The End of Printing?


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The End of Printing?

By Noel Ward, Editor@Large

There is no shortage of people claiming the days of print are over. They say we’ll soon be reading off screens, that only packaging will survive


There’s no denying that the number of print businesses is decreasing, as are run lengths and page counts but print is not dying. Seeing shorter run lengths, transactional and direct mail printers I know say they are looking for ways to bring other types of print into their businesses. This matches a finding by researcher Andrew Paparozzi that many print providers are looking for ways they can increase sales and cut costs, while growing revenue and profitability. It’s a time when knowing a few things may be useful.

Defense and offense
Printers are generally pretty smart people, so it’s important to note the paucity of print providers running for the exits, offering their companies at fire sale prices or otherwise panicking. Meanwhile, makers of digital presses are planning for a strong 2024 while offset press makers are making and selling smarter and more efficient presses. Yet even as overall demand shrinks there is plenty of room for print providers and purveyors of the associated equipment and software. Some business models will change but putting ink on paper is not going away any time soon because there is money to be made. The need for print will continue changing and you need to be ready. Printers who have adapted to changing demands are not complaining.

Stay on offense, not defense, suggests Paparozzi in a report sponsored by Canon. This is one message that came through in work from several researchers. Yes, the overall market is shrinking and your volume may not be what it once was, but bailing out is a reaction, not a strategy. Just as some transactional printers are pursuing direct mail, plenty of print businesses can do the same. If you already print some marketing material, for instance, it may not be a big leap to add direct mail or labels. Okay, labeling can get quite specialized but parts of it can be a good fit, especially if you already have an inkjet press on your floor. Talk with vendors, including ones who sell wide format printers.

The voice of the data
Having spent over a decade of my working life in market research I looked at some recent studies and called some lovers of print who still have the research monkey on their backs. Andy Young, of Treeline Research and Pat McGrew of the McGrew Group filled me in on what their research is telling them, providing different looks at the transactional print market. I also looked at data from organizations that watch the larger print market. All affirmed that while print will continue shrinking, it is not going to be displaced. Here's why.

Andy Young’s studies of digital print providers provided some insight into what banks, financial services firms, insurance, credit card companies and their respective customers— about 70% of all transactional mail—are thinking. Here’s a kicker: He found most major businesses have some type of print suppression strategy in the works playing out over the next 6–8 years, a process he dubs “dematerialization.” However, this is not an “off” switch for paper and there is time to adapt and provide a blend of print and electronic media. Furthermore, suppression applies to all types of printing, not just the transactional segment. “Where printed mail can be turned off will depend on industry and application, driven largely by regulations,” notes Andy. “It will not be an even process. Printers will need to be ‘digital first’ because customers are coming to expect digital services that enhance print. “Printers that do will survive—and thrive,” notes Andy.

Still, the cost side of print suppression looms larger than you may think. As Marco Boer, VP of I.T. Strategies notes, “Print is going to be a luxury item.” He means print could be like an S-Class AMG Mercedes, affordable for a few but a tad beyond the budget for many. Marco thinks the amount of plant closures and private equity behind paper production could elevate the price per sheet and make paper unaffordable. You have probably noticed how the cost of say, uncoated freesheet, has rocketed upward even as supply decreased. If Marco’s prediction proves accurate, printed pages could be a luxury item in about a decade. Interestingly, his timeframe is in line with Andy’s thinking that electronic delivery (at least of transactional documents) will be the norm by the early 2030s. If these timelines converge print will be a medium destined for only for companies’ most valuable customers.

Other parts of print demand are more pragmatic. Andy’s data showed that people want the option of having printed or digital pages. “Not having an option makes for unhappy customers,” he notes, citing that about four in ten members of Gen Z (people now entering their twenties) want the option of receiving transactional mail, saying it influences satisfaction with service providers. The question is how much can you charge for a printed document? Like the S-Class AMG Mercedes, it may depend on the customer. However, transactional print is at risk. “Direct mail has a business case, transactional does not. It’s overhead,” says Andy.

Synergy matters
Pat McGrew sees a different pattern. There’s M&A, consolidation and working smarter, but few transactional printers see print as the only way they can make money.” This may be one reason some transactional shops are adding direct mail to their offerings. After all, notes Pat, “They are making good money and see no reason to bite the hands that feed them.” In some cases they can add direct mail services for some customers.

Pat also notes that although print seems likely to be damaged by the internet, it is also well-positioned to succeed in a future by remaining a compelling means of conveying information when combined with electronic media. This tracks well with transactional and even direct mailers because these people excel at slicing, dicing and parsing data, then putting it in the hands of potential customers. It could be that “expensive” paper only goes to recipients predisposed to spend money while the rest of us get electronic offers.

We are already experiencing a basic form of this. For instance, doing your bit to support a local retailer you buy a product from a brick-and-mortar store, perhaps paying more than you would online. Then you Google up the best way of installing or using the product. This drives you to the website of the company that made the product you bought. Within minutes you get emails appearing to be from the retailer you visited and the company that made the product. This suppresses some print because it is faster and more personal but some people still whip out the plastic. Then a week later you receive printed direct mail offers for a product (not available in stores!) that supplements the one you purchased. Such synergies are helping drive the economy by doing things that print and electronic delivery cannot do on their own but do well together.

Finally, don’t do anything stupid
A few years back I visited a printer that was installing a two-story offset press. The rest of his iron was a mix of inkjet and toner digital machines from major players and his offset presses wore the logos of iconic firms. A few years later I talked with another printer who had watched this happen, waited, then bought the whole company for short money after it went belly up. Did the big press put too much of a wrinkle in the shop’s cashflow? Was the big machine a delusion of grandeur, a desire rooted in a different era, or a just a major brain cramp? I don’t know, but it was the end of that business.

That’s a pretty obvious failure, but another is being the first to buy new technology. Some digital printer vendors have a habit of rolling out machines that should have spent more time in beta testing. Instead, the new machine is placed with customers eager for the latest and greatest but don’t appreciate the real cost of the of downtime before the device delivers on its promise. Even if you have the pocket depth for the non-productive time, today’s market is not suited for the costs of less-than-expected productivity. Don’t be a testing ground for unproven technology. Wait before you pull the trigger.

The upshot of the findings of Andrew, Andy, Marco, and Pat is to look forward while working smart, forming alliances with companies that are seeking opportunities, and not dwelling on the past. Knowing your market, invest in large format or label-making machines that can add value to what you offer. Consider expanding your capabilities in digital printing and electronic delivery. Lead, don’t follow.

Print is not dying. It just needs your help to succeed.
digital anything can be hacked stolen and is a continuous power user every time it is viewed it will never be carbon neutral .

print has a one time carbon foot print. each time a printed item is viewed it's carbon footprint to view is cut in half each time. For instance 8 people view a printed item by then time the 8 viewer reads it the carbon viewership has dropped to 1/128 of its original or .00781% The viewership carbon footprint on screen is 8 times the original or an 800% increase in carbon foot print viewership. Electricity use is one and done
While printed paper is carbon sequestering, recycleable and renewable.


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