Where Will 2014 Take the Bindery?
Well, here we are again, with a fresh new calendar on the wall and lots to think about regarding the new year. We've been through many challenging years for print, and as finishing is an integral part, it's fair to ask where we're going, and where new opportunities may lie. So let's break out the old crystal ball and gaze...
1.) Hard Cover: Many pundits were ready to sign the death certificate for hard-cover books. Not so fast! An interesting series of recent articles on e-books came to some interesting conclusions. E-book sales have "peaked," accounting for about 25 percent of U.S. book sales. A far cry from the dominance once predicted. E-books have also not introduced lots of new interactive features, also predicted. The current wisdom is that e-books will become a complement to printed books. Hard-cover machinery manufacturers like Muller Martini are optimistic. They cite the adult trade and religious segments, along with some hard-cover production returning from overseas, and the photo book market, all continuing to grow.
2.) The Digital Transition: Inkjet printers are everywhere! There's no doubt that this has been the dominant high-production volume technology of the past five years. And it's been a key driver for finishing. These new presses approach the output capacity of some offset units, and have been a new and welcome opportunity for traditional bindery systems manufacturers. Right now, this is a significant market, with printer sales driving finishing systems. The magic question is, how long will this continue, and is there some sort of inherent "cap" on inkjet printer growth? Prediction is a notoriously unreliable game, and the predictions that exist in this area don't go beyond 2017. Both printers and equipment vendors can only pin their hopes on a long run for the digital print transition.
3.) Labels and Packaging: Now, here's a bright spot for both print and finishing. Consumer packaging and labels are still going strong. What's more, print and finishing technology have made it possible to produce extremely short runs of both cartons and labels. Frank Romano recently posted a video of a complete short-run label operation that took up the space of a small home office! From my point of view, the packaging segment is where most of the finishing innovation is taking place. The Web has enabled millions of small start-up companies to sell to a world-wide market. Products need to be packaged, and smaller firms don't need a million or so cartons or labels at one time. Packaging needs to be designed, printed, and finished in "on-demand" quantities with short turnarounds.
So, am I optimistic about 2014? You bet! The economy seems to be finally righting itself, and many companies have lots of cash that they will be finally willing to spend.
This augers well for both printers and print finishing in general.