Veteran Industry Journalist Gareth Ward Reflects on the 'Future of Print' and drupa 2016
CHICAGO—June 18, 2015—Gareth Ward first visited drupa in 1986 and has been writing about print ever since. During this time he has visited print companies across the world and interviewed leaders of most industry suppliers as editor of Printing World magazine. Today he edits and publishes Print Business both as a magazine and Website. It helps printers navigate the changing communications landscape by discussing the technology and the successful businesses that have adapted to the new ways of working. Gareth is also a popular speaker and moderator at industry events around the world and writes guest columns for magazines and blogs.
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Consumerism, an increase in global populations, the effects of the Internet and e-commerce all of these developments are impacting our world, changing forecasts for the future and having a huge impact on the evolution and survival of print.
Consumers are reaching out to purchase the latest products in consumables, pharmaceuticals and decoration. The drive for goods with desirability, branding and quality is impacting the industrial, packaging and print industries.
The upsurge in interest in 3-D printing, printed electronics, RFID, coding and mobile applications is taking the concept of communication into a new space. Here, Gareth Ward offers his view on the future of print. According to Gareth we need to embrace the trends and all the developments affecting our world. We also need to face the challenges and use our creativity. The future of print is here today—we can touch and grasp it with both hands at drupa 2016!
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Smarter print to market
The successful printer of the future will deliver customers a full service offering that extends well beyond printing and finishing. The exact mix of digital communications, value added print, data manipulation and logistics will depend on the customer base and how the printer positions himself, or perhaps how he forms partnerships with others with expertise in these areas. But what is going to make print a successful communications medium in the next decade is already clear: print has to be relevant.
This was not necessary when print was the prime channel for advertising, information, communication with government and so on. Much of this mundane printing has transferred to digital and will never come back, but print is not shrinking. It is evolving into something smarter, more versatile and above all more relevant to those who receive it.
If a printer is not part of this development, the only option is to sell print services as cheaply as possible and this is no way to build for the future nor to create enduring partnerships with customers. Unfortunately there are many printers that lead with price and face the same inevitable fate as the wooly mammoth: extinction.
IT drives print relevance
Tomorrow's printer must become as comfortable with IT as he is with offset litho. That can stretch from operating a Website to harvest jobs, to creating automated workflows that minimize touch points where errors can be introduced, using management systems - MIS to record and present up to the minute details of how a company is performing through to data handling to create personalized communications for customers to talk to their customers in the most relevant way. If that means using social media alongside print, the new print house has to deliver.
The problem here is that printers continue to prefer to invest in a new printing press rather than in IT. It is as if the press is tangible and understandable. If it runs at 18,000 sheets/hr. (and machines at drupa 2016 are likely to hit 20,000 sheets/hr.) this is 20-30 percent faster than their current machine, so must make sense. But few give due thought to how jobs are to be processed either before reaching the press, or once printed. Across the globe, print runs are falling and time allotted is shrinking. A faster press magnifies the problem of handling more jobs in less time without introducing errors. In addition, too few consider training for their staff to be an investment rather than an imposition.
The first drupa "Global Insights Report" published in October 2014 highlighted this: "Only 23 percent of the drupa expert panel report an increase in IT spend in the last five years, and virtually all decision makers stated a lack of IT specialists. This is a major challenge for printers," explained Sabine Geldermann, director of drupa 2016. IT knowledge is key for automation at the process level. Those supplying software to the industry take it as read that JDF compliance is essential. Workflows have to become more sophisticated. Producing an eight-page section on standard paper is simple, but tomorrow's customers will want something far more than this. They will want their printed products to stand out, to have the impact to cut through the thousands of marketing messages that are received each day.
drupa President and CEO of KBA Claus Bolza-Schünemann predicted that "some years from now there will be fewer printing companies but they will be larger and more industrial with a broad service range. In the commercial sector printers will turn into marketing service providers for print and online services."
"The connection between print, online and mobile activities will grow stronger," he concluded.
The transition is in its infancy. A well known commentator on advertising and the internet pointed out last year that consumers spend vast amounts of time with their smartphones, but these only take a small proportion of the overall marketing spend, whereas the fast shrinking newspaper sector receives a disproportionate amount of advertising spend. One must shrink its share while the other one grows unless the newspaper becomes more relevant to its reader. This means hyper local sections, printed digitally with targeted advertising.
Revalidating print in a digital world
The same can be noticed in magazines where the mass circulation titles that used to be printed gravure are losing circulation while magazines that focus on the special interests of readers remain healthier. There will be fluctuations across national boundaries and as fashions change, but the magazines that focus on this sort of reader will not be displaced by digital delivery of content because reading a magazine is so much more than the information presented.
A decade ago it was predicted that with the growth of the internet, video on demand and the ability to interact with Websites, fashion magazines must disappear because Websites can show clothes being worn, have links to prices and instant ordering. But fashion magazines are stronger than ever because possession of Vogue makes a statement about the women carrying it. Online fashion Websites like ASOS and Pret-a-porter have launched printed magazines because of this phenomenon.
The doomsayers who predicted the same fate for catalogues have also been thwarted by human nature. We like to browse a catalogue or holiday brochure. They spark our imagination in a way that digital fails to do. And retailers that either exist only online or dropped their print catalogues are returning to print to remind customers to visit their Websites to complete a purchase. If online shopping is going to grow, (though it remains only a relatively small share of consumer spending even in the industrialized countries) more and more print is going to be needed.
