First, you may ask yourself what Taxonomy is? Second, you may ask yourself why this at all is important to you? PRINTING United Alliance in the US recently announced a new Taxonomy initiative that essentially will develop a new taxonomy paradigm for printed products, services, technologies – and the impact is vast. Taxonomy is used to build logical groups and entities known from how books in a library are organized.

This is a VERY important initiative, and right after the announcement, we reached out to David Zwang and Marco Boer to hear more about the project and, of course, their views on the potential impact.


This is Morten from INKISH TV and I am so delighted. Today I’m going to talk to two good friends. I will take my chances to call them that. We have David Zwang and we have Marco Boer. And the reason why I have asked them to join me for this chat is because I got a press release from the PRINTING United Alliance a couple of days ago. And maybe a lot of people really didn’t read it or understood the consequences of the content of this press release. But it was basically about something that is called taxonomy. And we’re going to talk about that for the next few minutes here. And before we do that, why don’t we just ask our guests to introduce themselves a little bit more formally. So we know who they are and what they do. So why not start with you, David? 

My name is Dave Zwang. I’m in the industry. I am an analyst. I’m a writer, I’m an educator. I’m the chairman of the Ghent Workgroup. I sit under the international standards bodies. And basically I’ve been playing in the industry for over 40 years. So I’m very much a graphic artist I guess. Or a printer. Or whatever we’re going to wind up calling ourselves. 

I would say that with that introduction and that curriculum vitae, I think that you have a good background for what you’re going to talk about anyway. Right? And Marco Boer. Who are you and what do you do? 

So I’m the younger version of David. Or at least aspiring. I’m with a company called IT Srategies. And we do mainly future product development. For the digital printing industry. So we go out and we research, you know, hundreds of end users, as we call them. Commercial printers, textile converters, packaging converters. And we’re trying to understand what they need for their next products. We speak a lot at industry events. I’m the chair of the Inkjet Summit, the co-chair of the Digital Packaging Summit. And, you know, like David, very passionate about seeing our industry remain vibrant. And that’s part of the reasons why PRINTING United Alliance came to David and me and said: Look, we need a little bit of help. In making sure that the greater world of manufacturing, if you will, because print is really a manufactured product. We ought to be able to track what’s really happening in this business. And, you know, sadly, in some shape or form, the governments that used to practice as a part of manufacturing. They have basically given up. And they only look at the negative data, if you will. Without really understanding how the market for print has dramatically fragmented into all of these other specialties. And when you add it all collectively, right? Particularly when you add in packaged printing in the likes. Printing is actually a really stable business. But it doesn’t necessarily appear that way. 

And for those who are listening to us right now and watching us right now and don’t understand what we are talking about. Let’s dig a little step further down. Because the topic of today is essentially how we organize all the work we do. So we can use it for import and export statistics. We can use it for having a unified kind of code for what kind of products and services we deliver. Isn’t that correct, David? 

Yeah, absolutely. And the industry, the global industry has kind of hooked on to something that was initially presented back here. And I guess it was in the 90s. And they call them SIC codes or NAICSs. And they actually define or are supposed to define different types of manufacturing, different types of businesses, et cetera. And the problem is that there’s really no representation within this organization to identify and to keep up with and to promote what it is that printing is. And as Marco said, I mean: Printing is it’s huge. It’s you know, it’s interesting. I was as as we’ve started this, I’ve been contacted by a lot of different people who, you know, understand the value of what we’re doing. And, yeah, I mean, the fact that the current system doesn’t represent the business as it stands today. For sure as it stands, if it doesn’t represent it as it stands today. How is it going to represent as it stands tomorrow? And this is a business, this is an industry that’s actually evolving and growing. And actually it’s evolving in a very rapid rate now. You know, it’s not just what happens inside of a printing plant. Printing is much bigger than that. 

Yeah. And there’s another issue to this as well. Because, I mean, one thing is all the obstacles you just describedm David. But Marco, it’s also a problem that when we look at the data, it’s not even compatible with Asia and Europe and America. Right? So we also are international because we get more and more into a globalized economy and globalized businesses. And then we don’t have something that can be relatively easy to compare. Right?

