As innovation continues in the printing world, communication seemingly seeks to continually reinvent itself to become more efficient and more omnipresent. The generational impact of electronic technologies has led to changes in how we learn, how we communicate and interact, and how we archive and own possessions and memories. One thing is very clear—the role of print is irrevocably changing. Are electronic technologies to blame for this shift of content and loss of page volume? Eight months, hundreds of hours of interviews, and weeks of in-depth analysis confirm that electronic technologies are indeed an enabler, but they are not the root cause of the decline in offset printed pages.
These insights and more come from the recently released PRIMIR study Impact of Electronic Technologies on Print, which looks at 12 print applications ranging from annual reports and books to transactional printing. In the new study each application is rated for the impact that electronic technologies have sustained on print and the business reasons behind the changes.
The report identifies six core reasons driving decline in page volumes, including the impact of:
• Business model changes enabled by electronic technologies
• New electronic advertising distribution channels
• The recession
• Regulatory changes
• New electronic content distribution channels
• Electronic output display technologies
Through 2014, no great adjustments are foreseen for most applications; however, major changes are expected over the following 20 years. Consider this: A 5% annual decline in page volumes leads to an almost 50% reduction in print over 10 years. Clearly, firms in the print value chain will need to alter their business infrastructure to scale down for less demand.
Much has been said about variable data printing, QR codes, key search words, packaging application opportunities, and printed electronics. Each of these specialties has value, but they are not opportunities that will reverse any industry right-sizing for printing equipment and supplies manufacturers. Opportunities exist for individual companies and leaders to specialize in these areas, but not the entire industry.
The printing industry is not under immediate threat of collapse—it remains an enormous business that will be sustained for years to come, though with fewer printers, fewer tons of paper, fewer pounds of ink, and ultimately, fewer commercial printers and manufacturers that cater to commercial printers. Opportunities exist for those willing to take the time to find and nurture new concepts and ideas.
People will continue to communicate—electronic technologies extend the reach of communication by connecting the loop and making it interactive. This is perhaps the single most-important function brought about by electronic technologies. Historically, print stopped once the user received it; print was the final product. Electronic content is never completed. Electronic technologies provide infinite digital information.
Many of the tools required to generate electronic content are identical to the tools required to create printed content. The technologies available to distribute content electronically have been in place, in many cases, for years. The difference today—compared to five years ago—the information super highway is now accessible to a majority of consumers (juxtaposed with what could previously have been described as single-lane roads). Today, the cloud is the single most important enabler of further growth of electronic communication technologies. It pulls together all the other disciplines required to communicate and closes the connection between print and input capture, making communication bi-directional.
The old business model of buying larger quantities than needed to get the lowest cost of print per page is gone. Electronic technologies not only enable more timely and efficient communication, but they also expose the inherent inefficiencies in print (for cost savings, over ordering, and inventorying large quantities of print that don’t have intrinsic and immediate value).