Why selling print will be the death of printing companies

Matthew Parker.
Matthew Parker.

Here, UK-based Matthew Parker – printing industry consultant, content creator for printers, independent print-buying expert, sales training provider for printing companies, and Founder of Print & Procurement – delves into why simply selling ink on paper no longer works. He also provides some proven and successful strategies that printers should adopt. For more information, please visit http://printandprocurement.com/about-matthew/.

Do you remember vinyl? What about cassettes? I spent many happy days in my youth building up my record collection. And I enjoyed making compilation tapes too. All of this is now a distant memory. My vinyl was sold off long ago (although with many regrets). My cassettes are now more. DAT has been and gone. Even CDs are falling by the wayside in the era of the MP3. The music industry has evolved. Printers need to evolve too. Selling CMYK is no longer enough! Printers need to accept that good profit margins are now very difficult to make simply by selling ink on paper. Printers need to start selling a more involved service to clients. They need to start selling extra services that can have a higher profit margin than print. I call these value-added services.

Printers that change and start selling value added services will create a new type of relationship with their clients. Customers will be prepared to place work at higher margins with these suppliers. These print companies will be in better control of their profit margins. They’ll be better placed to achieve the right results that they need. Print companies that keep selling print and nothing else will fail to form good customer partnerships. They’ll simply be regarded as commodity printers and will have little control over their profit margins. And they’ll even struggle to stay in business. Here are three ways in which these services can change the way in which a buyer treats a printer.

  1. Print companies are no longer seen as commodity suppliers. Instead, they’re seen as service providers and as business partners that help their clients achieve their business goals. They help their clients carry out their business more efficiently or more cost-effectively. These companies can also set themselves apart from the competition more easily.
  2. Buyers are willing to pay more for better skill sets. The type of sale changes when printers offer value-added services. Most buyers assume that a printer will offer good service and good quality. So they choose on price. However, if a printer is offering a value-added service such as data management or design, the situation changes. The buyer sees the skill levels at the printers as making a real difference. This is because they’re looking at a service where they will measure by return on investment. Before, they were thinking in terms of commodity manufacturing. Suddenly it’s a lot easier for a printer to stand out from the competition. But they do need to sell their skills better. This also changes the buyer’s purchasing process. It’s now more difficult to beat companies up on price. Price will always be an important decision in the purchasing process. However, in terms of print manufacturing, the buyer can simply compare a like-for-like specification. When looking at services, a buyer can be encouraged to consider return on investment rather than just looking at the cheapest price.
  3. Offering value-added services can make a real difference to a printer. So does this mean that all printers should become marketing services providers? Not at all. There are a wide range of value-added services that can be offered. Many printers will already have some in house, such as design or postal services. Marketing Services is certainly one strategy, but it’s not the only one.

As an example, let’s focus on the magazine sector. Here’s how one printer put this strategy into practice. In the UK, one printer looked at the challenges that were facing many of its publishing clients. And the challenges lay not in print, but in how to tackle producing digital editions. So they developed their own software that allows their clients to create digital editions quite easily. It enabled publishers to make a single-file upload for both print and digital editions. This allowed sales conversations to move away from price matching. Many clients are now interested in having an easy digital solution from a print supplier. So, the lowest print price is no longer the most important factor. However, you need your own ‘action plan’ to create value-added services. Here are three action points that you need to be scheduling right now:

  • Ask your customers what challenges they face.
  • Create a service offering that addresses these specific issues.
  • Develop a new sales message that focuses on the services you offer, rather than just putting ink on paper.

Do you remember HMV (His Masters Voice)? Well, HMV Canada went into receivership in 2017. It didn’t change with the times. Printers who don’t change with the times will likely experience the same fate!


Tony Curcio is the editor of Graphic Arts Magazine.