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Gauging the Impact of Electronic Technologies on Print

April 30, 2012
As new technologies and innovations continue to impact communication tools and methods, one thing is very clear—the role of print is irrevocably changing. The tactile pleasures of paper—whether a book, newspaper or magazine—are diminishing, and in some cases gone forever. For those printed pages that offered beautiful output quality at the lowest cost per page, but were only printed in larger volumes than actually required, there is no happy ending.

NPES PRIMIR Electronic Replacement chart
[+] click to enlarge
Are electronic technologies to blame for the shift of content online and loss of page volume? Eight months, hundreds of hours of interviews, and weeks of in-depth analysis confirm that electronic technologies are indeed an enabler, but not the root cause of the decline in offset printed pages. These insights and more come from the recently released 2011 PRIMIR study, “Impact of Electronic Technologies on Print,” which examines 12 print applications ranging from annual reports and books to transactional printing (Figure 1).

In the new study, each application is rated for the impact of electronic technologies on print along with the business reasons behind any changes that have occurred. The report identifies six core reasons driving decline in page volumes, including the impacts of:
  1. Business model changes enabled by electronic technologies;
  2. New electronic advertising distribution channels;
  3. The recession;
  4. Regulatory changes;
  5. New electronic content distribution channels; and,
  6. Electronic output display technologies.

For the next three years no great adjustments are foreseen, however major changes are expected over the following 20 years. Since a five percent annual decline in page volumes leads to an almost 50 percent reduction in print over 10 years, all firms in the print value chain will have to alter their business infrastructure to scale down for less demand. They will also need to become more nimble and flexible to respond to rapid fluctuations in demand.

While the study uncovered the fundamental reasons of change and the reasons for impact on print volumes, it did not discover any solutions to those challenges. However, there has been much said about variable data printing, QR codes, key search words, packaging application opportunities, and even thoughts about printing RFID electronics directly onto paper.

Each of these specialties has value but they are not opportunities that will reverse any industry rightsizing for printing equipment and supplies manufacturers. Opportunities exist for individual companies and leaders, but not the entire industry. Basically the dilemma is that those who create content can easily change tools and move from printing tools to electronic content tools, however, printing equipment and supplies manufacturers cannot easily make new tools that allow for electronic communication needs.
 

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