So Dave is the one who got onto this early on. And he basically said: Look, if you look at global standards, whether it’s for cars or apparel or whatever. There’s a body called gs1. It’s the old universal product code that established the barcodes years ago. And there is no representation of print among this Global Standards Committee. I mean, it’s shocking, really, to think about it. Given the size of our industry. And so our goal is: if we come up with a taxonomy that can be deployed on a global basis. And all, by the way, we will try to work with gs1 to incorporate a new standard for tracking that print. Then that is going to have a huge benefit, right? To be able to, as you said: really track imports, exports and get down to a much greater level of minutia to really understand what the trends are. Now, I’m going to go one other step further. And this to me is a big thing. And that is I personally believe how we buy print is going to change dramatically. You know? For years we’ve been a very personalized kind of business. Right? Relationship oriented. As we go forward and the world does move more and more towards digital printing, things become more democratized. Meaning it’s easier to contrast and compare. Right? And so that’s going to have a huge effect on how people shop for print. With the ultimate effect that we’re going to buy stuff more online. As that happens, you need to be able to find that, let’s say, specific application of domed printing. I don’t know if you know what domed printing is? But is basically raised character printing. So the badge on the back side of your car is usually some kind of, you know, metallic looking raised thing. That’s called domed printing. Well, how are you going to find that? Unless there’s a code associated with that online? Right? And so the idea that, you know…Amazon has and Google. If you want to sell something on Amazon today, you have to have a gs1 code that allows you to then search that within the Amazon network. And same with Google. So if print doesn’t have any representation, how the heck are you ever going to find it? You’re going to find bits and pieces, but not the entire potential. So the need for standardization is huge. 

And let’s take it one step further. I mean, so as a manufacturer… Let’s say I’m a press manufacturer and right now presses are evolving as well. They’re turning into more bespoke kinds of machines, et cetera. But as a press manufacturer, how do I identify how big a market is? How do I enter as a service provider? How do I understand what my opportunity is in a specific market if we can’t do it with a universal language? And are able to look at it, as Marco said, just based on a universal number set. Because don’t forget, we look at this on a global basis. Yeah. Languages are going to vary and different people call things different things. And that’s OK. Because if we have a number, we can associate it and map it against whatever the language is. That’s not a problem. 

So before we are going to talk a little bit details about what it is you’re going to work with. Because it’s still like in the early, early beginnings. Right? I would like to ask you: So both of you are very experienced and talked to a lot of inventors in a lot of different segments in our industry. So if you look at how are people actually gathering data today… Is that more like an emotional kind of understanding of what kind of technology is used? Or is it big surveys also used by the media? Or how do they get the data? I mean, if you look at Keypoint Intelligence, if you look at IDC, if you look at some of the research companies. Obviously they have for years tried to figure out how to get data that is relevant for the vendor side as well. So can you explain a little bit how it’s done today? 

Well, I can tell you how it’s done on the digital side. But that misses the entire conventional world of print, which, oh, by the way, still accounts for, you know, 90, 95 percent of all things that are printed. Right? 

We have to remember that, right? 

Yes. I mean, we all love digital print. But the reality is that’s, you know, not how things are produced. For the most part today. It’s a high value specialty. So, anyway, on the digital side, of course, it’s relatively easy relatively to track. Because you track the number of machines that are sold. You track what the average monthly print volumes are. You get the total number of pages printed. And you try to tie that back to the paper industry statistics, which, by the way, are probably the best measurement of trying to understand what’s happening in the printing industry overall. So it’s an easy way to quote, easy way to track that. Of course, there’s individual segments. Right? And this is where it gets really complicated. Because, you know, you’ve got trade groups. Like this morning I was dealing with some of the book trade groups. Right? And, you know, the book industry during 2020 had a remarkable year. In fact, totally, you know, total revenues for books were completely flat. However, if you start peeling apart the layer. The educational book printing market was down 20 percent. Trade books were up 12 percent. Right? But it’s a much bigger piece of that market. So, you know, is the market healthy? It’s hard to tell. Right? And what’s happening within trade books? Because, you know, specifically in the U.S., 50 percent of all trade books sold go through Amazon. And guess what? They have a very rigid supply chain. And so the slow boat from Asia to bring all these books in doesn’t work anymore during Covid. And so we’ve seen a huge uptick in digital printing of books. Anyway, I’m off on a tangent, but the point is,,,

But that is fine, because I can tell you that when I read the press release and I invited you… I knew that the impact was probably going to be way bigger than I could imagine. Because my knowledge about this subject is limited. But I immediately realized that you are onto something that I believe is important. But I was not aware that it basically also has an influence on customer behavior. And what you both just said, that the fact that you can have like gs1 codes that are used across all the channels where we normally buy our stuff, can then be redirected back to the manufacturing process. So it gives us better information and understanding of everything is just… I mean, just the thought is just amazing. Right?

