A little while back I wrote a blog asking, “What is the future of offset printing?” In it I cited the results of the latest QP survey of the franchise segment of our industry: “In the 2000 Quick Printing franchise survey, single-color offset accounted for 14.4% of sales. That dropped to 4% in this year’s survey. Multi-color offset also declined as a percent of sales, although not as drastically. It fell from 19.3% of sales to 17.8%. Meanwhile, four-color offset doubled from 4.3% of sales to 8.3% of sales.
“The driver behind those changes is digital technology. Black-and-white offset was the first major victim of the digital age when such jobs migrated to monochrome copier/printers. Two- and three-color offset managed to hang in due to run lengths, quality concerns, and color click charges. Four-color offset grew to fulfill requirements for longer run lengths and quality.
“CTP has certainly helped offset to hang in, as have advances in press automation and capabilities. The question is, what role will offset continue to play as digital technology answers quality and run length questions and new output technology such as inkjet enters the fray?”
That was my take on the situation. But I’m far from infallible, so I decided to ask some knowledgeable folks throughout our industry where they thought offset was heading. The overall response was that digital is supplanting offset in many areas, but that offset is unlikely to disappear soon. That said, the responses were much more nuanced and varied.
Where We Are
The franchise survey figures show an overall 10 year drop in sales from offset printing from 38% to 30.1%. QP columnist John Stewart, who does several in-depth surveys of the industry for NAQP, had this to say on the subject: “While I think in-house four-color offset will play a diminished role in our segment of the industry in the future, I think the role of single and multi-color will remain relatively steady.
“Granted that offset reached 40% to 45% of sales 12 to 15 years ago, it now appears stabilized, after many years of decline, at 32% to 36% of sales. I believe it will remain at that level for now and into the foreseeable future.”
While Stewart’s percentages are somewhat higher than those in the franchise survey, they reflect the same basic decline. What about his prediction that offset will continue to make a steady contribution? Only time will tell, and as he noted in his response, “Of course I will be dead before the above predictions are proven wrong.”
Apple to Apples
The franchise segment is only a small part of the quick and small commercial printing industry as a whole, but its trends are representative. Stewart’s surveys and our own QP Top 100 annual survey show the same general diminishing of offset’s role. However, since we started with franchise numbers, it’s instructive to see what the franchise people had to say about offset and how they are handling the move to digital.
“It will continue to play a decreasing role and at a faster pace, in my opinion,” according to Allegra Network CEO Carl Gerhardt. “Most new franchises we do are MatchMakers, but we are also doing some selective startups with focus more on marketing services and less on print. We are doing digital equipment with mailing, but no offset in these startups.”
Rich Lowe, COO of Franchise Services, parent company of Sir Speedy, PIP, and Signal Graphics, says: “I think the future is digital. The only things we run on one-color presses are envelopes. We don’t suggest to owners to get out of printing because they own most of their own equipment. If they are investing, we tell them to go digital because the costs are right, anyone in the shop can run it, and it runs almost any paper stock with excellent quality. If they do need to buy out for some jobs that digital isn’t suited for, these days the turnaround time is good and color jobs can be bought online inexpensively.”