Oh, to be in England Now that Spring is Here

On the road to Ipex

When Robert Browning penned those words there probably wasn’t a volcano in Iceland spewing out smoke and ash. The economies of the world weren’t shuddering with every flutter of dollars, drachmas, euros and yen. And 50,000 people weren’t about to descend on Birmingham for Ipex, a largely Euro-centric, pint-size version of drupa that comes with warmer beer and (sigh) English food. But I do make an exception for fish and chips!

Whatever. This will be an interesting show. I’m headed across the pond with a focus on the big inkjet boxes that some claim will ultimately replace offset, and looking closely at some of the new developments in toner-based machines. I’m especially interested in what vendors are saying about how their high-volume, high-speed inkjet systems really fit in a world where print is in decline and mega-print runs are a fond memory. Cue the smoke, mirrors and FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Disinformation) storms.

All the big dogs will have news and stories to tell. Each sees market niches and segments that can be filled with its print engines and these companies are facing off to fight for their share of a shrinking pie. For now, there is still print volume for the taking—or at least rearranging. But the economics of these machines is critical. Not all the players—either sellers or buyers of the presses—will survive in their present form. And how this plays out is going to shape the industry for the next decade, and maybe longer.

One of the difficulties with these big boxes is that they have to spray ink on a lot of miles of paper each month to justify their existence. There are still ways to do this for at least some print providers, but it’s not clear just how long those volumes can be sustained in an age when print is not the only way of putting information into people’s hands. While I don’t expect to get much in the way of real-world answers, I still want to hear what the companies are saying. Not that it necessarily means a whole lot in the context of a fast-changing world and industry, but it’s fascinating to hear how these companies see the world, even as they try to change it to their liking.

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