|THE LIONS carefully targeted their prey. They stalked, they struck and then feasted on their successful enterprise. When they finished, the scramble for the leftovers began.
These images flashed through my mind in vivid detail as Vince Naselli, director of TrendWatch Graphic Arts, delivered his projections on the printing industry. No shock here for anyone who has been looking at future trends. Printing, overall, will grow slightly-but digital printing will grow significantly at the expense of the 40 sheetfed offset market.
The good news is that the traditional 40 sheetfed market isn't going away, at least any time soon. The bad news is that those solely dependent on this venue for their living will be scrambling for the remains. This is not a scenario for growth and profits. It is a struggle for survival.
While the current economic situation, at the moment, is a major contributor to the tough times, the economy will rebound eventually. But does that mean 40 cylinders will happily return to churning out profits? Not necessarily so and, as stated above, future projections paint a grimmer picture. Electronic media presents the most formidable challenge that print has faced since Gutenberg got us all into the act.
Fast, cost-efficient and easy, electronic media is gulping down more and more of our share of the communications or content pie. Just think about all those e-mails that are promoting insurance, or refinancing your mortgage, or something unmentionable in this column and then stop to realize this is stuff (most of it anyway) that we used to print. What's worse, instead of encouraging interested consumers to get the catalog, there's a link to their Website that has all of the current information coupled with interactive ordering.
Yes, print is still a viable content provider, but to compete with electronic media it must become faster, more cost-effective and better targeted. This means using the challenger, electronic media, to our advantage by starting with easy, intuitive customer Web submission that includes the job ticket. And that's just for starters because an automated workflow is a must for speed and cost efficiency.
Now add to the mix digital printing for fast turns and short runs. And then take this one step further by offering variable imaging or the term I like best: one-to-one marketing.
I am not advocating that you throw out your 40 press. Quite the contrary; the addition of these capabilities should increase your sheetfed business. What I am telling my fellow commercial printers is to become a lion. Unfortunately I see most heading down the scavenger path. So many close their eyes and don't want to explore new alternatives.
And I have heard the all too familiar reaction before. "What! Talk to companies like Xerox or HP; they're corporate copy center people or ink-jet printer manufacturers." I hear this from many commercial printers and it tells me that they're not paying attention. Not only do these companies represent what's happening, but they have a wealth of information and solutions to share with you. Commercial printers have to open their minds and start listening.
I participated in an 11-city tour recently, which was produced by Xerox. The one-day seminars featured a wealth of information delivered by industry experts, leading-edge printers, participating partner companies like Adobe, as well as Xerox personnel. Incidentally, one of the key people behind the tour was John Hamm, a Xerox vice president, who for 20 years was a commercial printer-so much for companies like Xerox not having print savvy personnel.
The tour drew good crowds, but few commercial printers-a group that really needed to be there. What was interesting was that the few commercial printers that did come seemed to get the most benefit and were among the most active in post-seminar questions and follow-up requests.
Xerox also did a shortened version of the seminars at Graph Expo, in which I also participated. My talk was about Adobe PDF Transit and the important role this product plays in making customer Web submission a reality, leading to a true automated Adobe PDF workflow complete with job ticket information. Adobe PDF Transit is a key component of Xerox's Web submission software solution. And as I stated above, this is a must in meeting the challenges the printing industry faces.
One of the highlights of the Xerox seminars during Graph Expo was Frank Romano's talk. Frank is held in such high regard that he has achieved a position of celebrity status and is always highly entertaining, as well as enlightening. He didn't let us down with his valuable insights into digital printing and one-to-one marketing. But, with all this vital information, too many commercial printers at Graph Expo-unable to break out of their comfort zone-dwelled in the familiar booths with the big iron. What a shame! What a waste of a valuable learning opportunity.
Incidentally, I had a real surprise at the show. While in the Xerox booth I went into a back area where they had coffee for Xerox personnel. As I poured my coffee I saw Anne Mulcahy, Xerox's CEO, standing next to me. Back in March I wrote a column stating that the future is with the ladies-Anne and Carly (HP's head). I started to mention it to her and she immediately knew what I was talking about. She had read it. At first, I was flattered that a CEO of a major corporation would read my prose.
But seeing her energy as she walked around many of the booths at Graph Expo, absorbing everything she could, convinced me that she was dead serious about her commitment to this business. The next morning, before the show opened, she gathered her personnel at the booth and gave a speech that Notre Dame's football coach would envy. She then made herself available to her people.
What does all this mean to the commercial printer? It means you should be paying attention to large, innovative companies with solutions for a dynamically changing industry-firms that may not be in the "good ol' boys network." Others are, and the future might find lions prowling your territory that aren't from the ranks of established commercial printers, reducing you to a scavenger fighting for the remains.
The next big show is Graphics of the Americas in Miami Beach at the end of January (not a bad place to be at that time of year). It promises to be a good one. Be sure to stop by the Printing Impressions booth at the show to pick up your latest issue.
In fact, the exhibition is important enough to feature a live radio broadcast right from the show floor. "Into Tomorrow," with Dave Graveline, will be talking about printing technologies with some of our industries finest. Included will be Mark Michelson, editor-in-chief of Printing Impressions, our industry's leading publication. "Into Tomorrow" is on every Sunday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. (eastern time) on affiliated stations around the country, worldwide on the Armed Forces Network and on the Web at www.graveline.com. Stay tuned.