Go EAST Young Bindroid!
It's no secret that the printing industry in the United States has contracted over the past 10 years. This has created challenges not only for printers themselves, but for the vast array of suppliers and manufacturers to the print industry.
So it was an eye-opener reading several reports on the state of the Chinese print industry over the last two weeks. While U.S. printers (all establishments) have condensed down to around 34,000 shops, China boasts over 102,000 printers. More impressive, their printing industry employs over 3.5 MILLION people!
This all makes sense when you're catering to a population of a billion plus citizens. I have a friend of mine who prints packaging material in China. When I asked him how many employees were at his largest printer, the answer was 12,000. Considering that RR Donnelley, our largest printer employs 58,000 in dozens of plants, this is pretty impressive.
The end-result of the size of print in China is high growth for print machinery suppliers. For example, we have some dealings with the JMD Machinery Group in Shenzhen. JMD builds a very wide variety of perfect binders, Smyth sewing machines and buckle folders. We actually shared a booth with this firm during last years' drupa. Demand has been so great that JMD builds and sells around five systems per week, or 250 machines a year. A sales rate that many U.S. or EU bindery manufacturers would envy.
And JMD is not unusual. The China Print section at drupa hosted a wide variety of manufacturers building almost every type of finishing machinery. Many of us would think that these Chinese machines would not be up to engineering standards of the West. We would be wrong. As they have demonstrated in almost every industry, the Chinese are exceptional learners and builders. Whether a Chinese-made stitcher, folder, or binder is up to German standards is open for debate. But these systems have lots of the same technology that we're used to. And...the price difference is substantial. A friend of mine who works for a large yearbook printer once told me that a small Chinese perfect binder he had purchased was the best machine he had ever bought for the application. Better yet, he could afford to buy TWO of these machines for the price of one of the more established brands.
Almost every EU manufacturer has a plant in China, with Heidelberg being a prime example. But MBO is there also. What they are building is designed for this very large domestic market. It would be fair to say that the combined China-India-Asia print market is now the largest in the world. But the EU firms don't have an easy ride. There are hundreds of local Chinese manufacturers (like JMD) competing fiercely for the business. Still, the bindery is alive and well. It's just that much of it is now in China.