Keeping Print Relevant: GRAPH EXPO Review

In terms of energy, foot traffic, and real solutions to address real opportunities, GRAPH EXPO 2011 was the best in recent memory. The excitement, however, was peppered with a sense of gloom that hangs over our industry:

  • USPS mail volume is projected to decrease 40 percent to 70 percent from today’s volume in five years.
  • Direct Mail will continue to precipitously decrease while packaging will continue to increase.
  • High-speed inkjet will bring prices down further on remaining direct mail volume.
  • Inflation as it relates to the printing industry (measured by PPI) is significantly higher than government statistics (measured by CPI).
  • Even with lending rates at historic lows, business owners are clearly not willing to invest in new gear as they do not see a clear path for ROI.

Well, then, what is a “printer” to do? Ceasar famously proclaimed, “Veni, Vidi, Vici!” I say, “Mobilize! Personalize! Socialize!”

This year’s GRAPH EXPO proved that solutions abound to help your customer communicate better while still driving print. Real-world solutions were provided from companies like All Viso, a Canadian firm, which licenses campaign-centric mobile Web solutions; Scodix, an Israeli company that dramatically increases the emotional connection to print with its dimensional ink technology; and Xanté, an American firm that uses the latest Memjet technology to print on rigid substrates at price points never achievable before.

I learned about some interesting companies at the Marketing Pavilion, which, interestingly enough, was located at the back corner of the exhibition hall. Most notably, Documobi, a Texas-based startup with a Texas-sized idea. Documobi is a cloud-based service where you can make any image, icon, or document interactive by simply uploading it to their servers. Users then download an application, scan the document/icon/image, and voila! Think of it as a private-label Google Goggles of sorts.

These innovative companies are offering us solutions that help to differentiate ourselves and increase our margins today, and this is what makes GRAPH EXPO so great. My passion for print led me to most of these technologies well before they were featured at the show, but it was at there where they transformed from buzz and potential to tangible solutions.

A new GRAPH EXPO experience for me was my involvement as a speaker for the 2011 Executive Outlook Panel. The moderator, Kevin Keane of the International Association of Printing House Craftsmen, really hit it home for me when he said: “Guys, let’s get excited. It is all in front of us. If we are not excited who will be?” He continued to talk about the amazing resources out there just waiting to be tapped, including instructional videos on YouTube, books on cross-media, and consultants who can help companies overcome strategic hurdles.

The topic of our session was “Truth from the Trenches.” I spent a bit of time talking about partnerships and how we, in the printing industry, experiment with different types of partnerships so we can increase profit margins. While many in our industry define partnerships as an outsourced relationship with the lowest cost supplier, I challenge this definition and want to broaden it to sharing information, reducing capital expenses, and leveraging human talent and brand for maximum profits. This, of course, is easier said than done, but I believe that fundamentally, our industry needs to get smarter about partnerships so we can make sustainable margins for survival! (Dare I say growth?)

I would be remiss if I did not acknowledge the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 during this year’s show. I was touched by the many companies who made it a point not to forget the treacherous acts committed on our soil. I lost a relative in Flight 11 and “not forgetting” serves as a tribute to the price paid by the innocent victims.

So GRAPH EXPO 2011 and all of its exhibitions, teachings, and sessions are behind us. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, and I look forward to seeing everyone at drupa 2012.

Until then, keep printing, my friends. PN


Ravi is a serial entrepreneur in the marketing services industry. After successfully starting and selling two technology businesses, he started a variable data print practice within TVP Graphics (Streamwood, IL) in 2004. He grew up in his father’s quick printing business. email: / Twitter: @thinkvariable / LinkedIN: /in/thinkvariable