THE WORLD of commercial printing is still quite a big nut. Even with the growing threat of outsourced print and other traditional ink-on-paper products migrating to digital land, there are enough emerging applications to keep most printers fat and happy.

Operative term of the day: Most printers.

There is, however, a contradiction of terms floating about our grand industry that may never be reconciled—after all, it has lasted for quite a while. Some say we are in an era of specialization that plays into the hands of niche players, those who excel in a market segment that is not being fully addressed on a local or regional level.

Others will contend that, in an environment where commodity pricing is wreaking havoc on general commercial printers, it is more important than ever to add as many ancillary services as possible to become a one-stop shop for clients who are increasingly seeking to reduce their core of vendors.

In reality, there’s more than enough room—and need—for both. For now. What about the future? What happens when someone replicates the online VistaPrint model (see cover story) and modifies it to address more mainstream printing applications besides business cards, postcards and brochures?

And what of the future generations of print buyers who have been weaned on the Internet? How will they shop for a print vendor; will long-term buyer/vendor relationships mean anything to them?

“We’re in an era of specialization,” contends Dennis Mason, president of Mason Consulting in Western Springs, IL. “The economics of certain kinds of printing make for specialization. Like a Quad plant that’s set up to knock out Newsweek and Time. Clearly, that’s a specialization, and when that kind of plant is in place, nobody can touch it from an economics standpoint.

Building Relationships

“There’s also a place for printers who produce lots of different things—brochures, calling cards, whatever—and their cost structure is such that they won’t be able to compete on a cost basis with people like VistaPrint for a calling card,” he continues. “By the same token, they’re still going to garner some business because of their relationships. As I see it, these general purpose shops are not going to offer the best prices, but they’ll still do business because of factors like location and relationships.”

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