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Making Your (Lack of?) Business My Business

March 2003
Nobody likes it when an outsider tells them how they should be running their company—let alone a magazine editor who has never managed, or even worked for, a printing establishment. But wait. Having covered this industry since 1982, my life—and livelihood—revolves around printing. No Printing Impressions, no job. No income, no roof over my head nor hopes for a comfortable retirement some day. So, your pain truly is my pain, too.

I've also been chastised in recent times by some that I'm overly optimistic about the fate of printing. Accusing me of calling print a sunrise, not sunset, industry. Haranguing me for ignoring the impact of electronic media on the printed word. And ridiculing my belief that our industry will come back, albeit in a different form.

I do agree with them wholeheartedly that it's not business as usual any more. Savvy printers realize they're total communications providers, not just purveyors of ink-on-paper services. I also go along with the argument that there is too much press capacity, especially in the sheetfed offset arena, chasing too few profitable print jobs. And, yes, like the sometimes cruel laws of nature, the herd of U.S. printers will be thinned. Ailing and undernourished companies will continue to fall by the wayside, creating better opportunities for their more healthy and nimble competitors.

But what makes a company strong? Is it a clear vision from management, a customer-driven work force, being a low-cost provider or enhancing sales by diversifying into new, value-added services? I would argue it's a difficult tap dance of combining all of the above.

The recently released "2002-2003 State-of-the-Industry Report," compiled by NAPL Chief Economist Andrew Paparozzi, seems to agree. And, since having strong leadership at the helm, committed employees and an efficient workflow that can turn around jobs quickly are a given when it comes to success, let's examine the critical importance of diversification more closely.

Diversification is more than just a big opportunity, the NAPL report reveals. "As the essential step in our transition from providers of commodities to providers of communications solutions, it defines our industry's future. But diversification is no more a sure thing for printers than consolidation and e-commerce were," the study stresses. "And we are sure to lose if our enthusiasm and urgency to pursue high-growth, value-added markets leads to neglect of the core preparatory, press and finishing services that are still a big part of the communications mix. We have to diversify by complementing print, and we have to base our diversification on rigorous cost-benefit analysis."
 

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