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McIlroy--Are We in Worse Shape Than Anyone Thinks?

January 2000
In the June 1999 issue of Printing Impressions, an editorial by Editor-in-Chief Mark Michelson notes that he is "more convinced than ever that print will not only be alive, but will prosper, in the next millennium and beyond."

While he concedes that "printing production will continue to evolve" and that "some product niches will be forever lost to electronic information dissemination," print will remain strong "because no other medium is as portable, flexible and widely accessible."

Editorials like these have been appearing amidst news reports that sales and profit numbers for most printers and publishers continue to be healthy. It's no longer fashionable to utter "print is dead." Instead, the cry has become "print is anything but dead," and "print will be with us for a long, long time."

Prepare for Impact
I've been writing about the impact of the Internet on the printing industry for several years now. I suspect my views were similar to most of yours—"Sure, the Web will have an impact, but the impact will be gradual and easily foreseen."

This past summer, I had lunch with Craig Cline, my colleague at Seybold Seminars, and with Apple Computer's Chris Gulker, who was (at the time) in charge of marketing to the printing and publishing industries (he has since moved on to an Internet startup). We talked about the problems the printing industry is facing in financing new capital equipment purchases and about the challenge of accurately assessing change in this era of rapid technological transformation.

It was then that I thought, "Gosh, what if the change has already started, and what if it's larger and more drastic than any of us had foreseen?"

Next month in Boston, during the Seybold Seminars program, we're going to explore this idea fully.

"The commercial printing industry is mature, fragmented and highly competitive, and is, therefore, characterized by narrow profit margins. In addition, printers face increasing demands from customers for tighter deadlines, better and more consistent color quality, shorter print runs and greater customization of print jobs."—Creo Products IPO Prospectus, May 1999.

Print sales have been strong throughout the '90s, in keeping with a robust economy. While sales have been strong, profitability has remained constant for the last decade and continues to average about 3 percent of sales—not a healthy margin (the 1999 record was only 3.36 percent).

As the printing industry moves into the next decade, printers face overcapacity, but an ongoing need to invest in new capital equipment to improve efficiency and quality is only likely to increase overcapacity along with pricing and profit pressures.

 

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