My high school football coach had a fat-cat phobia. “Don’t be satisfied with yourselves,” Al Marks warned us incessantly, trying to preserve his team’s competitive fire. “Don’t be a fat cat; be lean and mean,” the sideline czar encouraged, knowing full well the dangers of complacency. That sort of pep talk is what many small- and medium-sized business owners, printers included, need to hear, particularly those who have a tendency to become satisfied with themselves. After experiencing some measure of success, they may take it easy, rest on their laurels, stop pushing themselves, not work quite as hard and even get downright lazy. Sensing this complacency, hungry competitors go right for the jugular—or “coaches” cut them from the team.
About eight years ago, a long-time trade editor at another publication didn’t take digital printing seriously. Digital press technology was so much hype, he contended, with very little substance. He laughed, along with a lot of us, when Benny Landa’s liquid Electroink smudged and rubbed off sheets printed digitally on a beta Indigo press model at Graph Expo. But then HP bought Indigo, and Kodak soon was spending as much money advertising in his magazine as cash-cow customer Heidelberg was, with Xerox and other digital “newcomers” nipping at their heels. Dubbed a dinosaur, the complacent editor was out of a job.
Of course, few industry insiders could have predicted that the pace of change would be as frenetic as it has been. Then again, digital print didn’t just show up overnight.
Offset printers “going digital” are no new phenomena. The “hybrid” print push has been ongoing for more than a decade. The smart firms have diversified—there’s no doubt that digital is grabbing larger slivers of the print pie. Exactly how many of the country’s 36,500 printing companies now offer digital output? Hard and fast numbers are difficult to come by, but here are some to ponder: $13 billion to $20 billion. That’s an estimate of how much digital print could add to annual U.S. printing industry shipments, according to PIA economists. Digital print presently accounts for around 22 percent ($8 billion) of printer shipments—about $36.7 billion—and this volume could grow between 2.5 percent and 3.5 percent per annum.
That said, there’s also no denying that offset print’s chunk still is huge by comparison. Conventional ink on paper comprises some two-thirds of total U.S. printing volume, or approximately $111.6 billion in annual shipments. By 2020, this volume may decrease to between $77 billion and $87 billion, reports PIA—smaller, yes, but still big. These statistics and dollars are irrelevant, though. What matters most is your firm and where you’re at in all this. For those still around who haven’t entered the digital print arena, what are you waiting for? And for those who have, buying the digital box is just the first step. Is your cool-looking iGen, Indigo, NexPress or whatever producing up to its much-hyped potential, or haven’t your “digital services” moved beyond static mailings yet?
The bottom line is that most offset printers who have gotten into the digital space have seen their bottom-line profit increase—maybe not by a lot, but every little bit helps (and adds up), especially in this stagnant economy. Making the change usually is not comfortable, however, and it takes hard work.
The big print players get it and think their businesses are worth the blood, sweat and tears. The $2-billion Cenveo purchased the assets of Clixx Direct Marketing Services, Toronto, from Lombardi Media this past February. Clixx offers direct mail, data management, variable-data imaging and fulfillment solutions to North American clients. The firm operates a 60,000-sq.-ft. facility housing two Kodak NexPress digital presses as well as Digimaster 9110 monochrome and Canon imageRUNNER 110 digital printing systems. Its Stamford, Conn.-based parent firm now supports a fleet of 220 digital presses. Two years ago, Houston-based Consolidated Graphics made a major investment in its digital footprint by buying three dozen HP Indigo digital presses. “Our digital business has been a bright spot during this recession, with digital print sales increasing 8 percent year to date,” stated CEO Joe Davis during the $1.1-billion firm’s latest quarterly earnings conference call.