What’s to come? Well, Graph Expo/Print has already been branching out to attract exhibitors and attendees from other industry segments. Meanwhile, some major vendors have already opened comprehensive, customer-focused centers where they can bring prospects for a more exclusive, in-depth look at what they offer. Combine that with the increasing significance of the Internet as an avenue to connect buyers and sellers and it seems that the best today’s trade shows can hope for is stabilization at current vendor and attendee levels.
Association membership has also been in decline from its heyday of 10-15 years ago. Part of this is due to a lack of perceived value as benefits once reserved for association members are now available from other sources. Members can often get better deals on pricing than what is offered by association agreements with vendors. Then there is the problem of delivering services where the members live. At one time, both PIA and NAQP had strong chapter structures that delivered benefits and education at the regional level. NAQP is now part of NAPL and only its annual Owners Conference remains intact. PIA also has lost membership at the chapter level. Meanwhile, NAPL has adopted a pay-to-play menu for many of its service offerings. None of this is conducive to growing membership.
There have been calls for the consolidation of NAPL and PIA into a single association. In some ways that might make sense, but it risks depleting the perceived value even more. That said, there is always room for cooperation. That can be seen in the recent announcement of the combining of the “leadership” conferences of PIA, NAPL, and NPES into one major event starting in 2011.
Where does all this leave NAQP? It’s too soon to tell. From my vantage point, NAPL coveted the membership numbers NAQP brought to the table when it was acquired, but has yet to figure out how to provide support and services specific to NAQP’s segment of the industry. It would do well to figure that out since the member profile of NAQP matches the member profile of a significant percentage of NAPL members. Providing programs tailored for this group of entrepreneurial printers could greatly enhance the perceived value of association membership.
In 2010 we will see sales rebound slightly for the industry and grow even more for those quick and small commercial printers who have recognized the systemic industry changes and planned for the economic recovery. Digital printing and ancillary services will continue to grow. Consolidation will continue for both printers and vendors. Trade shows will hope for a rebound in attendance and associations will look for other avenues of cooperation short of merger. It won’t be a great year, but it won’t be a bummer like 2009.