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EDITOR'S notebook

January 2005
Predictions for 2005 And Other Ramblings

The September 11th tragedy and the growing insurgency following the U.S. invasion of Iraq have reinforced, in no uncertain terms, how difficult it is to predict the future. And while we as a collective industry cannot control world events or the state of our overall economy, I do have a few predictions about what will be in store for us in the new year.

Obviously, don't expect pricing pressure to wane in 2005.

There still will be further industry consolidation, with those weak, underperforming shops driving down prices for everyone as they grapple to keep work—albeit unprofitable—coming in before they're forced to turn off the lights for good. It's easy to see the ridiculousness in the old adage about how some printers think they can make up for their weak margins through higher volumes of jobs.

By the same token, though, I don't think there's any magic elixir that separates profit leaders from the profit challenged. Rather, it is the relentless pursuit of the little things that separate well-managed, profitable enterprises from their weaker brethren. If print has become a commodity, as many now argue, successful companies are simply better run companies. They market aggressively and have reinvented themselves as communications providers rather than just printers; they provide customers with more creative solutions and they don't miss promised deadlines—in essence they make it easier for buyers to do business with them.

Success also means developing a business plan and communicating that mission company-wide. It means constantly striving to become a more integral part of your customers' businesses, often by providing more added value in the buyer-supplier relationship. This can range from on-demand digital printing to support your traditional offset work, to mailing and fulfillment, Website hosting and other non-print services. And it means adopting the most productive equipment available while, at the same time, fostering a best practices culture that takes full advantage of high throughput coupled with quick turnarounds. Leaders realize that new technologies are meaningless without the pursuit of process automation.

Look for more mega-deals, as well as mergers of equals on a regional basis.

Last year ended with the acquisition of prepress and creative design house Seven Worldwide (formerly Applied Graphics Technologies) by Schawk Inc. for $191 million in cash and stock. Although there can't be a transaction the magnitude of Donnelley's 2004 coupling with Moore Wallace, look for at least one blockbuster deal in 2005 that pairs household names or sees an industry giant (Quebecor World, perhaps?) sell off some of its print assets.
 

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