Printing Companies and Visual Communications

Having worked in the printing industry for almost thirty years, I believe its now time for printing companies to transform into the Visual Communications Industry. Interestingly, the last two has been one of the most dramatic changes I have seen so far in relation to a downturn in profits and printing companies going under or being bought out by larger print suppliers.

As I am also involved with digital marketing I haven’t seen many printing companies willing to embrace the digital communications industry and many printing companies believe the internet as the competition. As a result I posted a question on a popular discussion group on the Linked In website called “Web to Print” asking other print professionals … “In Australia many printing companies are turning to digital printing. I would like to know if this is the case in the US or UK and how is this affecting offset printers”. Below is an answer many printers in Australia can easily implement for future profit streams.

Doug Bowker • Hi Paul,
While I’m in Canada, not the US or UK, your question is relevant both to specific trends in offset vs. digital print production and to a broader issue of a print vendor’s focus with their clients. The trend away from offset to digital printing for many applications where short runs and quick turnaround are needed, as well as longer runs where personalization is required, has been going on for many years; in fact it really has not even been a trend for many years but the de facto market standard. If there is a trend in the marketplace in recent years, it is more likely the adoption of online communications replacing both offset and digital printing in client business applications where electronic communications are more practical and cost effective than print.

This leads to the broader issue – the focus of print vendors. I worked directly in the print industry for over two decades and found this to be one of the most difficult challenges to overcome. The migration of print volume from offset to digital and then to online has caused serious challenges in the “print” industry because the industry in general has been so focused on production hardware – justifying it, feeding it and acquiring more of it. “Print” vendors who have prospered over the past 10+ years are the ones who have realized that they have to focus as much or more on client communication business requirements than the order backlog on their own print production gear. As clients’ communications requirements evolve, so must vendors’ ability to deliver communications solutions evolve from offset and digital print to include online communications that may bypass print completely. Focus on your clients’ business requirements and equip yourself to meet those requirements and you will retain the clients, albeit with an evolving solution set. Focus primarily on protecting and chasing volume for print production hardware, regardless of the technology, and other more nimble “communications” services providers with more than print in their solution set will eat your lunch. You may retain some print business but you will lose strategic control of the client relationship and eventually lose what print volume you have.

The real issue has been for many years, and will remain into the future, is how best to equip yourself to manage and deliver the broad range of communication solutions that your clients need in order for them to be successful in their own markets. The need for print production hardware will not go away but it is just that – production. It’s an internal delivery tool, not a strategic focus. The focus should be on tools that you can provide to help your clients be more effective in their businesses, including tools that you produce (print or develop) and deliver, as well as online resources to manage the tools that you deliver and make them quickly and easily available both to your clients’ internal users and to their customers. While I can and do still deliver innovative print solutions – offset and digital – where appropriate to my clients’ business, my lead solution strategy is based on a powerful integrated online platform that enables and manages both online and printed communications, and I’d be delighted to provide more information about that.