In fact, foreign printing operations geared to export work have leap-frogged many of the growing pains that U.S. printers encountered during their painful migration from an analog to digital workflow. No longer do they seek outdated and unproductive machinery on the used equipment market. PIA's Davis reports that Chinese printers imported 2,400 sheetfed presses and 540 web presses valued at more than $1.7 billion from 2001-2003. Asian markets, especially China, became the saving grace for many global equipment manufacturers during our recent recession as U.S. printers hunkered down and suspended their capital expenditure plans. An October 2004 PIA/GATF Print Market Survey revealed that nearly four-in-10 printers think their customers are seeking global sourcing for their printing needs. Almost one-in-three said they lost a job to a foreign competitor in the first nine months of 2004—with nearly half of those respondents indicating that the foreign competitor was a Chinese printing firm.
The Strategies for Management report does offer some advice for U.S. printers to combat foreign competition. Paramount is to get your own house in order in terms of cost efficiency, equipment utilization and value-added services. The deeper you can drill into clients' organizations and fulfill their individualized needs through more personalized, one-to-one services, the harder it becomes for them to "reinvest" in a new supplier relationship.
But, as Dr. Webb's offshore printing report emphasizes, electronic communications is still by far the biggest threat to the printing industry. "It's the economics of using print that are unfavorable, not the economics of producing print," the researcher contends. Above all, that is the issue needing our collective attention.
Mark T. Michelson