THE TORONTO BLUE JAYS MAY NOT WIN THE WORLD SERIES THIS SEASON, but they’ve already improved their stats in one key area – tickets.
An innovative approach to ticket printing and handling by switching to in-house digital printing has slashed costs and boosted efficiency. Putting bums in seats is the real goal of any professional sports team, but before a ball is thrown on the field, fans have to get their hands on tickets.
Printing more than 50,000 tickets in advance for each of the 81 home games is a logistical nightmare for major league teams. Tickets are preprinted, warehoused and retrieved by hand, and there is always waste.
So, a couple of years ago the Jays went digital, printing tickets on demand. The results have been as spectacular as a Frank Thomas homer, says Jacques Farand, director of IT for Rogers Media Group, which supports the Blue Jays and Rogers Centre.
“We’ve realized a saving of about 54%,” said Farand. “At first we did it with black and white printers but we’ve since gone to four full-colour Hewlett-Packard 9500s and we’re looking at upgrading again.”
The Jays buy perforated paper stock on which they print four tickets at a time along with other promotional items such as parking passes, VIP passes or food discount coupons.
“Beyond the basics–such as seat number, row, section and gate–we can change the opposing team’s logo for each series, and we can add a corporate sponsor’s logo so if the tickets are giveaways the customers getting the tickets will know where they came from,” he said. “If a customer loses their tickets we can replace them within a couple of hours, whereas before it would take days. Each ticket has a bar code, so we cancel that ticket electronically and issue another with a new bar code.”
That just-in-time inventory approach is one of the key advantages of digital printing. Brochures, catalogues and promotional materials traditionally are printed in bulk to keep costs down, then stored until needed, says Eric Hanson, manager of hard copy technologies at HP’s Palo Alto research labs.
“Most of the time some 25% or more is obsolete before it is used,” he says. Press runs are getting shorter, he says, while the market is also demanding shorter turnaround times.
HP’s research suggests digital printing was a $90 billion (U.S.) market in 2005, about half of which was photo, office and home printing. It’s expected to hit $155 billion by 2010 with photo, office and home accounting for $90 billion alone, but with 30% growth in the marketing collateral and industrial category.
By 2010, more than 20% of total sales will be digital-print generated, according to industry projections. That’s why such players as Kodak, Xerox, HP and traditional press makers Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG are investing heavily in it. “Digital printing is really what is driving about two-thirds of Xerox’s revenue across the company,” said Amato De Civita, vice-president for graphic communications at Xerox Canada. The fastest selling products in the division weren’t even on the market three years ago, he says. “That’s how fast it’s moving.”
While the technology is impressive–Xerox’s iGen3 digital press runs at up to 6,000 pages an hour–what’s really happening is that traditional printing businesses have evolved into communication consultants, De Civita said. As such, they are working with clients to use digital printing as a tool to drive sales and escape the trap of commodity pricing. “Personalized marketing produces great results,” he said. “We did some direct mail work for Reader’s Digest, targeting segments with customized printing, and bumped CD music sales up 27%, DVD sales by 111% and books by 45%.”
It’s a trend Frank McPherson saw developing more than a decade ago, and it prompted him to start Custom Data Imaging Corp. in 1999 with his wife, Sylvia. Today his Markham, Ontario, shop employs 23 people and offers clients soup-to-nuts marketing solutions, including one-to-one campaigns that are proving increasingly successful.
One-to-one is the direct mail equivalent of a smart bomb. Generally, direct mail is considered a success if it results in a response rate of 0.6%. A customized, targeted, digitally printed campaign can result in a 13% response, he said. And while digital printing is more expensive than a straight press run, the return on investment has hit as high as 4,000%, McPherson says.
NEWS ON DEMAND
Digital printing is also giving the traditional media sector a boost. While newspapers around the world struggle with declining circulation as readers switch to the Internet, a Richmond, British Columbia, company has found a profitable niche republishing newspaper content.
“We decided early on to move the bits, not the wood,” said Richard Miller, vice-president of sales and marketing with NewspaperDirect, which distributes some 500 magazine and newspaper titles, including the Globe and Mail, around the world digitally.
The publications send PDF files to the company via e-mail. Then clients at 1,300 locations around the world use proprietary software that prints them on paper that is then glued together along the left-hand edge to create a “book.”
The result doesn’t have the familiar feel of the Globe, Le Figaro or the Daily Telegraph, but for a travelling businessman in Shanghai or an expat working in Mumbai, it’s a daily fix of news from home.
The remote printing stations act as satellite distributors, soliciting and taking orders for specific titles and then printing, binding and delivering the copies on the same day of publication to hotels, offices, airlines and specialty news agents. Some licensing agreements allow NewspaperDirect to strip out some advertising and insert its own, but most don’t, Miller said.
The products costs up to $8 a copy, underlining the adage that the market will gladly pay for unique and compelling content. For the publishers, the good news is that each remotely printed copy is considered paid for and counts toward the much coveted tally by the Audit Bureau of Circulation, the independent organization that reports newspaper circulation figures.
“Our customers really want them, too,” Miller said. “They get quite upset if the papers aren’t there on time for whatever reason.”