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WOA 50th ANNIVERSARY -- Web's Balancing Act

May 2002
By Mark Smith


As the Web Offset Association turns 50, there is much about the industry it serves worthy of note. To a degree, the process has really only just come into its own in terms of color, quality, ease of operation and turnaround.

Saying the industry has matured isn't necessarily an all-positive development, though, as any person who has celebrated the big 5-0 birthday probably will concede.

Even while we toast web offset's current vitality, there are growing concerns about the competitive potential of digital alternatives producing or replacing print. The recent economic malaise has heightened feelings of uncertainty about the future.

Facing up to challenges is nothing new for members of the web offset printing community, however. The industry's history of perseverance, adaptation and innovation is well documented by other articles in this WOA 50th anniversary tribute.

Today's industry leaders are again stepping up to the plate and preparing to address whatever curves the market may throw at them.

"This is the first time in my 40 years in the industry that I've seen our segment of the market hit by a 'recession' (whether it meets the formal definition or not)," reports Frank Stillo, chairman and CEO of Sandy Alexander in Clifton, NJ. "During previous U.S. recessions, our business improved—with increases in sales and profits. Companies seemed to spend more on advertising to increase market share or move surplus inventory," he explains.

"The commercial printing market has been in a recession since May 2001 and we are not planning for a recovery any time soon," Stillo notes.

Where Are We Headed?

Raymond Frick Jr., CEO an president of The Lehigh Press in Broadview, IL, agrees with Stillo on where the industry has been, but has a slightly different take on where it's headed.

"The years 2000 and 2001 were uniquely challenging, really almost anomaly years. What we are now hopefully coming out of was actually the most severe recession (or downturn) for printing—not since 1990 or '91—but in the 20-year span since 1981-82," he says.

"The emergence is going to be a process, not an event," Frick continues. "I see the recovery following more of a shallow dish, rather than a 'V' or hockey stick shape. We still have historic instability and unpredictability within the traditional printing markets.

"For Lehigh, I'm very bullish about 2002. It is going to be a bumpy ride, but we've had an excellent first quarter and we expect to surpass plan in Q2," he adds. "We will get back to a position of viability and health for the industry. I see material evidence indicating that will happen in the second half of this year and, as an industry, we should see real robustness in 2003. However, I don't think it will be a rising tide that carries all boats."
 

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