No, print is not dead nor will it ever entirely die, however our ability to earn a living doing it might if we do not evolve with the new business realities of “print without printing.” In previous articles, I’ve related the significant downward pressure on our duplicate business and gave you my vision of the Killer App (electronic paper or something similar).
What will be today’s print shop tomorrow: What will we be doing in order to make a living in the future? I doubt that I have the perfect answer, for I doubt that there will be just one. But I do think I see where many will end up.
Let’s start with a little marketing. Markets divide. Broadcast television carrying general purpose programs morphed into hundreds of special purpose channels (weather channels, sports channels, and politically leaning news channels). General purpose magazines (Look, Saturday Evening Post) gave way to the specialized (Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, Money). Same with restaurants (full service to fast food to fast food oriental) and bars (bars to sports bars to family sports bar).
Markets divide. Now think of printing like television. Let’s name our three broadcast channels Printing, Quick Printing, and Specialty Printing. A disruptive technology (digital, Internet) is doing to us what cable did to broadcasters; it is dividing us into many parts.
Since Gutenberg, there have been two historic roles for printing—information gathering and information dissemination. Gathering info (business forms) long ago went to computers, although there’s still some work around. And dissemination is headed in the direction of the digital do-dads, as I addressed last month.
So what are we to do tomorrow, in a time without duplicates (printing)? We will become many things built around print rather than printing—or content and set-up rather than duplicates.
Marketing Service Providers?
Many say we will become marketing service providers (MSP). Whether the majority of us do that or not depends on its meaning, in my view. If it is meant that an MSP is one who provides a range of marketing services to small businesses, then I think that will be our most logical landing pad. Of course, that depends on what you mean by marketing services as well.
If it means selling mechanical services (print/set-up and printing/duplicates) to those who sell to real customers (e.g.: ad agencies), or if it means morphing our print shops into marketing advisors to the “bigs” (businesses with $20 million or more in sales), then I have reservations about whether many of us can make that leap.
That’s based on the fact that there are just not that many advertising agencies for us to service. One mailing list house shows some 20,000 advertising agencies and counselors today, while showing some 28,000 printers. Whether the numbers are accurate is debatable, but assuming the ratio holds meaning, there are 0.7 agencies for every one of us, or fewer than one customer per printer. Let’s even say we’re off by half and there are 1.4 customers per printer. That’s quite a come down for us because today we see the top 25 customers making up 50-75% of a shop’s business and a total of around 250 customers per shop.
Everything Old is New Again
Printing has always meant taking equipment and technology that is too complex, too expensive, too labor intensive, too messy, or too something; and time sharing it among businesses within a logical geographic area.
The Linotype was too complex, too labor intensive, too messy, and too heavy to be bought by every small business. However, the fax machine wasn’t. It had a short lived commercial life and, for most of us, was a quickly burning star. Some tried to make a business based on the fax machine. Most notable was FedEx, whose idea it was to fax things from one city fax center to another city’s fax center and use their delivery trucks to take the message the final mile. That experiment folded quickly.