Cloud Print: transforming digital Data as a Service
#SuryaRay #Surya Digital publishing is growing rapidly and our affinity for consuming real-time media shows no signs of stopping. Despite this, as GigaOM’s Mathew Ingram recently reported, much of the content we put online is actually getting lost in a non-stop stream of information. The problem is, hard-copy print is still best for some jobs — or for some audiences.
My frustration about this led me to start Peecho, a free service that lets people turn digital content into a physical product. Peecho’s service infrastructure draws on _cloud printing_, a technology that helps transform digital data into printed products by tapping into networks of production facilities through the cloud. Other companies in this arena include HubCast, MagCloud, and Shapeways.
Here’s how the cloud print model can streamline the process. A big financial services company typically prints tens of thousands of annual reports it sends out to shareholders — most of whom promptly toss the reports in the garbage or recycling. What if that company instead asks its shareholders to specify print or digital versions of that report. Then the company uses a digital network of providers to print copies just for those who will really read them, eliminating wasted materials, carbon emissions creating and shipping the hard copy product, not to mention postage. Since printing remains a volume business, the price per copy is higher now, but total cost to the company falls. And as more printers see the opportunity of cloud print, the economics may improve.
In the recently published cloudprintmanifesto, I argue that cloud printing has a unique potential to revolutionize publishing. It promotes full-blown digitization by allowing for the “occasional” transformation of digital data into 2D or 3D objects on demand. This would help preserve valuable digital data while foregoing the aforementioned environmental costs of mass production.
Let’s explore the potential of cloud print to revolutionize publishing.
Traditional print is fading …
According to market research, print may not be the primary conveyor of information for much longer. Last year, total newspaper advertising revenue in the United States fell by 7.3 percent compared to 2010, and print advertising more generally was off by 9.2 percent, according to the Newspaper Association of America. Just a few weeks ago, The Guardian also announced that Amazon’s Kindle eBook sales are outstripping print for the first time, in line with the declining hardcover revenues reported by the Association of American Publishers in June 2012.
So yes, the world is starting to notice what the technology industry has been predicting for years: the use of paper as the primary means for communication is coming to an end. And, so it should.
… but not all is lost
With digital content exploding, it is hard to envision a future for print. Yet, some content, lost amidst an ever-increasing amount of blog posts, status updates, tweets and videos, may be more persistent than daily news and carry deeper personal meaning.
This is exactly the kind of content that begs for the level of engagement and permanence provided by a physical product. Turning personalized, high quality digital content into physical objects is a service that will be increasingly sought after. Or as John Bracken eloquently states: “As more and more of the content we consume is based on bits, the ability to engage with atom-based media will, for some, gain value.”
However, this would urge the print industry to shift from mass pre-production to the production of unique items on demand. A few applications are already embracing this new model, using print to monetize digital content.Postagram, Printstagram and Canvaspop are some of the simplest examples, built to monetize Instagram photos.
The enormous amount of data on the Internet leads to a staggering market potential for these companies, but the execution is not that simple. So far, transforming digital data into physical objects is by no means a commodity.
Enter cloud print
For content owners, the print feature should just _work_ — like water from your tap or electricity in your house. In reality, the cultural differences between the digital world and the realm of mechanical product manufacturing pose a significant challenge. As a result, huge sums are spent on negotiating and integrating with one or more printing facilities, international expansion, global delivery, monitoring orders and customer service.
Therefore, an entirely new infrastructure is required to provide print as a _service_ instead. By accessing professional print as a hosted commodity resource, users can avoid the cost and complexity of buying and managing the underlying hardware, software and processes.
Transforming digital data to print-ready components requires serious processing firepower. To keep the associated costs and energy usage relative to the revenue, such a system should be able to scale up and down with demand. In other words, to cope with both the Christmas peak and the January low at realistic cost levels and with as little energy consumption as possible, the system should be fully _elastic_.
This behavior can only be achieved by automatically scaling _cloud capacity_. So, the world needs a cloud print provider that facilitates access to a network of printing facilities.
The provider void
So far, significant steps towards a cloud print solution have been taken in the consumer market. Xerox and Ricoh followed in the footsteps of Google CloudPrint with their mobile cloud solutions, while Hewlett-Packard implemented a similar mechanism with ePrint.
However, _professional _cloud print is not yet a commodity. Only a few independent players – Hubcast, MagCloud, Shapeways and my company — have ventured into this area, providing professional, on demand manufacturing of 2D and 3D products from digital assets using a network of printing facilities.
Cloud print will revolutionize publishing
The potential of cloud print to revolutionize print publishing should not be underestimated. Websites, applications and games could be powered by a single cloud print infrastructure that allows access to a network of professional print facilities, leveraging print as a shared commodity resource while avoiding costs and complexity.
By providing eco-friendly, on-demand manufacturing, cloud print providers could support the global transition away from mass paper production towards full-blown digitization, promoting sustainability in the industry.
However, there is no dominant cloud print infrastructure provider for professional products yet. What do you think this provider should focus on? Join the discussion in the comments below and check out cloudprintmanifesto.org.
_Sander Nagtegaal, the CTO and co-founder of Peecho and author of Cloud__Print__Manifesto_, will discuss what really motivates customer moves to the cloud at GigaOM’s Structure: Europe in Amsterdam next week_. Prior to Peecho, Nagtegaal was chief architect at Albumprinter, which was acquired by Vistaprint in October 2011 for €65 million. He is also the author of the __Cloud__Print__Manifesto._