What the commercial printer and publisher of tomorrow must do to be successful

Gareth Ward.
Gareth Ward.

With the world’s largest printing industry tradeshow, drupa 2016, set for May 31 to June 10 in Düsseldorf, Germany, we’ll be presenting several helpful “drupa expert” features leading up to this year’s big event. Here, author Gareth Ward gives you some sound advice on what you’ll need to do in 2016 and beyond to remain successful.

Ward first visited drupa in 1986 and has been writing about print ever since. During this time he has visited print companies around the world and interviewed leaders of most industry suppliers as editor of Printing World Magazine. Today he edits and publishes Print Business both as a magazine and website. He’s also a popular speaker and moderator at industry events worldwide, and writes guest columns for magazines and blogs.

drupaarticleward5-inSmarter print to market

The successful printer of the future will deliver customers a full service offering that extends well beyond printing and finishing. The exact mix of digital communications, value-added print, data manipulation and logistics will depend on your customer base and how you position yourself, or perhaps how you form partnerships with others who have expertise in these areas. But what’s going to make print a successful communications medium in the next decade is already clear – print must be relevant. This was not necessary when print was the prime channel for advertising, information, communication with government, and so on. Much of this mundane printing has transferred to digital and will never come back, but print is not shrinking. It’s evolving into something smarter, more versatile and above all more relevant to those who receive it. If a commercial printer is not part of this development, the only option is to sell print services as cheaply as possible – but this is no way to build for the future, nor to create enduring partnerships with customers. Unfortunately, there are many digital and offset printers that lead with price and face the same inevitable fate as the wooly mammoth – extinction!

IT will drive print’s relevance

Tomorrow’s commercial printer must become as comfortable with Information Technology as he or she is with offset litho. That can stretch from operating a website to harvest jobs, to creating automated workflows that minimize touchpoints so errors can be reduced using management systems. This includes print MIS (Management Information Systems) to record and present up-to-the-minute details of how a company is performing, through to data handling to create personalized communications for customers to talk to their clients in the most relevant way. If that means using social media alongside print, the ‘new commercial printer’ must deliver this.

The problem here is that many commercial printers continue to prefer to invest in a new digital or offset printing press rather than in IT. It’s as if the press is tangible and understandable. If it runs at 18,000 sph (and machines at drupa 2016 are likely to hit 20,000 sph), this is 20% to 30% faster than their current machines, so it must make sense, right? But few give due thought to how jobs are to be processed either before reaching the press, or once printed. Across the globe, digital and offset print runs are falling and time allotted is shrinking. A faster press magnifies the problem of handling more jobs in less time without introducing errors. In addition, too few commercial printers consider training for their staff to be an investment. Rather, they view it as an imposition.

Sabine Geldermann.
Sabine Geldermann.

The first drupa Global Insights Report published in October of 2014 highlighted this: “Only 23% of the drupa expert panel report an increase in IT spend in the last five years, and virtually all decision makers stated a lack of IT specialists. This is a major challenge for printers,” said Sabine Geldermann, Director of drupa 2016.

IT knowledge is key for automation at the printing process level. Workflows have to become more sophisticated. Producing an eight-page section on standard paper is simple – but tomorrow’s customers will want something far more than this. They will want their printed products to stand out, to have the impact to cut through the thousands of marketing messages that are already received each day.

Claus Bolza-Schünemann.
Claus Bolza-Schünemann.

Drupa President and CEO of KBA Claus Bolza-Schünemann predicts: “In some years from now, there will be fewer printing companies – but they will be larger and more industrial with a broad service range. In the commercial sector, printers will turn into marketing service providers for print and online services. And the connection between print, online and mobile activities will grow stronger.”

This transition is actually in its infancy. A well known commentator on advertising and the internet pointed out last year that consumers spend vast amounts of time with their smartphones. But these only take a small proportion of the overall marketing spend, whereas the fast-shrinking newspaper sector receives a disproportionate amount of advertising spend. One must shrink its share while the other one grows – unless newspapers become more relevant to its readers. This means hyper local sections printed digitally with targeted advertising.

Vogue is just on example of
Vogue is just on example of a printed magazine than has remained strong.

Re-validating print in a digital world

The same can be noticed in magazines where the mass circulation titles that used to be printed gravure are losing circulation, while magazines that focus on the special interests of readers remain healthier. There’ll be fluctuations across national boundaries and as fashions change, but the magazines that focus on this sort of reader will not be displaced by digital delivery of content because reading a magazine is so much more than just the information presented. A decade ago it was predicted that (with the growth of the Internet, video-on-demand and the ability to interact with websites) fashion magazines will disappear because websites can show clothes being worn, have links to prices and instant ordering. But fashion magazines are stronger than ever because, for example, possession of Vogue makes a strong statement about the women carrying it. Online fashion websites like ASOS and Pret-a-porter have launched printed magazines because of this phenomenon.

The doomsayers who predicted the same fate for catalogues have also been thwarted by human nature. We love to browse a catalogue or holiday brochure. They spark our imagination in a way that digital simply fails to do. And retailers that either exist only online or dropped their print catalogues are returning to print to remind customers to visit their websites to complete a purchase. If online shopping is going to grow (though it remains only a relatively small share of consumer spending even in industrialized countries), more and more print is going to be needed. But it’s not going to be the same sort of print. For instance, why send someone who always takes a vacation in Mexico, details of holidays in Canada? Instead, the holiday company, with the help of a commercial printer, can tailor a brochure that features the best hotels and resorts in Mexico. Sure, it’ll be a smaller publication with a shorter production run, but production standards can be higher in terms of print, paper and personalization.