Let me put something in perspective. I got a fascinating example that was sent to me. And this is from a professor, actually. He’s a retired professor at Cal Poly. And he said one of the examples he used with his students was: He said, I got a box from Amazon with a pair of Clark shoes in it. He said the box was printed. The tape that sealed the box was printed in two colors. The shoe box was printed, embossed, foil stamped, and die cut. The shoes were wrapped in polyethylene that was printed. There was printed tissue paper in each shoe. There were two quality control stickers on the shoes. That were, of course, printed. One in the box lid. Two inkjet inventory control labels printed on the bottom. So in this one box, there were 13 different types of printing and printed product. Fascinating when you think about it. And we this is… 

So fascinating. 

…this is ubiquitous, it’s everywhere. But how do you define what those things are? How do you define the opportunity value? How do you define: I want to make machines. I want to be a printer. I want to make printing machines. Well, I want to do those stickers. Well, what kind of stickers are those? What do they need? How do they…? What’s the volume? Is it worthwhile even bothering to go into it? Those are the kinds of things that you are able to get when you have the appropriate information. 

And then the funny thing… To put a little salt in the in the open wound is maybe even that the dimension is all the applications you just mentioned. But also then we come to the level of substrates. I mean the spreadsheet covering all these things will be vast, right?

It will be enormous. So Morten, you know, one of the instigators behind this whole project was… Thinking of salt in the wound, right? In the US. And it’s just a little part of the world, right? The US government stopped tracking. 

I never heard an American saying that. That was fascinating, so to speak. 

I’m not American, but anyway, I am a US citizen. But anyway. The issue was the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which tracks jobs, stopped tracking the print industry. Because they said it’s gotten too small. And that has huge implications on lobbying. Right? For government support, for different things. And so that is what was really the original genesis. To say: wait a minute, we’re not that small, right? We are hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue. You know? We need a seat at the table. And the only way to get there, to open people’s eyes is to have really good data. And to have it the ability to slice it and dice it and really give you an accurate composition of what’s really happening. And so that’s what drove it. And then when we started looking into it, Dave was quick to point out again, you know, there’s no global standard. So here’s our opportunity to really if we do this right, right? And we’re going to have a Standards Committee. That’s really one of the reasons why we’re promoting this, is because we’re going to need experts in the various sub application areas that help us make sure that we capture everything accurately. And, you know, if there’s disputes and inevitably somebody’s going to want to call something a little different than somebody else. How do we come up with a process to say, look, you know, there is no such thing as “nanoink”. You know, it is “inkjetink”. And I’m just giving a hypothetical example. Right? And you can see this could go a thousand different ways. So we want to make sure that, you know, there’s a standardized way, right? To classify those things. 

And more importantly, just to add onto what Mark was saying. The other thing with the standards body or this advisory board that we’re putting together is that it will be there so that it’s you know, they can meet on a whether it’s annually or whatever to update these things so that we don’t have to go through the same thing 20 years from now and say: what happened to the industry? You know, it disappeared again. 

And I can’t help thinking about it but both of you probably have tried this yourself as well. But just to take it to a layman’s level for a second. I can’t help thinking about that when a printing company invests in, for example, a web to print solution. Just defining the products that you have in your online shop and all the variables you have there. I take that if you have, like standardized measures, even the web to print suppliers and they MIA suppliers could have standardized kind of product definitions that would enable people to get to work much faster. And also to track all the things in there, in the entire manufacturing process that would be way easier to handle. Is that is that correct or?

