A Cautionary Tale
OUR BELOVED printing industry is forever wrestling with economic uncertainty, while simultaneously marching in the vanguard of one technological revolution after another. Small wonder, then, that users of so-called “conventional” offset technologies have grown particularly adept at the kind of strategic logrolling that is an essential survival skill in this “pushmi-pullyu” business environment.
In 2008, negative economic variables like the housing glut, the mortgage credit crisis, rising oil prices and a looming recession, along with print-positive developments like election-year spending, will have their respective down and up pressures on the offset sector. With the 2008 edition of the annual Offset and Beyond conference slated to kick off in April, Printing Impressions asked a number of leading experts to comment on the challenges affecting the U.S. offset sector’s short- and long-term growth potential.
Print has been decoupled from the nation’s GDP for a few years now, a trend that probably doesn’t bode well for the industry. “At best, we’re entering a period of slow growth and stagnation. At worst, a recession of some duration. To the extent there’s an association,” predicts independent consultant John Zarwan, “the worst is yet to come.” In the face of an already challenging environment, “this trend will be an additional burden a lot of printers will have to carry,” he adds. “You already have ostensibly well-run companies going out of business.”
As a result, warns Bill McLauchlan, senior technical consultant of web press operations for PIA/GATF, “medium- and large-sized printers will be extremely cautious with their businesses in the coming year. The small-sized printer will find it tough going, due to competition.”
Should the country fall into outright recession, adds Richard Holliday of 3P Inc., offset’s ongoing loss of market share to VDP or masterless digital printing could be further eroded by sheer economics, despite its inherent quality advantages. In the longer term, however, “offset should grow with the economy (in line with) increasing economic freedom and development in overseas markets,” Holliday believes.