Developments in print; Digital and conventional

As you start reading this article you may think that this is rather logical and what is the point of mentioning it. Like the proverbial elephant in the room, the point is just this, it is never said and when the subject is broached it is done in whispers as if the mere mention of the subject will somehow magically make it real and make it worse. I am referring to the fact that print is under pressure. Not just conventional print – the way print has always been done – the big, heavy-metal presses, but all forms of print. While the large conventional printers feel the impact to a greater extent than the digital printers, all printers are feeling the pinch due to ever-changing requirements from the market. Historically, printers were in the driving seat. They set the price, they dictated the run length, they determined the best method for producing a given job. Those days are gone. Don’t panic, it is not all doom and gloom but it will require some careful thought and planning to ensure that the light at the end of the tunnel is not simply a fast-approaching train. Having had discussions with many people, both local and international, on this very topic, it is clear that there are two courses of action which will have a devastating effect on companies in the printing industry – resulting in their ultimate demise. The first and most certain to result in quick failure is complete inaction. Doing nothing and simply continuing blindly along the same vein is the surest route to failure. The second is to adopt a cost-saving stance with the aim of weathering the storm. It is essential in business to ensure that costs are contained. This is true for all businesses, whether highly successful or struggling. However, to simply enter a phase of cost cutting or saving breeds a culture of cutbacks and ultimately robs the organisation of any forward thinking. One common misconception is that digital printing will bring about the demise of conventional print. This could not be further from the truth. While digital print has certainly resulted in a drastic change to the silhouette of the printing industry with the loss for litho of certain sectors such as transactional printing. It certainly does not have the wherewithal to eradicate conventional print. There are still important factors which determine whether it is more viable to take a job the digital route or to continue with conventional print. The goal posts may have moved a little in recent years, but there are still very clearly defined cross over points. The first of these is run length. While there has been a rapid decline in the average run length of jobs and only the quantities which are required now are printed (print-on-demand) there are still some things which have to be printed which can only be done cost-effectively using the conventional litho, gravure or flexo printing processes. The other factor is quality. Huge strides have been made in the quality of digital printing and the advent of high-speed inkjet has seen certain types of print willing to sacrifice top-end quality in return for faster turnaround. However, there are many other types of printed product where quality is essential and this refers to quality superior to anything currently possible using digital technology. There are a number of things which printers have to consider for the future. The first is whether there is benefit in continuing with printing. This is a tough decision because in most cases, printing companies employ a number of staff members and each one of these has a number of people who rely on the salaries earned for their livelihood. Closing a company is not an easy decision, as anyone who has done this will attest. If this is the only option, then there are a couple of ways it can be done. An outright closure, a merger with another company where the combined efforts make more sense than continuing individually or the sale of the company to a larger organisation. In each case there are a lot of tough decisions which have to be made, but it is best if they are made quickly and in full disclosure to staff members. If the decision is to continue in the printing industry, then another set of decisions has to be made. Stay as you are and try to ride out the storm, switch from conventional to digital or simply include digital in your portfolio. What market sectors will be addressed with what types of products. All these questions need to be looked at, examined and answered. In many cases the solutions adopted will be best case projections and educated guesses because the state of turmoil the printing industry finds itself in, makes it very difficult for absolute answers to be found. However, it is important that individually and as an industry we try to look at these issues and stop avoiding the subject. It is only through collaboration and actively seeking answers that we can actually come up with a viable plan for the future of the printing industry. While most people don’t want to admit it out loud, Conventional Printing has had its glory days, but that is not to say that printing does not have a future. In actual fact, for printers who are willing or able to offer a service that incorporates out-of-the-box thinking, printing can and will have a very bright future.