Case Study: Print without Printing, Part 2

No, print is not dead nor will it ever entirely die, however our businesses certainly will if we do not deal with the new realities of “print without printing.” Last month, I dealt with how businesses evolve. Now, let’s focus on printing’s current market realities. Again, I don’t know if I’m right, but it’s my vision, nonetheless.

Let’s start at the beginning. What is printing? Printing is duplicates. We have built our pricing on the number of duplicates delivered.

When people outside the industry refer to printing, they are referring to a stack of duplicates; meaning the pile of brochures, box of envelopes, package of letterheads, or pad of forms. They aren’t referring to the process we go through to get there: prepress, press, and bindery.

So, when I say someday in the not so distant future, we will have “print without printing,” I mean we will be producing print without producing the duplicates (printing). Essentially, our new reality will be producing and distributing originals.

Take any PDF file you create and send it to a friend. Now your friend has your original PDF and you still have your original PDF. In the new reality, everything is an original and there are no duplicates.

Now, how much did it cost you to create the PDF file you sent to your friend? Sure, it cost you something to set it up in an application software and output as an original PDF (print), but duplicating (printing) the original by attaching it to an email costs practically nothing. And almost everyone today can handle a PDF file or attach it, so almost everyone can create duplicates (do printing).

Interestingly, at least one printing association sends out a PDF newsletter and asks members to make copies to distribute within their business. What does that tell you about how far the new reality has already pierced our printing prejudices? On the flip side, numerous printers won’t sign up for our CPrint Tips email newsletter because email is killing our industry and they refuse to use it.

Your recipient, however, also has the choice of not printing it. They can read it on their computer or smartphone, send it on to others, and/or absorb what they want to know and discard it.


On the Other Hand

Now let’s kick this can down the road a little and talk about receivers. Here’s where we find ourselves today: We have now gone beyond computers to smartphones and iPad-type devices. Not only are business cards now swapped as electronic transfers of info on smartphones, but marketing pieces can and will be as well.

Maps have been nearly eliminated by GPS (global positioning systems) on Garmin-type devices as well as computers, and now on smartphones. Try to get a map at a rental car booth. They are few. If you want to know if there’s a restaurant nearby, then just “ask the phone.” There are 14 places to eat within five miles of where I am right now; two of which I didn’t know existed.

Soon, partially with the help of QR codes, you’ll be able to not only know where restaurants are, but you’ll also be able to check out the menu, gather discount coupons from those wanting to offer them to you for coming in right now (mobile marketing which can be adjusted, based on the time of day), and make an immediate reservation if necessary.

If you print technical manuals, you already know that these have gone to digital files, bypassing duplicates (printing) altogether. More than one school system has announced that textbooks will not be distributed next year; rather Kindles will be issued along with digital versions of the textbooks. One school system reports saving $600,000 by using this method.

How many email newsletters did you get today? I don’t know about you, but most of my contacts with businesses (as a customer) are now made through email. These email contacts are the flyers, handbills, newsletters, and direct mail of yesterday. And, yes, there are reasons not to rely solely on electronic marketing (no system for address correction is a big one), but to deny its existence or simply dismiss its effectiveness is ostrich thinking.


Tremor or Seismic Shift?

And it is impacting our world. The Printing Industries of America reported in May that preliminary indications are that print sales were down 12.9% in 2009 over 2008. That was the largest percentage drop ever since PIA began tracking sales in the early 1990s.

Of that 12.9% decline, more than 5% was due to prices being down, and more than 7% was due to the reduction in the amount of stuff printed. And exclusive ink-on-paper printing was down even more at 14.8%, which was offset by a rise in digital types of printing and services.

They also conclude the gap between printing and the economy (nominal print sales as compared with Gross Domestic Product) is widening in both good times and bad, but especially during bad economic times.

According to some estimates, we have about 80% of the number of printing companies today (29,000 plus) that we had in 1993. But the decrease in printing companies hasn’t resulted in lessening price pressure. So everything in the industry is pretty well down, including sales, profits, employment, number of shops, and prices.

Dr. Joe Webb and Frank Romano wrote in their book “Disrupting the Future” that inflation adjusted U.S. commercial printing shipments were down from $96.9 billion in 2005 to $88.1 billion in 2009, or a drop of more than 9%. However, they also cited 2005 as being a low year. If you compare shipments from 2007, we are down from $101.8 billion on an inflation adjusted basis, or a decrease of more than 13%. However you measure it, the news isn’t good. What’s worse, they say, “We expect the industry will lose another $40 billion by 2020. Some of the models we use indicate yet a steeper decline.”

So we see the negative impact that these technologies as well as economic factors are having on printing, and we’re all fighting against them. However, we can’t ignore the world. It is having a big time negative impact on all of us. The only thing worse would be a “Killer App.” Next month I’ll describe what I think that will be.