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Digital ‘Tipping Points’ for Print Applications?

September 14, 2010
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Since 1993 when Indigo first introduced their digital press, the printing industry has debated the merits of the technology, which markets it would best serve, which applications would eventually go all digital, and when we would see the demise of conventional printing as we know it. Here it is 17 years later and the sky still hasn’t fallen in—at least not due to this new technology. So PRIMIR members asked the folks at IT Strategies to investigate this marketplace and provide some insights into why the much anticipated tipping point hasn’t occurred, when it might, and where opportunities exist today.

The key objective of the "PRIMIR Megatrends in Digital Printing Applications" study was straightforward: evaluate major print applications and determine which (if any) will migrate from analog to digital production printing, when and why?

Over the course of eight months, IT Strategies conducted extensive research with experts, printers and customers via e-mail surveys and personal interviews—in all, over 900 respondents. The study focused on 12 applications: books, catalogs, direct mail, labels, magazines, manuals, marketing collateral, newspapers, packaging (folding cartons & flexible), and specialty printing such as calendars, photo books, etc.). The research was limited exclusively to production printing, excluding any equipment under $50,000 in acquisition cost akin to desktop printers and copier/MFP devices. Using equivalent letter-size simplex impressions/pages as the lowest common denominator, this study quantifies the page volume and rate of transition from analog to digital production printing for each application.

Tipping point = unstoppable momentum.
A surprise finding of the research: few of the studied 12 applications will tip within the time period of the study (by 2014), some have momentum to possibly tip by 2020 or later, but the tipping point for most of the applications is decades away, if at all.

However, digital printing has made some serious inroads in the non-publishing related applications, especially where there is opportunity to add value through complex variable-data content. Book printing, however, is the one publishing application that has embraced digital printing and will continue to see positive growth.

According to Marco Boer, vice president, IT Strategies, and principal researcher on this study, “A more important finding is that the analog production page volume is shrinking independent of digital production print volume growth. In fact, while digital production printing in North America is forecast for a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 11.5% thru 2014, it is from a very small overall volume base (22 billion in 2009 to 33 billion pages in 2014). Despite the relatively small volume, the value of those North American pages, including valueadded services is much higher than analog. Analog printing will see a negative CAGR (-5%) for the same period. Digital production printing would have to grow about 200% per year to even approach an overall market tipping point.” (Figure 1)
 

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