The NAPL Printing Business Index (PBI) has been showing signs of growth since the beginning of 2011.
As reported in the NAPL Strategic Perspective 2011 report, the index has risen sharply from an all time low of 21.2 in March 2009 to a reading of 54.2 in April. The PBI has now been above 50.0—the point at which more companies report business is picking up than report business slowing down—for three consecutive readings.
For clients we work with, consecutive growth is often the sign they have been waiting for before they consider investing. For those considering investing, the goals we recommend include reducing manufacturing costs to rebuilding profitability and building new products to create new sales opportunities.
Some technology investments come and go, but two technologies have remained relevant over the last five years: Web-to-print solutions and variable data printing (VDP).
Web-to-print means different things to different people, but the most common definition is Internet-based tools that allow customers to input specifications, get estimates, order work and view, mark up and approve proofs.
VDP involves putting different graphic or text elements on different pieces of a print run to make the output more targeted and relevant. VDP is a database-driven service that some use as a stepping stone to offer more database or marketing services.
In NAPL 2010 State of the Industry Series research, sponsored by Heidelberg, VDP was cited most frequently as the service expected to grow fastest over the next three years. Compared to similar research done five years ago, VDP still occupies the number one spot, while Web-to-print services have jumped from ninth to second place, more than doubling in importance.
Benefits & challenges
Both technologies offer significant benefits and challenges. While there are technology and staff concerns, more significant issues involve adoption. It has proven difficult to motivate interest in these technologies, both by companies offering the services and those that should be using them. The irony is that these two technologies offer significant benefits, such as increasing productivity, providing greater convenience, and streamlining production.
There are books filled with case histories and organizations that prove how effective and profitable VDP technology can be. But most experts agree that less than five percent of all the pages printed take advantage of the technology.
Why? Companies can provide long lists of reasons, including the reluctance of customers to use it, the lack of accurate databases, and poor understanding of how to develop, maintain, and use databases. But every issue can be overcome, and some companies are demonstrating that VDP works.
Web-to-print also offers significant benefits that have not been widely accepted. I have visited many commercial printers and in-plant operations where I found it was purchased, but is not being used at all or is being used for just a subset of its features.
Research has shown that, Web-to-print is growing and is likely to pick up speed. As most print buyers will attest, the ability to submit, approve and track print jobs via a Web-to-print system has become increasingly commonplace.
Online solutions are available, and customers who feel they have value and want to use them are going to look for companies that offer them and buy from them. You can try to pretend these technologies don’t exist or don’t perform well yet, and that position may work for some of your customers. But for those buyers who want to work online, if you don’t offer it, someone else will take that business away from you.
Throughout Strategic Perspective 2011, the printers surveyed talk about the need to increase profitability and find new sales opportunities. In our NAPL production audits, when we are asked how to increase profitability and sales, we recommend solutions that increase productivity and identify new products and services to create additional sales opportunities.