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  • Print Industry Trends: The Only Constant is Change

    After thirty plus years in the print supply business, there is one thing I know for sure – I don’t know it all. Change has been constant since 1439 when Johannes Gutenberg first invented the printing press, and since then there have always been new print industry trends to keep up with.

    Printers, who were once content with black and white text on paper, are now printing on banners, signs, box packaging, vehicles, and fabric. Ink used to be ink, with slight variations in pigmentation. Today, we can choose between latex, dye-sub, pigmented, UV LED curable or solvent-based ink systems. Diversified businesses must deal with the added stress of deciding how far to stretch one technology before purchasing another. Being a printer has never been easy, and this is still true today.

    At a recent industry event, a question was asked: “when will we return to the boom days of print?” The answer is never – at least not using the same technology we once did. As it always has, the printing paradigm has evolved and changed. Print industry trends still point towards change, the difference today is the rate at which that change is taking place. What previously took 100 years is now happening in 10 years or less. In a climate such as this, it’s worth asking: how does one adapt and survive?

    I can say one thing for sure – change for the sake of change is not the answer. Simply making an expensive equipment upgrade and hoping this will result in increased revenue for your business is the equivalent of buying a lottery ticket. To keep up with the most recent trends in the print industry, one should instead refer to fundamental principles which have stood the test of time:

    1. If it can go digital, it will go digital.
      Benny Landa made this prediction at Drupa 2012 and every year he continues to be proven right. Most analog processes will become digital as time goes on, and there is no better example of this than in the world of print. Lead typesetters gave way to film strippers, which in turn gave way to fully digital prepress departments. Conventional presses became digital sheet-fed copiers and then evolved into inkjet sheet and web technology. As the print industry trends toward digital, we should remember this represents a major opportunity for the industry as we move, albeit slowly, towards full automation.
    2. Add value to your printed material.
      In a world of cutthroat commodity offerings, adding value to your print is fundamental to survival. Consider, for example, new technologies like spot coating, foiling varnish, and printing on unconventional media. A specialist of ours recently went into a print shop where groups of artists paint original pieces of artwork in one section of the shop, and then take those originals, scan them and print limited runs on a wood surface. The end product is so compelling that a piece of wood which costs a few dollars now sells for over $100. Keep margin in mind, and turn everyday objects into collectible items.
    3. Do what you do best, better.
      It is harder to procure a new client than to make an existing client happier. To this end, make sure your current customers know about your premium print offerings. Take the time, while your customer waits for their job to print, to give them a “one-off” embellished print. It could be foiled, spot varnished or folded into a carton. All these offerings come at a premium which is great for your bottom line.
    4. Disruptive print always starts with short-run.
      Consider the market disruption that business card printing via photocopier technology caused. Before digital, large offset sheets were cut down into small cards, and quantity requirements were in the thousands. Today, consumers can pick up smaller quantities of business cards from their local copy shop, and small printers can offer short-runs on everything from labels for local breweries and bottlers, to securitized-foil for coupon printing. The list goes on, but the principle remains the same – when ROI on a short-run exceeds that of a long-run, one should view this as an opportunity.
    5. Outsourcing
      Is the best low-risk strategy for market testing. Consider using a print finisher to embellish your work for a client before investing in expensive equipment. Once you’ve established some volume, and you have a proven ROI, then invest in the new technology knowing you can sustain the new business model. Many printers work under the mantra “never say no to a job,” but this is only possible because they are networked with trade finishers.

    So, don’t fear a print industry which trends toward change – embrace it! There’s a Van Morrison song lyric that goes: “ain’t nothing new under the sun,” and this is true for the print industry – print will always be around, the technology may just look a little different than it once did.

    January 10, 2019

    Industrial Print