Well, it’s absolutely one of the things that could come out of it. You have to understand that, you know, building the taxonomy, getting everybody to agree. And when I say everybody, I’m talking about everybody within the circle of who’s putting this thing together. Right? To agree on one thing. Getting it implemented across the broader industry. That’s a huge effort. It’s going to require a lot of marketing. It is going to require a lot of education because people have to understand what the value is to them. You know, it’s like, why should I do that? Why should I if I put the same code in that this guy does down the street, does that mean that they’re going to start shopping based on code? And if I’m not, you know, if I am minus three cents higher, they’re not going to buy from me? Things like those are the kinds of things that happen. They happen today. 

Yeah. It’s going to be very interesting to see how this all shakes out. Because we could come up with the most beautiful taxonomy. But if nobody adopts it, then it will been totally useless. Right? And that’s why it’s so important that an organization like PRINTING United Alliance, which is really now by default, the single most powerful trade group in the world for print. And they’re mostly US, right? They’re not global. But if they take a lead on this and we get also the buy in at a gs1 level… Then that sets the stage really to allow this to come all together. And as David said, you know, we’re not here to do this forever. We want to put the infrastructure in place, right? With the bylaws and structures and then allow it to evolve over time. 

And I can’t help thinking about because I spoke with Ford Bowers some time ago. That was when the PIA merged into PRINTING United Alliance. And I can’t help thinking about it because I know also in America there has been like you kind of say: maybe PRINTING United Alliance is becoming too big. I know that you’re not representing PRINTING United Alliance. But I can’t help thinking about that. This is actually an example of why size matters. Because you have the lobbying with the acquisition. Or the joint venture with idea lines. With you guys coming on board. I mean, that is what a global organization can do, which will be totally impossible if it wasn’t because of the size, because even if it was a tiny little organization from Boston, I mean, how should you ever get that kind of…? Regardless of Boston being a good place. I mean, how should you be able to get that to the authorities, to the…? I mean, because the impact is both on on legislation, on standardization, on the DS1, on the manufacturing. I mean, so the impact that Printing United is taking this responsibility on their shoulders. I show that they are really taking on a leadership role here. 

The fact that they’re willing to do it in an open way. To engage the rest of the world on this thing. Because they understand the importance of it. And look, you know, it is very much a global economy. And, you know, Heidelberg sales presses everywhere. Xerox, Canon, all these companies sell this equipment everywhere. Right? And there are a lot of manufacturers and there are a lot of people who actually are service providers that actually have… They sell globally. They don’t just sell locally. So it’s important to have that breadth and the fact that they’re willing to take this on and say: Yeah, we want to do this to help the industry, I think is very important. 

There’s a little selfish interest here, too, by the way. Because they are a very large trade show provider for the print industry. And, you know, as we get new definitions, so, for example, ten years ago, the word direct to shape was meaningless, right? Today, it means you are able to print directly onto a bottle using digital printing technology. So how do I find that? If I go to Printing United? You know, how do I classify that inside the trade show guide, so to speak? So it matters on so many levels. 

Marco, one thing is the foundation and the Printing United taking this initiative. And also understand that it’s open source. I understand that you’re defining the bylaws and everything around that. That’s hopefully to be standard. How do you get started with the work? I mean, what do you do literally? 

David has started with outlining the taxonomy structure. And that’s really critical because so he’s been looking and I’ll let you speak to it David. But all the existing taxonomies that are out there and of course, they don’t really align. Right? But you want to marry the best of it? Then you get into the complicated piece of so how many layers can you have? Right? Do you drill down two layers, four layers? Or do you go vertical? Do you go horizontal? How do you get into the detail of all of these things? So you can imagine a T-shirt printer, an inkjet printer. Which could be a desktop device, could be a, you know, a rotary screen with inkjet device. You could be printing on white cotton t shirts. Dark polyester T-shirts. And so you’re going to be able to drill down, right, to get to that exact number. And so that’s the first start. And once we have a good idea, I’m working on at the moment trying to figure out how to set up a standards committee. Right? To get the right people on board. Because we’re going to need not just, you know, consultants like David and myself. But you’re going to need to have representation from print providers who live and breathe this every day. And that’s going to go across converters for packaging, textile, commercial print. You’ve got to have some OEM equipment and supplies manufacturers on board. Because part of the reason is they have to buy into it, right? If they don’t buy into this taxonomy. Now, what’s the point? Right? And then at the same time, we can’t have 100 people on this committee. Because nothing would ever get done. Right? So how do you set it up in such a way that, A. People want to participate? B. You know, there’s some kind of term limit. Because you can’t depend on the same people forever. Right? Because then it becomes a proprietary structure. It’s got to be really open. 

