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EDITOR'S notebook

August 2003
A Changing Landscape

As our industry gears up for the annual GRAPH EXPO and CONVERTING EXPO exhibition next month in the Windy City, it won't necessarily be business as usual. Printing companies across America—small shops all the way up to behemoths like Quebecor World—have been forced to lay off workers and close under-performing facilities. And, in response to many printers' hesitancies to invest in new equipment during these turbulent times, most industry suppliers have also downsized their manufacturing operations and their employee head counts. As painful as it might be, hard times, I guess, call for hard decisions.

Long-time contributor Roger Dickeson refers to it as a "productivity paradox" in his column on page 65. Printers strive earnestly to install new equipment and software to make their firms more productive. As a result, he says, those operations should need fewer hours of labor to produce that same amount of work. But printing company owners are hesitant to reduce their head counts, knowing that doing so disrupts careers and families, and lowers morale among those who survive the layoffs.

"We can't eliminate people as quickly as we can eliminate the need for people," adds Dickeson. "Funny, isn't it, how the whole scene changes when we look at people payments as defining 'capacity' rather than machine speeds?" He says a recent study revealed the top printers paid out 10 percent less of their manufactured value-added as people payments during the past 10 years.

If you buy into this logic, you can take it a step further. Perhaps the new challenge for tomorrow's successful printers will be how to move into, and staff, value-added services—like mailing (read some success stories on page 44) and fulfillment—while reducing employment levels within traditional areas of the plant. Nothing novel here . . . Remember the typesetters, strippers and camera operators printers used to employ—some making the transition to the electronic world and others unable to learn the new tools of the trade? And, despite endless rounds of head count reductions, don't most printers still complain about the trouble finding skilled and dependable workers?

Which gets me back to GRAPH EXPO and CONVERTING EXPO 2003. A theme you'll see throughout the show will be opportunities for printers to expand into value-added services that can, hopefully, help them command higher prices than their commodity, ink-on-paper output. So be sure to check out the new mailing and fulfillment exhibit area, as well as the wide-format ink-jet imaging and converting sections of the show floor.
 

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