Wide-Format Outlook - Part One: Print Buyers

In April 2009 InfoTrends and Wide-Format Imaging issued a survey among print service providers and print buyers designed to scope the markets for wide format printing from these two perspectives. In this, the first of three articles that highlight some of the findings from this study, we’re showing and analyzing results of the print buyer survey.

The first results show that there are a lot of different types of companies that buy wide-format digital printing services, but that retail establishments and the applications produced for companies who sell products at retail are critically important. More than 300 professional wide-format print buyers were surveyed, and of these buyers, the most often cited reason for buying wide-format graphics was the promotion of products or services in a retail setting. Wide-format print buyers strongly endorsed wide-format printed graphics as a promotional method, with more than 55 percent reporting that they think wide format graphics are either highly or extremely effective.

The Outlook

The soft US economy has certainly impacted many sectors of the market and many individual businesses, including those in the wide-format sector. In perhaps the most positive sign found in this study, professional print buyers reported that they expected to spend more on wide-format graphics in the next 12 months than they did in the last 12 months outnumbered those that expect to spend less on wide-format graphics in the next 12 months than they did in the last 12 months by a 5-to-1 ratio. In short, the bulls outnumber the bears 5-to-1. Also, those the reported that they expect to spend more reported that they expect to spend an average of 20 percent more on wide-format graphics in the next 12 months.

This is good news certainly but it is also troubling that nearly 60 percent of the survey respondents foresee no change in their wide-format graphics expenditures considering that 2008 was the first year since 2000-2001 that outdoor advertising rates declined from year to year.

Looking a little further into the data is helpful here because within the respondents we had print purchasers who represent large companies, small businesses, and very small businesses. The outlook for those large companies (100+ employees) is a lot less robust than it is for small businesses, defined as between 10 and 99 employees and very small businesses. So, from a marketing and sales perspective, as is often the case it seems, while many companies and salespeople want to “bag the elephant” with large accounts, the companies and salespeople that will likely lead the market going forward will be the ones that focus on selling and servicing small and medium sized businesses.

There were some very interesting and revealing results as it relates to applications as well. We asked print buyers whether they see their buying in a range of applications growing, declining or staying the same over the next 12 months. What is certainly positive is that there are NO applications that appear to be declining according to these print buyers.

It is interesting to note that there are very positive growth numbers for some of the key wide-format digital printing applications such as point-of-purchase displays, banners, and signs. However, the best “increase to decrease” ratio among these applications was in the printing of industrial products, presentation graphics, and fine art prints.

There were some important findings in this study related to print technologies as well. For example, print buyers reported that 35 percent of the graphics they order are for “outdoor” applications while 65 percent are for indoor applications. For many print service providers this type of split means that they would need to print both indoor and outdoor applications using the same printer. To me, this means there will likely be a strong market for eco-, light-, mild-solvent inkjet as well as the new HP Latex inkjet printers because they bring the ability to print at very high-quality at lower running costs than water-based inkjet.

One of the other interesting results we found is in the chart below. When we asked these professional print buyers how long they keep their wide-format graphics displayed they reported an average of about 74 days, but what is particularly interesting is that it doesn’t much matter whether they are displaying an indoor or outdoor wide format graphic—they still only display them for about 2.5 months or ten weeks. The biggest difference among the individual companies was among retailers, who reported that they typically display indoor graphics for two months, or about 60 days, while they display outdoor graphics for three months, or about 90 days.

There is still a tremendous potential for digital print media that doesn’t try to be the same as screen print media in terms of image permanence. While this may not necessarily be a good thing for the companies that manufacture long-term durable print media, for printers it should be read as good news because it is likely those media products are kind of overkill for the short term promotions people use digital printing systems for anyway.

For years now we have noted that the media mix among print service providers has been moving away from those higher-quality but more expensive cast films and towards shorter-term calendared products. Manufacturers have certainly noticed as well, with leading suppliers introducing more of these lower-cost options. So, the combined trend of more frequent printing and more easily-available low-cost wide-format digital print media should be viewed as a positive for print service providers.

The study showed some very positive news for the wide-format digital printing market, especially in light of other industry developments, such as the strong attendance and buying activities at ISA. Wide-format print buyers like the effectiveness of wide-format digital graphics as well as the ability localize and target advertising messages. These are key abilities and important parts of the sales and marketing messages that print service providers should stress in their sales pitches.

Editor’s Note: Please see Part Two of this reasearch study, focusing on print service providers, in the July-August issue of Wide-Format Imaging.