Change, according to Phillip Ruggles (2005), can be advantageous to one's business. It can sometimes be exciting and economically rewarding. At other times, change can be challenging and risky, bringing about chaos and disruption. The printing industry is undergoing both structural and cyclical change. Meeting the challenge to remain competitive in today's printing industry relies heavily on providing value for customers. Thus, print service providers are offering a variety of value added services in an effort to meet customer demands and to remain competitive. One such additional service is distribution (both physical and electronic), which includes shipping/delivery, mailing, warehousing, and inventory management. As print technology advances, the offering of distribution services by print providers is becoming a trend in the industry.

The objectives of this research were to understand distribution and distribution workflows, to understand the utilization of electronic distribution of files and the distribute-then-print model, and to understand how printers are incorporating e-commerce as a tool to distribute print. This thesis research also looked at the challenges, issues, and future trends anticipated by print service providers for their distribution operations.

To achieve these objectives, selective answers from the 2005 Printing Industry Center (PIC) research on Media Distribution (Cummings & LeMaire) and another research on the Utilization ofE-commerce (Cummings & LeMaire) were used to support vi this thesis. Additionally, in-depth interviews were conducted with six print service providers to further understand distribution operations within the printing industry.

The research results revealed key findings in the areas of physical distribution, distribution workflows, electronic distribution, e-commerce, and distribution challenges and trends. Questions addressing physical distribution and workflows yielded the following results: the definition of distribution from all the responses can be summarized as the movement of printed and finished materials from the printing plant to an internal storage location, to a distribution center, to the customer (the print buyer), or to the enduser. Various processes were described by research participants to represent their distribution operations. Figures 12 and 13 are representations of the two main workflows: a simple workflow for small companies, and a more complex workflow for larger companies.

Electronic distribution findings showed that this model has not had a great impact upon the participants' distribution procedures or their businesses in general. Only four (25%) of the companies interviewed have used this distribution model. Additionally, questions addressing e-commerce utilization showed that participants' definition of ecommerce can be summarized as a system that allows customers to perform transactions over the Internet. Participants all agreed that e-commerce is a value-added service that benefits everybody. It was also apparent that most printers are not utilizing the full capabilities of e-commerce systems.

Research participants discussed various challenges faced while offering distribution services. Among those challenges are storage and warehousing, customer information flow, fuel surcharges, postage increases, and trucking. Participants also vn anticipate the following trends relating to their distribution operations: advancement in technology, improved customer relations, and electronic flow of communication.

This thesis research is valuable and contributes ample literature on the topic of distribution in the printing industry. As no research is exhaustive, opportunities remain for further research projects within various aspects of this study.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Printing industry--United States--Forecasting; Printing industry--Effect of technological innovations on; Business logistics; Electronic commerce; Data transmission systems

Publication Date


Document Type


Student Type


Degree Name

Print Media (MS)

Department, Program, or Center

School of Print Media (CIAS)


Twyla Cummings

Advisor/Committee Member

Mary Anne Evans


Physical copy available from RIT's Wallace Library at Z244.6.U5 L46 2005


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