Soothsayers aside, normal people cannot accurately predict the future. We can speculate, however, and even hypothesize about the direction it will go. So here, with input from four seasoned industry veterans on both sides of the buying-selling desk, is MPR’s educated guess about the future of...
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Soothsayers aside, normal people cannot accurately predict the future. We can speculate, however, and even hypothesize about the direction it will go. So here, with input from four seasoned industry veterans on both sides of the buying-selling desk, is MPR’s educated guess about the future of buying print, harbingers of what likely is to come within the next decade:
Classifying generations is sort of like Hallmark creating card-sending holidays. Consumer tracking firm Nielsen has coined yet another one: the new Generation C, where the “C” stands for always digitally “Connected,” describing people born between 1979 and 1995. Members of Generation C are between 18 and 34 years old. The most recent US Census finds that 18- to 24-year-olds comprise 23 percent of the population, yet they watch 27 percent of online videos, constitute 27 percent of visitors to social networking sites, own 33 percent of tablet devices, and use 39 percent of smartphones, according to a recent Mashable report.
In the print version of “Back to the Future,” the year is 2020 and a Generation C twenty-something is shopping for 4D printing. So-called four-dimensional print is an actual research initiative into programmable materials, such as self-folding proteins. Introduced by MIT in late February at the 2013 edition of the Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) conference, Skylar Tibbits, a lecturer in the architecture department and founder of the research university’s new Self-Assembly lab, said his “4D print” projects are designed to respond to energy and change over time. At TED, Tibbits showed off a collaboration with Stratasys and Autodesk to create strands made of multiple types of materials that, when dipped in water, fold themselves into pre-designed shapes. (Curious readers can view a video of what this looks like here.)
The pressing question for 4D and other print sellers is this, said Margie Dana, founder of Boston-based Print Buyers International (PBI) and a former buyer herself: How will the futuristic procurer shop her or his print jobs? Other questions loom as well, and the crystal ball is not so clear, but educated guesses prevail. How long will it be until Skype-like conferencing and Google+ video “hangout” meetings become the norm? Will business people in the not-too-distant future peer in from behind Google glasses and pay with Microsoft Wallets?
“How might members of Generation C prefer to do business with our industry?” she asked. “I’m hyper-sensitive to the next generation of workers in the job market” and how they communicate, added Dana, mother to an 18-year-old son who has shunned email as a passé form of communication. “And forget the phone!” she proclaimed. (My own college freshman daughter hasn’t checked her iPhone voicemail in two years, I think.)
“I wonder how customers will buy [print] seven years from now,” Dana pondered. “How will they buy anything? How will younger people vote and record their reviews in the near future? Will everything be online in 2020?”
They don’t know what they don’t know
The way in which printing services are bought has changed so much just in the past 36 months that many sellers wonder what it is that buyers want. Print reps are trying to come to terms with how their roles have changed and what printers/print service providers (PSPs) need to know to better serve this industry segment.
As the US printing industry has shrunk, print volumes have contracted as well, Dana pointed out. Whether peddling offset, digital, or both, print sales reps can no longer profile buyers because they can be so different. Pigeon-holing buyers used to be easy. “The profile of customers, especially corporate customers, is changing,” she agreed. “There certainly were not big, significant changes 10 years ago, and even five years ago it wasn’t as obvious [as it is now]. Technology is driving changes in business.” Likewise, print’s audience and customers are changing, added Dana. “The days of the print buying ‘specialist’ are numbered,” she proclaimed.