Why Commercial Printing Is Experiencing Convergence, Not Just Diversification
One trend I’ve witnessed during the 37-plus years I’ve been covering the commercial printing industry is the innate ability of commercial printers to evolve, often in lockstep, with ongoing technological advancements. Platesetters largely replaced offset platemakers. Desktop publishing eliminated the need for typesetting businesses. In-house prepress departments made prepress service bureaus irrelevant. And, now, digital inkjet and toner-based printing are better suited for a multitude of jobs that were historically output on lithographic printing presses.
Commercial printers have also diversified their products and services over the years to become more one-stop shops for their customer bases. This has included adding value-added services like graphic design, Web-to-print and online storefront capabilities, database management, mailing, fulfillment, wide-format signage, and the resale of promotional products, just to name a few. This ongoing diversification, however, typically aligned with and complemented existing services and customer bases.
But, just as the cost and high output volumes of web offset presses once protected printers with those capabilities from new competitors, digital toner and inkjet technologies are enabling commercial shops to enter completely new markets — and making one’s existing offerings more accessible to new competitors.
Digital Technologies Drive Convergence
In other words, digital printing technologies have leveled the playing field, and are democratizing and breaking down the barriers that once existed between various types of printing operations and market segments. As a result, markets are converging, enabling all types of printers to acquire relatively lower cost digital output devices and finishing equipment in order to offer services and products well beyond their traditional scope.
That’s why today’s convergence phenomenon is markedly different from the diversification we’ve long experienced. And, for commercial printers, especially — who have battled commoditization of many existing products and services — convergence trends are creating new opportunities to explore, dissect, and ultimately embrace higher-margin market opportunities that are well-suited toward both existing and new customer bases.
For example, commercial printers have been adding wide-format printers to produce signage and graphics for some time now. They’re also expanding into packaging — both for digitally printed prototypes and short runs, as well as for longer run offset jobs. And commercial shops are even beginning to explore dye-sublimation technologies for digital printing on garments/apparel, textiles, and soft signage.
A perfect real-life example is Cypress, Calif.-based D’Andrea Visual Communications (also read: ""Diverse Product Mix Meets Complex Campaign Needs"), which is opening a second facility in Las Vegas. Initially, a traditional commercial shop, CEO David D’Andrea has led its evolution into grand-format and dye-sub printing and metal fabrication for trade show and retail customers, as well as high-end specialty packaging.
A Specialty Graphic Imaging Association (SGIA) “Quarterly Industry Benchmarking Report” (see graphic above) conducted for Q2 2019, which was overseen by well-known SGIA Chief Economist Andy Paparozzi, bears out this convergence market dynamic.
In each of the printing industry segments investigated (commercial printers, graphic and sign producers, apparel decorators, and functional printers), survey data showed, to varying degrees, companies do not restrict themselves to their primary segments.
The proportion of printers who identified themselves as serving at least two industry segments ranged from 31.9% (apparel decorators) to 63.3% (commercial printers). According to the data, additional segments may bring in nearly one-quarter of revenue, as seen with commercial printers, for whom graphics and signage production contributed 22.3% of revenue, on average.
PRINTING United: Building a Community
This ongoing challenge for printers to maintain and grow their businesses in the face of new and competing technologies, new competitors, changing market dynamics, and shifting customer demands, is what led SGIA and NAPCO Media LLC to create PRINTING United, a new trade show and educational event that will be held Oct. 23-25 at the Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas (visit PRINTINGUnited.com for more info).
Its objective is to bring together all segments of the printing industry — from garment and graphic, packaging to commercial, and industrial to in-plant — under one roof in what will be a sold-out, 724,000-sq.-ft. exhibit hall featuring more than 600 exhibitors. There will also be nearly 100 educational sessions, three amphitheaters on the show floor, and a 4,000-sq.-ft. Experience Zone showcasing more than 90 innovative printing applications.
Creating PRINTING United is in direct response to how the marketplace is evolving. Widening the trade show’s reach into other segments of the printing and visual communications industries ultimately means it will be a stronger, more comprehensive show that better serves all facets of the graphic arts universe, which is something that the industry has wanted and needs.
I’ve seen firsthand, throughout my career, how targeted trade shows and conferences only served specific printing industry audiences. But the market realities are different today — staffing levels remain lean at printing companies and executives don’t have the time or travel budgets to attend multiple events.
That’s why I encourage all readers of Printing Impressions to seriously consider attending the inaugural PRINTING United in Dallas. The event will include a free opening party for all attendees from 7-9 p.m. on Oct. 23 at Gilley’s Dallas. No proficiency on how to do the Texas Two-Step on the dance floor is required!
Either way, I hope to see you all there at Gilley’s or inside the Dallas convention center to celebrate our industry — from the standpoint of where it is today and what roadmaps are available to help you navigate ways to create new revenue streams and offerings. The future of your business may even depend on it.