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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Fond Memories ... I remember when ...

When PrintPlanet.com merged with WhatTheyThink.com, research and news joined user forums packed with technical know-how.

"I am interested in implementing color management through our company," wrote Marko Rakar, general manager of a Croatia-based printer, in a post in PrintPlanet.com's CTP Pressroom e-community. "We have all the required parts: a printing press, a proofer, an ICC profiler with spectrophotometer and even a RIP that supports ICC profiles. What is the right thing to do?"

Looking for a little free advice yourself? Have an arcane printing question that you haven't been able to get answered? Chances are, someone at PrintPlanet.com, an online print production news and information center, will have a solution. Most of the Web site's 25,000 members-- who have a wide variety of printing, prepress and publishing backgrounds--voluntarily share their expertise, advice and technical know-how. For more than two years, PrintPlanet.com has been the hub of 15 online forums for use by its screened membership of production employees. To join, users simply plug in personal information--there is no subscription fee. Then these members, through Internet bulletin boards and e-mails, play "Dear Abby" to a skyrocketing number of other PrintPlanet.com subscribers by troubleshooting problems, discussing trends in printing, answering questions about providers, etc. And now, due to a recent merger, the site has expanded from peer-to-peer advice forums to include late-breaking news and market research.

In late March, PrintPlanet.com separated from its parent company, Digital Art Exchange (DAX), and merged with WhatTheyThink.com, a printing market news and research Web site owned by City Information Services, Inc. (The new PrintPlanet.com now operates independently of its parent corporations, although it is still jointly-owned by both.) About three weeks later, the Web site relaunched using WhatTheyThink.com's content, research, breaking news and Q&As with industry pundits--and added three more free forums for e-community subscribers (the Print Buyer, Digital Rights Management and Mac OS-X forums).

Since the merger and relaunch, subscriptions have increased at a clip of about 1,000 per month; as of early May, the number of PrintPlanet.com members reached 25,462. The company, which derives revenue solely through the sale of banner ads and various sponsorship opportunities, expects to make a profit by September of this year. And now, it says, charging for subscriptions and/or syndicating content may be in a revised business model one day in the future.

The news and market research components of WhatTheyWant.com are the perfect complement to the forums, says PrintPlanet.com CEO Randy Davidson. "The foundation of the site is the information provided by the users themselves," says Davidson. "But now, with the merger and WhatTheyThink.com's content, it also provides research and data focused on those end-users. It just made perfect sense for us to lay our content on top of theirs."

COO Dave Mainwaring puts into perspective the amount and caliber of discussion that goes on in PrintPlanet.com forums: In the month of March alone, he says, 5,833,224 e-mails were sent and received in the CTP Pressroom forum. Some members have titles like vendor prepress specialist, technical operations manager, production director and color consultant. And postings have come from "experts" across the United States and throughout the world; members hail from such countries as New Zealand, the Netherlands and, of course, Croatia.

For publishers, the most valuable aspect of the new PrintPlanet.com seems to be those e-communities. "There's a real open exchange of information that goes on in them," says Richard Franklin, senior technical analyst for Cahners Business Information, who checks the site six to 12 times a day. "And members usually have a lot of expertise and a lot of good feedback."

Says John Dunn, production director for Wizards of the Coast Periodicals, "There's a good number of vendors who post, and some of the forums are a little prepress heavy."

Dunn adds, however, that feedback from all types of members helped his department through a recent workflow transition: "The forums are really useful from that interactive standpoint. We got a lot of answers to some difficult questions. We would have been making a lot of phone calls otherwise. Those forums saved us time--and, as any production director knows, time is money."

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