Foil stamping is one or many examples of value-added printing that makes your clients stand out from their competition.
Foil stamping is one or many examples of value-added printing that makes your clients stand out from their competition.

The digital or offset commercial printer of tomorrow must be ready to deliver this to his or her customers. It means investment in technology that can cope with shorter print runs. It means the ability to print on uncoated papers that are popular because of their tactile qualities – and this can be addressed through the new UV technologies that are spreading throughout the industry. It means being able to enhance the printed product using varnish, foil stamping, raised print effects, die cutting and other processes that enhance the value of the printed product and make it more exciting and engaging to the consumer. This can even involve the inclusion of printed electronic circuitry that turns a printed page in a book or magazine into a ‘loudspeaker’ to tell a story. Or a printed label that lights up when a sensor detects movement.

Embedded codes within the printed page can now be scanned by smartphones to unlock digital information for the consumer, or perhaps an offer to be redeemed in a certain store or restaurant (while at the same time providing the company making the offer with important marketing information about who has scanned the code, where and when). Thus, a printed poster or an advertisement acquires a measurable value because it proved to be relevant to that consumer at that specific time.

3D Printed prototypes
The 3D-Printed prototype is another technology that commercial printers should consider.

Marketing innovations in print and finishing

The sorts of high quality print and finishing effects that sell premium bottles of spirits are finding their way to other types of packaging, especially as the movement for artisan-produced goods gathers momentum. While overall volumes are still small, the value of the printed pack becomes that much more important. And the commercial printer can have far more influence on quality than, for example, a company working for global brands with extensive product marketing teams that force commercial printers to toe the line. However, even these global companies must become more flexible in order to match society’s craving for innovation and novelty. It means that printed packaging becomes a major marketing tool. The commercial printer must be able to help cut the time to market for new products, either through automated workflows or perhaps by also taking on prototype creation using 3D printing technology.

There is also room for using the new inkjet technologies by printing directly to the bottle or package itself (called direct-to-shape printing). The printing system actually becomes part of the bottling or packing line. So rather than printing and delivering labels, the printing company’s task becomes managing this new technology and establishing a new workflow. It’s going to require a whole new approach to marketing what a commercial printer is and can do, and this is very much unknown territory for many print service providers. The exceptions are the online printers that have grown rapidly in recent years, sweeping away swathes of small print businesses in the process. But even these rarely lead on price; they’re selling convenience and ease of access – and that’s dueprimarily to constant marketing and sponsorship to raise brand awareness.

Embracing value-added print products

Commercial printers should focus on benefits such as personal service, same-day printing, wide choice of substrates, design, fulfillment and so on. Even this requires marketing skills that need to be developed. The answer will be different depending on the printing company, insists Claus Bolza-Schünemann. “Every printing house knows its customers and its strengths best. Therefore, it’s of little help to simply copy the recipe for success of others. If every company offered the same, this would automatically lead to overabundance in the market with the familiar consequences. Large trade fairs such as drupa, offer good opportunities to find out more about new technologies and future-focused business models and the appropriate path for a company.”

Alon Bar-Shany.
Alon Bar-Shany.

“There’s pressure to commoditize, options for lower quality and lower pricing, but that would spell disaster for the industry,” said Alon Bar-Shany, Vice President and General Manager of HP Indigo. “The opportunity is for less pages but higher value ones. Commercial printers need first to acknowledge this change and then embrace it. The industry needs to evangelize the inherent beauty and effectiveness of print in a digital world. Print can still create emotions and print lasts, preserving moments and memories.”

Yes, printing will remain at the heart of it, but printers must become like project managers, shepherding the different aspects of the communication chain to achieve the result that the customers want, while reaching a measurable return on investment. For example, the focus on reducing overheads in the end-to-end supply chain has already transformed how books are printed and distributed. Digital printing is starting to eat into packaging for the same reason. It’s not the cost of producing an individual carton or label that’s important. It’s the overall cost of wasted materials and time in the supply chain that’s crucial. Printers need to expand their thinking beyond the creation of the box. For those printing companies that can do this – that become engaged with their customers and work together to find solutions that embrace print at some level – the future is indeed bright. Print is no longer the dumb sheet of paper that’s recycled in moments. Today’s smart printers are discovering this. Value now, is a function not of scarcity, but of relevance.

drupaarticleward9-inSummary: The path to success for commercial printers and publishers

There are now fewer print companies and publishers surviving, many swept away by online printers offering convenience and ease of access. Those remaining must acknowledge change and embrace it. The successful commercial printers and publishers of the future will have to become more like project managers and bring added value to a mix of services. The key to making print a successful communications medium in the next decade is already clear – print MUST be relevant!

Print for newspapers will live on, but will become more relevant to the reader with hyper local sections, printed digitally with targeted advertising. Short-run, high quality holiday brochures and catalogues will also survive as personalization and tactility using varnishes and foils meets consumer demand. Fashion magazine publishers have turned back to print as they witness a phenomenal trend and desire by the consumer for hard-copy editions that give them an identity statement. We’re also seeing the uptake of printed electronic circuitry and embedded codes that open up a world of possibilities for packaging and label printers, as well as brand owners, to market their products in a novel and more engaging way. The connection between print, online and mobile activities will grow stronger – but the industry needs to evangelize the inherent beauty and effectiveness of print in a digital world and deliver a more rounded service offering which extends well beyond printing and finishing.


Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.