Yeah, David, I can’t help because, I mean, you have some experience from the Ghent Workgroup. I mean, I know it’s a totally different game. But it’s also defining standards of course, in a different scale. And both of you, of course, are familiar with this before and all the standard committees like Idealines and also the European pendant too. I’m just wondering your experience about defining standards and rolling it out to, let’s say, vendors, who should adapt this? What is your experience with that? 

So it’s an interesting question Morten. And it’s something I’ve been living with, with the Ghent Workgroup for about 20 years now. And it’s, you know: If you build it, will they come? Well, that’s really not a great way to do it because you just put all this effort in and then it just sits there and lays flat. And that’s not where you want to be. So really, what you want to do is you need to try to get engagement. And you need to get engagement but you also need to get it in such a way where the big guy is not the one who’s trying to force it on the smaller guy. Because it really it has to be democratized. It really does. And you have to allow everybody who has an interest and a kind of a stake in the game to be able to be part of the discussion. Because if you get that, then they’re part of what’s being built. They’ve already at that point as you’re building it, they’re part of it. So you know that they’re going to continue. They’re going to adopt it because they’re part of the build. And that’s really what you have to do. And that’s really the way most standard organizations work. That’s how ISO works, etc.. 

I can’t help thinking about because when I look at Ghent Workgroup is a software. So I mean, it’s relatively easy to implement updates because I mean, it’s an update, right? That people get anyway. I think that one of the hassles with the C4 was that it was very much hardware based. So it I mean and you know, depreciation times were different, how you actually address issues can be different from manufacturer to manufacturer. But I can’t help thinking about that in times where Iot and where the purchasing behaviors are changing. And all the things that we have been talking about now are changing because of technology. Maybe one of the reasons why people should adapt this is because it’s it could be money in the bank by adapting these these standards, right? 

Yes. I was thinking about money in the bank. Right? So. 

Oh, yeah. You were thinking or hoping or whatever you did. 

But that comes about from different ways. Right? So A. From the equipment manufacturer perspective. Right? It enables them to get a much broader view of what’s really eligible. Right?To make the next generation of equipment and the next versions of equipment. From the commercial print provider or packaging converter or textile converter perspective it is they’re able to reach a much broader audience. Right? If they can properly define what it is that they’re actually offering. And from a government perspective. Right? They’re going to be interested to catch this because it will also help them with tax revenues and the likes. So, yeah, in the end, if you don’t all speak the same language, it’s really hard to quantify something. And to really spot the trends in these markets. 

But when I said: Follow the money, banking on this, I was also thinking that you sometimes when you introduce a standard… Let’s say you do a standard that is smart but doesn’t really improve your economy. Right? Then you might be reluctant to implement because sometimes changes requires more than doing nothing. Right? And I was just thinking that at some point maybe with a better taxonomy and also, as you described in the beginning, the fact that you can trace things. You can maybe open up for selling your products and service into new channels, new ways of doing things. That is something that I would take could implement this faster than other standards. Because basically by adapting a standard that you can use for free. You basically get options that you wouldn’t be able to get if you didn’t do it. Right?

Absolutely. You know, it’s interesting and I’m going to go back to the Ghent Workgroup. Because there’s something that’s going on now that makes perfect sense. That kind of follows along with what you’re talking about. So we’ve been developing different kinds of standards and best practices for years. Right? And in packaging and in publishing and in commercial print, et cetera. And some of it was it was really a matter: yeah, we defined it. Everything is good. We tested it. We know it works. It’s good. But how do you get people to adopt it? And how do you then validate that? And what’s the value to them? And we’ve now started to do that. 

