Saturday, December 20, 2008

Printers are Part of the Education Business

But they don't realize it. Printers print. Commercial printers print for people who pay them. In the era that is now ending, many commercial printers were in the power of marketers/advertisers who bought Print because it was the easiest way to sell stuff.

Today, Print is no longer the only way to sell stuff. Some printers are having a hard time figuring out how they are going to get paid for the books, news(letters) and posters that they print.

Advertising/marketing is moving to Search and social networks. On the internet, that means Google, Microsoft,Yahoo, Facebook and Twitter. In the real world Search and social networks happen in families, stores, at events and from whatever information emitting products are present in physical environments. That usually means Print.

In the days of information inequality, it was easier to persuade people to buy things. These days persuading is being replaced by being accessible. When people search, they now expect to find what they are looking for.

But Printers, like newspapers, are having a hard time looking past marketing and advertising. There is still lots of money on the table. But until they change their focus, they are going to struggle to get a piece of an ever shrinking market.

So, if "starve the past, invest in the future" is a plausible business approach, printers need to understand their role in learning. Learning is part of life. Once freed from "educational" institutional restraints, it's a growing market. When the global need for learning is considered, it may turn out to be the biggest market Printers have ever had.

A printed piece is either a tool, a toy or a token. Toys amuse. Tokens make the invisible, visible. Tools are "must haves." Highly designed beautiful things are toys. Self published books, family calendars and photo books are tokens. Books, news(letters) and posters are the most highly evolved tools for learning.

Everyone on the planet needs to be learning. As civilization starts to come up against physical constraints on growth, everyone has to get much smarter to figure out ways to use less to make more. The only way to get smarter is to learn. In that context it's not surprising that President-Elect Obama is going to invest heavily in education.

In a world of information inequality, formal institutions have been the place where knowledge is transferred and learning is supposed to happen. In a world of information equality, they are losing their competitive advantage. Now it's possible to eliminate a lot of overhead in buildings, physical proximity, time spent on Tuesday morning from 9 to 11:30 sitting in a "talk and chalk" presentation.

The technology allows asynchronous communication that generates it's own data stream. Feedback loops that measure and inform the process are both possible, scalable and very, very inexpensive. Feedback loops encourage natural improvement. But, contrary to the conventional wisdom in media, people live in the real world, not in hyperspace. Even the active minority that communicate via Screen - computers, cell phones and ebooks - live in physical space.

Once in physical space, Print is still the queen of the media. Signs (posters), news(letters) and books are the information products of physical space. Until now, Print was too slow to market. It is not anymore. Until now use based data streams were not generated by Print. It's not anymore. Once the hurdles of time and data stream generation have been overcome, the intrinsic advantages of Print can re emerge.

In the first edition of Edge Conditions, I selected and published to the screen some bytes about how Print can talk to the Cloud. In the post, TransInfo, Not TransPromo, I talked about publishing the information in the Cloud to Print in the service of changing behavior.

The most important behavior that needs to be changed is to learn how to make better decisions. The most important outcome is smarter people - the operational indicator of education. Until now the efficiencies of communication, which are at the heart of education, have generated excess money that has been captured by institutions. Consider textbooks or standardized high stakes testing or the cost of higher ed or the cost of career technical education.

But the drive to educate faster, better cheaper is leading to new approaches that can distribute that value to the users. We are seeing: cheaper, better, faster alternatives to textbooks; discussions that are starting in the Federal Government on the cost of higher education; and outcome based measures of high school and technical education.

Never underestimate the blind spot that technologists have to the value of Print. Unfortunately it's part of their DNA. But people on the ground understand that the Book is a perfect tool for reading, not scanning. (Kids love to scan. Smart people - kids or adults - love to read.) The Poster - sometimes in the form of a postcard or a club card - is a perfect way to bring information into the physical world. And the News(letter) - the Church bulletin, the New York Times, or the non profit's brochure - is the perfect Search product in the physical world.

Printers make books, posters and news(letters). In a world of information equality, the amount of information that is in the Cloud is growing exponentially. Much of it wants to appear in Print. The only hard part left is to figure out how to make money from publishing it to Print.

Keep in mind that Gutenberg never figured out how to make money. That needed Fust. Figuring out how to make money is called "business development." That was Fust's job. As long as everyone does their job, things usually work out very nicely.

People talk. Designers design. Printers print.

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