Editorial: Copy That!

A month or so ago I had the privilege of speaking to a group of franchise executives at a leadership event sponsored by Ricoh. My topic was the changing face of our industry over the past 20 years. Among the changes I discussed were consolidation, technology, business practices, and job mix. I think the latter is of particular interest.

Back in 1991, copying (mostly, if not entirely, analog) accounted for 34% of sales in the franchise segment of the industry. Offset (both monochrome and color) made up 45% of sales. By 2011 those percentages had flip-flopped dramatically, with copying making up 42% of sales and offset accounting for only 22.6%. The remaining 35.4% came from brokering/other (12.7%), bindery/finishing (10.4%), prepress (7.1%), and mailing services (5.2%).

The increase in copying as a percentage of sales should come as no surprise. The technology has evolved, the quality has improved, and the speeds have increased. What about monochrome versus color copying? Today, of the 42% of total copying sales, 23.3% comes from color and 18.7% from monochrome.

I pulled these numbers out of Quick Printing’s annual franchise reviews over the past 20 years. Turns out, I’m not the only one who is fascinated by these sorts of changes. The latest issue of Larry Hunt’s Color Copy News has a report on the evolution of color copying during the same time period. Not coincidentally, this issue also marks the 20th anniversary of that publication.

The report is very detailed, with information on net owner’s compensation, copies between service calls, lease and labor costs, etc. However, a couple of numbers present a fascinating reminder of how far color copying has come in 20 years.

Back in 1991, five copies per minute was the average speed of a color copier. By 2001, that had more than doubled to 11-12 copies per minute. Today, the average speed is 50-70 copies per minute. Meanwhile, the selling price per copy has fallen from $1.55 to $.41. That said, average monthly color copy volume has grown from 3,000 to 38,000. In 1991, only about 40% of printers had a color copier. Today, that has grown to more than 96%.

Noting that color copying has come a long way since 1991, Hunt comments: “I think the evidence shows that color copying can be a very good business as long as you stay up with the ever-changing technology and continue to integrate it with the rest of your business.”

I think that most quick and small commercial printers would agree with Hunt that color copying has become a much more valuable profit center over the past 20 years and will continue to make money for printers even as the typical job mix changes and evolves.