The world is changing, and the key to survival is to change with it. The printing industry is no exception to this, having undergone seismic change over the past decade or so, which continues to present challenges to printers. From the research we have undertaken and the discussions I’ve had with industry representatives, the issues facing almost every printer, large or small, are generally the same around the world. These are well documented; declining volumes, overcapacity, commoditisation, pricing pressures, finance, as well as the ongoing competition and integration from the internet and other competitive communications channels.
Add to this the ongoing debate as to whether the global economy remains in recession or not and you might be forgiven for wanting to lie down in a darkened room. But, there are promising signs, especially in the economies of Asia, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, and there are also areas of growth in many areas of print. Sectors such as direct marketing, packaging and label printing and print logistics, for example, are all looking strong. According to the latest ‘Printing Outlook’ published quarterly by the British Printing industries Federation (BPIF), printers in the UK are reporting improved confidence and renewed optimism. Likewise, the Printing Industries of America (PIA) which represents print businesses across North America, Canada and Mexico are reporting generally stable print volumes. As Dr Ronnie Davis, Chief Economist at the PIA told us: “We are experiencing modest growth here in the US, albeit at a low level of about 2.5%, but there are definitely green shoots in certain areas of the industry.”
So, while there are undoubtedly challenges for all businesses to face up to, there is potential new business for companies willing to adapt. This coupled with a more optimistic economic outlook, and there are opportunities to be had for those willing to grasp them, a view firmly supported by Dr Davis. “You can’t bring back the market, but you can adapt to the new challenges and manage that change.”
There are certainly many examples of companies that have successfully adapted to the new market conditions. These progressive companies have evolved their businesses to tackle issues head on. In the process, they’ve often identified cost efficiencies as well as developing new strategies, be that investment in the latest technology or entering into new markets which have enabled them to tap in to potential new revenue streams.
Innovate to drive success
Innovation is central to any successful business, and being able to invest in the latest technology solutions is essential to continue to raise the bar in terms of efficient, cost-effective production while delivering the very best quality print and customer service. Kathy Woodward, Chief Executive Officer at the BPIF believes driving efficiency is crucial. “It’s the primary investment focus for almost three-quarters of respondents to our latest Printing Outlook survey, which shows that there is continued investment in kit, training and product and process improvement in our industry.”
Digital print and in particular, inkjet technology, is another key enabler for print businesses to respond to their customer’s increasing demands for shorter print runs, versioning and personalisation. Equally, the internet, once seen as the enemy of the printing industry, today has a vital part to play in a modern organisation. Every print business should be using the Internet to drive sales as well as market its services. In addition, web-to-print solutions are giving print businesses greater access to their customers as well as deliver a more efficient, streamlined and profitable business model.
Financing this new technology in the current economic climate has often been a barrier to companies wanting to invest in the latest equipment, with traditional methods of raising capital putting huge strains on a business. However, by approaching this from a completely different angle, can pay dividends. Some companies are now looking at financing their investment on a pay-for-usage basis in partnership with their equipment suppliers. At the end of the day, this arrangement works well for all stakeholders being a win-win for everyone involved; printers can make use of the latest technologies without a huge initial capital outlay; manufacturers can generate sales income that would otherwise not be possible; and customers get a much better range of services from their print provider.
But it’s not just about the technology alone, an opinion shared by Neil Falconer, industry consultant and organiser of the Ipex 2014 Masterclasses. Neil, who has first-hand experience of working with printers across five continents, told us “The real issue for printers is how to maximise the technology they have, be that offset, digital, wide format or hybrid solutions, instil a culture of change throughout the entire organisation, and have the right business model in place to drive the company forward.”
Kathy Woodward is also quick to recognise that it’s not just about investing in the latest equipment that holds the key to success, but strong leadership and responding to change. “Printing companies and the wider industry, are all working incredibly hard and creatively to develop the future of the printing industry.
Chairman of the BAPC (British Association of Print & Communication) Sidney Bobb, believes it’s all about developing a USP. “It’s vital that printers today can differentiate themselves from their competitors, be that through investment in new technology, the latest software, or by introducing new value-added services.” This is a trend that is being adopted throughout the developed world, where companies are moving away from the more traditional, single print offering and in to areas such as database management and integrated media services. These new services complement its traditional print-based operation, enabling them to enter into the more lucrative sectors of integrated marketing services.
This is a view also shared by Hagop Tchamkertenian, Economic Commentator and printing industry analyst based in Australia. According to Hagop, “The pivotal issue has been the failure of many print businesses to properly acknowledge their true role in the modern economy – that as an enabling communications solutions provider.” The concerted efforts of forward-thinking print businesses to develop new strategies and expand their reach, is paying off. In the US for example, the PIA has seen first-hand, that by adapting and evolving its offerings, members have successfully increased their businesses by anything from five to 20%.
The feedback I’ve gained from the international print community is certainly pointing to strategic planning, a sound business model, differentiation as well as strong leadership to innovate and drive change as being the fundamental requirements for printer to not only survive, but to thrive.
Ipex 2014 – To educate and inspire change
If print businesses can recognise the growth areas, and have a strength and leadership to move forward, there is definitely the potential for growth. Ipex 2014, which itself has had to adapt to the new industry, is therefore well placed to inspire and educate printers for the future. Not only as a showcase of the latest product enhancements and technology innovations, but also through a programme of seminars, workshops and master classes designed specifically to address current issues and equip printers with the tools needed to respond positively to the changing marketplace and ensure a long term, profitable future.
For more information on Ipex 2014, which takes place from 24-29th March at the ExCeL London, UK, visit www.ipex.org.