We were actually starting to have a program where people can test their workflows. And by testing their workflows, they’re learning. They’re learning what is it that’s wrong with it once I test it? And so they’re learning, they get it. You know, they get a seal when it’s all done. A little sticker that says: yes, you did it and you did it right. Good! But that’s the kind of thing you need to do. There’s a value there. You know, as as someone who’s doing it better. That means that doing it more efficiently. They’ve probably lower costs. Right? They’ve optimized processes. And that’s really what we’re talking about here. It’s why reinvent the wheel if everybody can actually kind of work with the same lingo, frankly, you know? 

So Morten, to come back to the adoption of this. Right? The only way it’s going to work is Printing United plus David and myself. We’re going to have to lobby like crazy, right? First of all, among all the equipment vendors to really help them understand why this is so important to their business. And they’ve got to assign somebody within their company to basically be their representative. And that person, you know, frankly, they’re not getting paid right. At least not by us or by Printing United. So it’s an honorary position. Right? But it’s hugely important because if they that individual does that job well, his stature within the company will rise tremendously. Right? Well, it’s mutually beneficial if we get it right and we get by. And that is the key.

One of the things that you mentioned, guys, was the fact of having these kind of honorable ambassadors people working from the companies. When this announcement was made… Do you already have people on board of the committees? Or is it really that early that you have not even talked to anybody yet? 

People have been contacting us and we want more people to contact us. And what we’ve said is that we’re putting together the bylaws. We’re putting together the structure for the organization. That’s one of the things that Marco’s been focusing on. And we’re putting this thing together. And once we have it together, then we’re going to we’re going to look and we’re going to say, OK, so what really what do we need? It’s not just about getting bodies, because it’s not that we want a lot of bodies. What we want is we want people who are going to bring value to what we’re doing. We’re going to bring kind of their perspective and as I said before, their engagement. And we want to balance it. 

Yeah, it makes sense. Yeah. Totally great. Guys, we are on the half hour here, so we’re just about to stop unless you have something. I have a few more questions, but do you have anything that we should talk about that you find important to the conversation? Because the last questions I’m going to talk about is more when and how long time should we wait for having something that is useful? But I don’t know if you want to answer that question now. If you have…I mean, basically, I wanted this also to be your opportunity to talk about the project. And I wanted to, you know, try to figure out the things around it and get into it. So I don’t know if you have anything that we should we should talk about here?

No, I mean, I think this is partially a project of passion, really. For both David and I, because we want this industry to go forward. Right? We spent our careers in it. And it’s really it’s as simple as that. If you look in terms of when and all that, our goal is by the end of this year. Because this could drag on forever and ever. We need to have something in place by the end of this year in structure. And then we’ll probably continue on for another few years in terms of lobbying the various industry bodies and the likes. But we have to have something concrete done, you know, before December. 

But it’s going to be a live organization. Because the industry’s life is a live organization. It’s constantly changing. And constantly evolving. So Marco says: yeah, by the end of this year, we’re going to have this and we’re we’re committed. We’ve got dates on it at this point. We’ll have something. That doesn’t mean it’s the end of the story. It’s almost the beginning of the story at that point. 

But I didn’t think of it as the end of the story. I just think that sometimes when you build something, I mean, you have the planning phase and you have the the starting of the execution phase. And the moment that you present the website is where you say: OK, now we tell the world what we’re doing and what to expect. And I was thinking: where where does it….? Because, I mean, when you get an announcement, I think it’s also a way for PRINTING United Alliance and you guys to reach out to the communities. And to actually say: Come. Now, we are ready to get started, come and help us. Right? But from there you actually have something. Like: This is a book or this is a website or this is a standard. I thought actually took a little bit longer time. So is it is it almost like a full time job for you two guys then? 

Well, we hope not. But it’s one of these things where if it’s a passion, right? You just put in the time. And since both of you only work like four or five hours a day, you can spend maybe half more, right? 

Oh sure, three days a week. 

Yeah. See, I come from Denmark. When we are in a socialist country, we don’t really work. So you know that how it is. Right? Sorry. That’s just kidding. Guys, it was a pleasure talking to you. I wish you the best and as usual: if anything in relation to this or anything else you’re talking about is relevant for you to have a conversation on INKISH to publish. Always welcome to reach out. It was great talking to you. So thank you very much for your time. 

Thank you Morten. 

Thank you for your support, Morten. All right. 

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