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The Death of Trade Secrets

(January 2009) posted on Fri Jan 09, 2009

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.

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By Mark A. Coudray

The client is looking for the total package. That may mean it’s more efficient and effective to not manufacture it yourself. It means your total value in the market boils down to two things. The first is the strengths of your exper-tise and relationships. The second is your ability to find the right strategic partners upon which to build the future economic business.

The notion that it’s a dog-eat-dog, I win you lose, zero-sum world out there represents a decades-long sales perspective—one that’s still firmly entrenched today. It’s a world built entirely on a scarcity model, as if there’s no room for the creation of new business, only trading or sharing a finite amount of existing business. Are we not concerned about declining market revenue, profit, and market share? The litho industry is a mere shadow of its former self because of the inability to change and address the abundance model. We’ve fought product and process for almost 15 years now instead of finding new ways to create new uses for graphics-based communications.

A concept such as this probably upsets a lot of people. It’s disruptive of everything they’ve known since they began manufacturing products. The vast majority of the industry is either ignorant or in denial of what’s happening. But that doesn’t mean we have to accept it. Effective strategies are available.


Solutions for the future

The most obvious place to start is to consider the nature of the media we produce. By understanding exactly what we want that media and message to do, we can then quantify and monetize it. This simply means we can figure out what it’s worth relative to the desired result. Our biggest challenge is not to figure out how to print it or what technology to use, but rather to determine the economic and social value of our message and what it actually accomplishes. We need to develop metrics we can use to actually trace the effectiveness of our offerings.

The old-school approach was based on mass markets where an advertiser pushed out a single message to the masses. This is what mass communication was all about. Again, this old model is based on the scarcity of technical knowledge and the extreme expense of the delivery methods. Typical high-capital entry examples are web printing presses, television, and radio stations. Even sheet-fed litho had huge capital barriers and massive front-end prepress costs that made short runs economically impossible.

All of that has changed with direct-to-plate, digital presses, 500+ TV channels, XM Satellite radio, and almost unlimited Internet. Media is becoming more and more personal, and it’s delivered faster and faster in smaller and more diverse ways. If we have any hope for survival and a future, we need to let go of all the knowledge friction that slows down our progress. We need to find different ways to value what we do, and we need to partner with those who have the appropriate technology and capability to deliver our products.


Mark A. Coudray is president of Coudray Graphic Technologies, San Luis Obispo, CA. He has served as a director of the Specialty Graphic Imaging Association Int'l (SGIA) and as chairman of the Academy of Screen Printing Technology. Coudray has authored more than 250 papers and articles over the last 20 years, and he received the SGIA's Swormstedt Award in 1992 and 1994. He can be reached via e-mail at




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