Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Happy Holidays

OK, I'm making a New Year's resolution to keep up my blog better. In the meantime, have a great Holiday Season. See you in 2010.


Sunday, October 4, 2009

It takes

I've worked in big companies and small ones over the years. It is sometimes a challenge to find yourself in a large corporate environment, where your influence can be tangible but often a bit diluted when it comes to being personally fulfilling.

So now imagine you are working in a huge company with over 90,000 employees worldwide. The business expectations are always high and your personal commitment is significant as well. In this sort of environment, how do you break out and make a difference personally?

We've all heard that "it takes a village" to raise a child. I've found out over the past few weeks that when you work for a large corporation it sometimes takes a club to make a personal difference.

The club I'm talking about is the Microsoft Photography Club and the difference has been their latest project to support United Way of King County, Washington. The club is over 1700 strong and in 2009 they decided to pool their considerable photography skills to make a book with all of the proceeds going to United Way.

As of today the club has generated over $20,000 for the cause, including the Microsoft match of employee purchases as well as an over $17 per volunteer hour donation. I heartily applaud Microsoft for continuing to lead in corporate giving even in this down economy. But most of all, a big shout out to the folks at the Microsoft Photography Club who are showing us that all of our skills can indeed make a difference in our communities when we band together for a good cause.

You can browse and buy this great book here. And even if you don't work at Microsoft, you are still supporting United Way to the tune of $25 per book.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Blurb Photography.Book.Now event in NYC

Just finished up the load out of nearly 600 books from the Tribeca Rooftop in NYC, the remains of Blurb's Photography.Book.Now awards ceremony and meet-up last night. In the printing business we very seldom get to meet the authors of the amazing titles that we produce on a daily basis worldwide and having a large group of our best together for a night to celebrate the fine art of ink on paper was pretty amazing.

It wasn't just the books, which were fabulous. Or the venue, which was superb, showing the best of what New York is all about. It was the intangible vibe thing that was what I'll remember. Print-on-demand technology along with cool software and inspired marketing has created a community of folks that have unleashed their creativity and admiration for one another that just could not have existed before Blurb (shameless plug).

We had attendees from around the world, many of whom came to New York specifically to attend our event, which really drove home the scope of what we have created. Maybe all those folks up at the UN this week should get together and make a book? Couldn't hurt.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

The future of trade shows

I just returned from visit to one of my favorite cities, Chicago, for the Print 09 trade show. Chicago was at it's September best... wonderful, vibrant, great food...oh, and, the U2 concert wasn't too shabby as well (thanks Brian Segnit from Xerox for the invite!). Print 09? Not so much. In fact I've never been to a trade show ever that was less attended than the last day of this year's Print show. It was great for those of us that were taking last minute meetings and doing a bit of research, but I have to ask if these types of shows can continue to be viable and profitable in the future.

Blurb uses these types of events as meeting opportunities for our print partners and suppliers. And for that purpose the show was a great success. We invited folks from all six of our printing locations worldwide and, because of the great hotel rates and air fares associated with Print, it was an obvious location. Add to that the fact that the leadership of our major vendors like HP, Xerox, Oce, and Xeikon attended the show we were able to get a lot of business done in a few days.

So are trade shows important? Most definitely yes. The 1:1 contact transcends all of the emails and phone calls that go on for most of the year and assures companies like ours are in sync with our major suppliers. Have their usefulness changed? Again, a strong yes. The days of going to a trade show just to see what is new are over, replaced by the constant chatter and research on the Internet. So what is the future of trade shows and what's the best way to make the best use of them?

First off, Print 09 was too long. People vote with attendance and Wednesday was a lost day for most of the exhibitors. Print 09 was the biggest print show in the world this year (no Drupa or Ipex in 2009) but six days was more than needed and diluted the show. I suggest that instead of a Friday start a Sunday start would have been better. Some of the companies that had major announcements made on the first day of show were gone by the time most of the movers and shakers arrived at the show on Monday, traditionally the real beginning of the show.

Second, make it easier for affinity groups like the Blurb print network to meet by making reasonably priced meeting space available. Last year at Graph Expo (the off year print show in Chicago) I wanted to secure a room for meetings with our printers but it was going to cost me $800 a day! I'd rather spend that money for cocktails and snacks, which I did at our "Blurb Cocktail Time at Print 09" this year. But if I could have gotten a room for a day I would have stayed at the show longer and it would have brought more folks into the show, not to a downtown hotel.

Third, encourage pre-show research. There is so much information available these days that most savvy trade show attendees do their research in advance and schedule their days around what they want to see. This also is a reason that the show does not need to last as long, as attendees are targeting previously scoped products and are looking to maximize their time at the show.

One of the "innovations" at this year's show was at the Kodak booth, where they had no printers in the booth, only presentations and marketing material. Isn't this just the wrong way to innovate? I can get all of that from my laptop and the presentations can be done via webinar. Sorry, Kodak, I think this was a really bad idea. I only stepped foot once in your booth and that was as a meeting place not to see any of your presentations. And, yeah, I might have been someone you would have wanted to impress.

My overall experience in Chicago was a very good one, but a big part of that were the meetings with our print network. I hope that the organizers of Ipex in 2010 and the exhibitors learned a lesson about what works in this economy and information environment.

Next year in Birmingham!

Friday, February 6, 2009

On coopertition

"coopertition" (co-oper-tition), a hybrid of cooperation and competition, is the term coined for the teaming up of rival companies.

"Print Partner Summit" week is one of my favorite weeks of the year as SVP Print Operations for Blurb. For the third year running, we brought all of our global print partners (the folks that actually print and fulfill books for our customers) together for a week of meetings as a post mortem for 2008 and to begin planning for 2009. It's a concept that I first used when I was at Corbis and we were literally writing the rules about converting silver halide film to press-ready digital imagery, the backbone of all legacy stock photography that now resides on the servers of the major stock photography houses. At that time we really needed to better understand how to repurpose prepress equipment that had been used for purpose-specific scanning and make it work for building a digital image archive. The meetings were interesting, and the power of Gates allowed me to get participation from all of the major players in the industry. The meetings advanced the cause of high-end capture quickly and the results speak for themselves.

At Blurb, it's a bit different landscape. We have print partner locations throughout the US and Europe. These printers often compete for business in the consumer printing sector. But in our case, they have come together to really change the way that people author and self-publish books. It is really terrific to see all of these great minds in one place, each with their personal agendas, but with the overriding desire to see Blurb (and, in turn, themselves) succeed. Again, the results speak for themselves.

In 2008 we printed over 800,000 books with nearly $30 million in revenue with a growth of more than 3X year over year. This, in our second full year in business. We are definitely a success story in a down economy, but it wouldn't have happened at all without the trust, guidance and partnership of our print network members. You don't change an industry alone, it takes a group of entrepreneurial-minded businesspeople with equal doses of guts, operational and technical acumen, and belief that the time is right to push the envelope.

Each year our Summit group grows larger and it's Blurb's role, besides the obvious of making sure we have adequate capacity available that meets our quality demands, to make sure the people in the room "get it" and are willing to share when appropriate while maintaining their overall business objectives. That may seem like a hard balancing act, but it's really been a joy to see the relationships and ideas that come out of our sessions each January.

Coopertition is not an easy path to navigate. It takes confidence from all parties in themselves and the overall goal. And it takes the right people in the room. For Blurb this has come up aces and because of that we are changing the way that the world views book publishing.