2019 Printing Impressions 400 Reveals Largest Printers, Printing Industry Trends
Welcome to the 36th annual compilation of the Printing Impressions 400 list of the largest printing companies in the U.S. and Canada, as ranked by annual sales volume. In many ways, our annual ranking serves as a microcosm of the key trends and market dynamics that are impacting the graphic arts industry.
For example, the pace of consolidation in the commercial printing market is not waning, although the cast of “serial consolidators” has certainly shrunk. Des Moines, Iowa-based Mittera Group — ranked No. 29 on our list — remains the most active player, even though the bulk of its transactions of late have been asset purchases. Similarly, commercial printing industry M&A activity, in general, has largely been tuck-in deals, where the buyer seeks a book of business, but typically not the seller’s production facility, equipment, nor overhead.
Commercial Printers Seek New Markets, Customer Bases
As illustrated throughout this year’s Printing Impressions 400, diversification trends into new markets continue at a rapid pace. With fewer true general commercial printers, businesses are expanding their footprints into new, high-margin offerings like wide-format digital output and even fabrication; multiple types of packaging; creative, e-commerce, and customized storefront services; as well as expanded promotional product offerings.
And while diversification into services such as mailing and fulfillment have long been natural extensions, today’s convergence trends (Read "Why Commercial Printing Is Experiencing Convergence, Not Just Diversification") are driving some printers to reinvent themselves by developing products and service offerings directed toward completely new markets and new clientele.
As one might expect, digital printing capabilities also appear everywhere among the 400 ranked companies — whether it be cut-sheet, continuous-feed production presses, or wide-format printers. While lithographic printing still generates the bulk of page volumes and covers the overhead for many shops, short-run, personalized digital output and related data management services increasingly provide their profit margins.
Not surprisingly, this digital shift isn’t solely due to customers’ on-demand needs. It’s also the result of the skilled labor crisis that exists, especially when it comes to finding skilled offset press operators. As pressmen continue to age out and retire — with a lack of trainees coming up the ranks to fill that void — the overall industry shift to digital press production that requires less skilled operators will continue to intensify.
Largest Companies on 2019 Printing Impressions 400 in Turmoil
Another trend has been a host of misfortunes affecting three of the largest publicly-held printers on the 2019 Printing Impressions 400. However, that’s not reflected in our latest annual ranking due to the fact that the majority of companies are reporting 2018 calendar year revenues as their most recent fiscal year sales.
Quad, arguably, suffered the worst year in its 47-year history in 2019. It started with the failed $1.4 billion acquisition attempt of LSC Communications in July due to a Department of Justice antitrust lawsuit, which culminated in a $60 million payout for LSC-related payments as part of their reverse termination agreement.
That was followed by Quad’s nearly $10 million settlement with the SEC to resolve bribery charges filed against its Peruvian and Chinese subsidiaries. Its Peruvian entity also concealed transactions, the SEC claimed, to print telephone directories for a Cuban firm, violating U.S. sanctions and export control laws.
Then, on Oct. 29, Quad saw its stock price plummet nearly 60% after reporting a Q3 net loss, coupled with it cutting its quarterly shareholder dividend in half, lowering its full-year 2019 guidance, and divesting its underperforming U.S. book manufacturing platform.
RR Donnelley (RRD), similarly, has battled stagnant stock prices and lowered its guidance for 2019, driven by declines in its core logistics and commercial printing businesses. And, former RRD spinoff LSC has struggled, too, under a heavy debt burden and sales declines in its key market segments. Most recently, LSC also revealed that it fell out of NYSE compliance due to its stock price falling under $1.
The financial hurdles that these largest public firms are experiencing will be reflected in the 2020 Printing Impressions 400 rankings. Although the fortunes of privately-held, small- and mid-size firms still represent the core foundation of the printing industry, the ability of these biggest public conglomerates to execute successful turnarounds will better serve the graphic arts industry as a whole — both on Main Street and on Wall Street.