Want to make money in printing? Then you need to start thinking outside the box. As the economy starts to ramp up after several years of sluggish sales, printers are using new techniques and ideas to generate sales and make money. There are several trends emerging as printers try to profit in the new economy.
Sending more work to outside vendors is a new trend. Printers have learned they don’t have to do everything in-house to make money. In the past 12 months, I’ve noticed a number of printers have gone as far as to eliminate their offset printing departments, or are making plans to phase it out when the equipment needs to be replaced. They aren’t changing what they sell, just where it is produced.
The printers who have shut down their offset departments are still selling offset, but they are buying it from trade printers. Trade printers are fighting it out for the quick printers’ business, so a printer can buy his work from an outside supplier and still offer a competitive price to the customer. The printer buying the work is finding few quality or service issues with the outside vendors, and freeing their staff to work in other production areas.
The printers shutting down their offset departments are not eliminating production entirely. They are shifting work onto their color and black-and-white digital printers to meet the majority of the short-run requests from customers. Much of what used to go on the press can now be produced on a digital printer.
What printers have learned over the past few years is that customers don’t buy from them because they actually produced the work. Customers buy from the printer because they know the printer can provide them with the printed products they need, on time, and with the expected quality.
Another trend is for printers to take complicated computer tasks and farm them out. According to reports by former Quick Printing editor Bob Hall, variable data printing is still one area that many printers haven’t promoted because of its complexity. Most printers have the output devices that can handle VDP, but it is too time consuming to fix customer files and prepare the files for print.
Outside services are starting to pop up to do the backroom data processing work and make selling VDP easier. Files are sent to experts outside the shop and returned as print-ready jobs. This means the prepress staff can focus on more profitable tasks that are easily done in-house. In addition, printers are starting to send basic design and typesetting work to outside firms that can produce the work at a fraction of the cost.
Selling other communication services is another developing trend. Some shops have added Web and Internet services to augment print and help customers reach a larger audience with their message. The printer can help customers assure their companies’ brands are protected. The printer can ensure that the look and feel of the brand as well as its message is consistent whether it is on paper or on the computer screen. Printers are adding website development, email broadcasts, and social media support. The new services are driving print work as customers add the print collateral needed to support their Web efforts.
Another trend is to eliminate as many manual order entry and production functions as possible. Printers are automating the order entry process and making ordering easier with Internet portals. Many manual prepress steps can be eliminated by the new workflow systems that come with many digital printers and CTP devices.
The new trends are putting money in printers’ pockets. The focus is on productivity and profit margins. Commodity work and sophisticated database and Internet support are being offloaded to specialty producers so employees can do more profitable work. The printing business is changing. Printers are becoming entrepreneurs, and the results mean more profits.