all of the visual benefits of printing, but the variability of digital—in this case, OLED wallpaper/signage. This light-emitting paper is programmable, high intensity, and variable at the speed of light. The doubling of processing and manufacturing in this segment will yield competitive productions within five to ten years, if that. Just look at how the price of flatscreen TVs has dropped in price in the last two years. You can now buy a 40-in. LCD for much less than $1000.
Abundance vs. scarcity
What does all this mean for us today? Very simply, we live in a world of opposites. When knowledge is expanding exponentially and is freely available, we’re faced with a knowledge-abundance problem. Why problem? Because if we can’t focus and implement knowledge, it will change before we can derive any economic benefit from it. If we can’t create products and have them work productively right away, we lose the opportunity.
Taken one step further, each new iteration or knowledge-improvement cycle puts us another step ahead of those who will make their living with the new technology. Geoffrey A. Moore talked of this extensively in his landmark 1995 book Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Main-stream Customers. He talked about the dilemma of the Innovators, Early Adopters, the Chasm, and then the Mainstream of Acceptance before the decline of the technology and the final adoption by the Laggards at the end of the cycle. Interestingly, the ones who made the real money were the Early Mainstream, and the Laggards. The main point is that the width of the Chasm (in terms of time) determined whether a technology would be accepted, rejected, or go bankrupt be-fore it could be adopted.
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