2011 Is Looking Like a Good Year…or Is It?

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.

Clay's recruiting and strategic consulting efforts over the past 20 years have provided firms in the printing and communications industries the talent and perspective that has enabled them to navigate the constant change they’ve faced. His current company, the bleedingEDGE, provides digital printing firms with 1:1 marketing solutions that enable their small- and medium-sized clients to compete with larger competitors using a cooperative strategy and production model. In addition to the normal 1:1 marketing techniques of personalization and customization, the bleedingEDGE incorporates timing strategies, generational analysis and sociological factors in producing results well above the norm.
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  • http://MichelleBracali Michelle Bracali

    Well said, Clay.
    Thanks for having the guts to write an honest piece. You’re absolutely right. We know we need to come up with new product offerings and solutions. As an industry, it seems like most of us don’t have any real answers….yet.

    Oh sure, things like QR codes are great but, let’s face it, they’re easy to reproduce and readily available for anyone to go online and create themselves. To my best knowledge, so far the industry has been unable to develop enough concrete ideas that will truly help printers combat declining revenues. (And, If I’m wrong about that, please set me straight…I’d love to hear about it.)

    I think we need to be more honest with ourselves and perhaps do more idea sharing with other (non) competitor printers. Personally, I’d love to see Printing Impressions create a forum for mastermind groups to accomplish just that. Or, anything that will help to create more of an authentic dialogue about the state of our industry and thus begin to work on improving it.


  • http://ClayForsberg Clay Forsberg

    Great comment Michelle – and not just because you agreed with me. Your idea of a thought clearinghouse via Printing Impressions could be very productive. I’ll bring it up with the publisher. And it’s not just about new types of products (i.e. internet or QR codes), but maybe even repackaging old products.

    For example, whatever happened to the annual report niche. An annual report perfectly exemplifies what’s great about printing. It’s a perfect corporate self promotion piece – one that has staying power as coffee table piece. But it has to be packaged that way, and presented that way.

    This post is not meant to paint a “doom and gloom” scenario. It’s all challenge to the industry to reinvent itself again as a premier purveyor of communication. The print industry has the resources and tools to do this. It’s just figuring out which ones to use for what purpose. Again, it’s all about accepting change as an opportunity … not as the grim reaper.

  • http://Kelly Kelly

    Clay and Michelle
    I love the forum idea, too – let’s hope PI will embrace that. Or, how can we encourage this kind of dialogue sharing in other venues? LinkedIn, webinars?

    All great points and thanks for speaking your truth!

  • http://MichelleBracali Michelle Bracali

    Thanks, Clay, for bringing up with the publisher the idea of a master mind group within PI.

    I love your comment about the annual reports and the seemingly lost art of the presentation/coffee table piece. Ironically enough, I spoke recently with an individual who works for Wired Magazine. She said the magazine is still very much committed to print but down the road could foresee the print edition becoming more of a premium piece or “show piece” – exactly what you’re talking about.

    Here’s the rub – my company produces one color, information based/technical catalogs. They’re catalogs used for B2B. We are very niche driven – we specialize in this type of printing for a few, select industries. So far, so good – right? Well, the volume for this type of printing is rapidly decreasing due to online catalog look up systems. How in the heck do we fight that? I guess the answer is – we can’t.

    We have expanded into heatset printing and are exploring new markets for that press – with a modest degree of success. However, competition is so fierce (as with most printing nowadays), that we find it very hard to compete with other printers who have produced 4/c printing for years and have squeezed out all known efficiencies. Profit margins (if there are any in a particular job) are razor thin. Sometimes, with the margins needed to competitively win a job, it’s not worth it to print a project – it will cost more to produce than what the billing is worth.

    Now, it probably sounds like I’m whining at this point, (and maybe I am – a little…lol) but the good news is we’re still doing okay with our core work – the one color catalogs. Albeit, the volume is rapidly declining. At this point, we’re also entertaining ideas of manufacturing other, non-print products, to compensate for the (longer) down times we’re facing.

    I am curious to know if other printers have or are starting to do the same. That is, continuing to print but also beginning to manufacture other things to supplement billing and growth?

  • Debbie E. Smith

    Yes it is true that there are already a lot of printing enterprises today. There are many people who entered this field of business as they know how in demand printing is nowadays. A lot of ads are computerized and most of them need to be printed. I’ve been into printing industry several years from now. I started as an employee and now I already have my own business. I am still adjusting right now to the modern trends of printing and I am striving to meet the standards of my strong competitors.