But it is not going to be the same sort of print as of old. Why send someone who always takes a vacation in Mexico details of holidays in Canada for example? Instead the holiday company, with the help of the printer, can tailor a brochure that features the best hotels and resorts in Mexico. It will be a smaller publication with a shorter production run, but production standards can be higher in terms of print, paper and personalization.
The printer must be ready to deliver this to his customers. It means investment in technology that can cope with shorter print runs. It means the ability to print on uncoated papers, which are popular because of their tactile qualities, and this can be addressed through the new UV technologies that are spreading through the industry. It means being able to enhance the printed product using varnish, foils, raised print effects, diecutting and other processes that enhance the value of the printed product and make it more exciting and engaging to the consumer.
This can involve the inclusion of printed electronic circuitry to turn a printed page in a book or magazine into a loudspeaker to tell a story, the dashboard of a car which comes alive when various buttons and switches are activated, a printed label which can light up when a sensor detects movement.
Embedded codes within the printed page are scannable by smartphones to unlock digital information for the consumer, perhaps an offer to be redeemed in a certain store or restaurant, while providing the company making the offer with information about who has scanned the code, where and when. The printed poster or advertisement acquires a measurable value because it proved to be relevant to that consumer at that time.
The sorts of high quality print and finishing effects that sell the premium bottles of spirits are finding their way to other types of packaging, especially as the movement for artisan produced goods gathers pace. While overall volumes are small, the value of the printed pack is that much more important. And the printer can have far more influence on the quality than the company working for global brands with extensive product marketing teams forcing printers to toe the line.
However, even these global companies must become more flexible in order to match society's craving for innovation and novelty. It means that printed packaging becomes a major marketing tool, consider the impact that Share a Coke has had for example. The printer must be able to help cut the time to market for new products, either through automated workflows or perhaps by also taking on prototype creation using 3D printing technology.
There is room too for using the new inkjet technologies by printing directly to the bottle or package itself, what is called direct to shape printing. The printing system becomes part of the bottling or packing line and rather than printing and delivering labels, the print company's task becomes managing this new technology and establishing a new workflow.
It is going to require a whole new approach to marketing what a printer is and can do, and this is very much unknown territory for many print service providers. The exceptions are the online printers that have grown rapidly in recent years, sweeping away swathes of small print businesses as they have done so. But even these rarely lead on price; they are selling convenience and ease of access and that is down to constant marketing and sponsorship to raise brand awareness.
Increasing the value
Printers should focus on benefits such as personal service, same day printing, wide choice of substrates, design, fulfillment and so on. Even this requires marketing skills that need to be developed.
The answer will be different depending on the printing company, according Claus Bolza-Schünemann. "Every printing house knows its customers and its strengths best," he said. "Therefore, it is of little help to simply copy the recipe for success of others. If every company offered the same this would automatically lead to over abundance in the market with the familiar consequences."
"Large trade fairs, such as drupa, offer good opportunities to find out more about new technologies and future-focused business models and the appropriate path for a company," said Claus Bolza-Schünemann.
Alon Bar-Shany, vice president and general manager of HP Indigo, agreed. "There is pressure to commoditize, options for lower quality and lower pricing, but that would spell disaster for the industry. The opportunity is for less pages but higher value ones."
"Printers need first to acknowledge change and then embrace it," remarked Alon Bar-Shany. "The industry needs to evangelize the inherent beauty and effectiveness of print in a digital world."
Printing will remain at the heart of it, but printers must become like project managers, shepherding the different aspects of the communication chain to achieve the result that the customers want, reaching a measurable return on investment. The focus on reducing overheads in the end to end supply chain has already transformed how books are printed and distributed; digital printing is starting to eat into packaging for the same reason. It is not the cost of producing an individual carton or label that is important, it is the overall cost of wasted materials and time in the supply chain that is important. Printers need to expand their thinking beyond the creation of the box.
For those companies that can do this, that become engaged with their customers and work together to find solutions that embrace print at some level, the future is bright.
"Print can still create emotions and print lasts, preserving moments and memories," commented Alon Bar-Shany.
Print is no longer the dumb sheet of paper that is recycled in moments. The smart printers are discovering this. Value now is a function not of scarcity but of relevance.
drupa 2016 like all drupa exhibitions before it, will be a barometer for the printing industry. Large trade fairs such as drupa offer the best possibilities to find out about new technologies and future focused business models. Never before has this been so important. The radical changes brought about by the internet, global demographics and macroeconomics are forcing printers to reassess company performance and review marketing based business models, database management, MIS systems, online communications and above all IT education.
There are now fewer print companies surviving, many swept away by online printers offering convenience and ease of access. The remaining print companies have to acknowledge change and embrace it. The successful printers of the future will have to become more like project managers and bring added value to a mix of services. The key to making print a successful communications medium in the next decade is already clear. Print has to be relevant!
Print for newspapers will live on but will become more relevant to the reader with hyper local sections, printed digitally with targeted advertising. Short-run, high quality holiday brochures and catalogues will also survive as personalization and tactility using varnishes and foils meets consumer demand. Fashion magazine publishers have turned back to print as they witness a phenomenal trend and desire by the consumer for hard copy which gives them an identity statement. We are also seeing the uptake of printed electronic circuitry and embedded codes which open up a world of possibilities for packaging and label printers and brand owners to market their products.
The connection between print, online and mobile activities will grow stronger but the industry needs to evangelize the inherent beauty and effectiveness of print in a digital world and deliver a more rounded service offering which extends well beyond printing and finishing. As Alon Bar-Shany, vice president at HP Indigo, says, "Print can still create emotions and print lasts, preserving moments and memories."