Over the last few weeks, I've read several reports on the state of the printing industry and the outlook for 2011. I’ve been surprised. Most of them project sales, especially in the direct marketing sector, to be up—not a lot, but still up. That’s a huge improvement over the last two or three years.
Most of the top corporations anticipate spending more on print this year. One of the reports even surmised that volumes would return to pre-recession levels because of pent-up demand.
There might even be some logic in this. The stock market is in good shape. Fortune 500 corporate profits are higher than they’ve ever been. The recession has made process improvement and efficiency tantamount.
We see a lot of that in the printing industry. The industry leaders, such as Quad and Consolidated, are acquiring firms and merging operations to keep a handle on costs, while looking at how to handle the predicted increase in demand. It looks like printing is successfully holding its own against the social media evil empire. Maybe we can return to the good old days of the past after all.
But let me take off my rose-colored glasses for a moment.
After I read those reports, I thought I’d talk to a few of my old printing clients. These firms ranged from about $2 to $15 million in annual sales—your basic range for the majority of commercial printing. Their client bases consist mainly of local and regional firms cut across a wide range of industries. They print collateral, as well as some direct marketing and even retail signage.
While we can sit back in our living rooms and read the latest NAPL report, we can’t help but see there’s an elephant blocking the view of our TV. And the elephant is the likes of the printers I called—printers like the majority of you that read my rants. But I don’t need to tell you that.
I didn’t hear about acquisitions. I did hear about plant closings, though.
I didn’t hear about hiring talent to gear up for the upturn. I heard about layoffs—layoffs of not just employees, but friends.
I heard a lot about losing business to Groupon, from the smaller firms. The “evil social media empire” hasn’t so much been kept at bay as one would think reading the trade publications. All this talk of customers preferring the printed piece seems to have been lost on the customers themselves.
The owners I talked to gave me the impression they’d just gone 10 rounds with Mike Tyson. And they can’t wait to get out of the ring.
This is our real print industry. It’s not the one that has public shareholders to report to. It’s not the one that’s always on the look out for the next company with an owner that’s hitting the late rounds.
The real industry is one where the owner’s son has a best friend whose father is out of work and worried about making his mortgage payment. The owners of the real print industry are worried about paying that college tuition for their kids they’d never thought they’d have to worry about. This the industry that doesn’t make the trade publications. They’re not necessary going out of business, but they can sure see it’s a possibility—voluntarily or not.
If you drive around your community, you’ll probably see a new coffee shop opening up. Or, you might see a new Walmart or Target store opening up. But, what you won’t see is a new printing company, although you might see a vacant building where one was a year or two ago.
Most of the news we read or watch discusses the economy in macro terms. GNP is up or down. Unemployment is at 8.8 or 8.9 percent. We might hear numbers for a given state, but for the most part, it’s all national; it’s all macro.
It’s looking at the forest from a mile up, and everything looks fine. The big trees stand tall. But what we don’t see is that there is no growth down below. None of the nourishing sun reaches the floor. None of this supposed up turn in the economy has reached Main Street. And, unfortunately, we live on Main Street.
But according to the reports, things are going to be fine again. Apparently, all we have to do is is be patient. Good times are just over the horizon.
Recently I read a couple posts here by Carl Gerhardt, with the most recent being Monday’s.
In his articles, Carl took the position that not all printers are set up to take advantage of the new communication world represented by social media, other online alternatives and 1:1 marketing. If you’ve read anything I’ve written over the last few months, you know my opinion on the necessity of change in our industry.
At first I wanted to post a Comment, but I decided to step back and look at things from the perspective of someone in the trenches—especially a smaller firm like those in the Carl’s Allegra Network.
I can only imagine that for a small printing company, adopting these new-age products and services must seem a daunting undertaking, if not outright insurmountable. To most owners of these firms, Facebook and Twitter are useless Internet things their children and grandchildren waste time on when they should be doing...well, anything else. And their opinion of Groupon isn’t much better.
Even if these owners saw merit in these new technologies, how to incorporate them in their workflow and revenue stream is another story completely. The time and effort just isn’t worth it. After all, things are going to get better aren’t they?
Let me ask you something. What did you do when you were teaching your daughter to ride a bike? What did you do after she fell down, scraped her knees and said she didn’t want to try anymore? I guarantee you didn't let her quit. You pushed her, and you helped her until she was successful. It was hard, but she worked her way through it.
What did you do when your son wanted to run for student council, but was afraid to get up in front of a group to give his campaign speech? I’m willing to bet you encouraged him, gave him the support he needed and told him he’d knock ’em dead.
Why is changing your printing company any different. Yea, it’s going to be hard—damn hard! Once the emotional momentum wears off, you’re going to want to go back to doing business the same way you have in the past. But you can’t. And you can’t turn back time. None of us are Michael J. Fox and have a DeLorean equipped with a flux capacitor.
Maybe your firm doesn’t have the talent to make this jump. Find it! You don’t have to load up your payroll either. I’m sure there are plenty of small Web or database firms more than happy to partner with you. Just because you’ve always been the lone wolf doesn’t mean you have to stay that way.
The first post I wrote for Printing Impressions was titled “the Alliance.”
It would do you good to go back and read it if you haven’t, or re-read if you have.
Our industry has reached a critical juncture. And I believe we have not seen the end of the carnage either. Printing will still be a viable business. It just won’t be a business like it was...no matter what you read.Check out more of my rants at my blog "On the Road to Your Perfect World." or follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg.