Today’s print industry is in the middle of an extraordinary period, primarily as a result of shifting market dynamics. These shifts are exciting and can certainly benefit printers, but only if you’re able and willing to act on them. This article looks briefly at what some of those market shifts are, what’s causing them, what it ultimately means for end customers, and how it bodes well for printers like you.
COVID-19 Is the Accelerant for Change
I don’t want to give the pandemic too much credit, as the industry has been gradually shifting with the introduction of digital technology. But I will say that COVID-19 has certainly accelerated change in the industry
This is primarily because of issues related to the supply chain, lack of paper availability, etc., which have changed how end customers are ordering print. They’re ordering smaller and smaller runs. They want them faster. And they want them on different kinds of substrates depending on what’s available on any given day.
Quality Is No Longer in Question
It’s also important to note that the quality comparison between inkjet and offset is a moot point. The quality of inkjet technology has reached new levels and is now truly comparable with offset quality.
The previous discussions that end users were having — about whether the end result was comparable to offset or not — are over. Inkjet quality more than meets user needs.
Digital Technology Is Surpassing Expectations
Let’s not forget that the technology itself is also what has made this huge sea of change possible.
The ability to print on thicker substrates (9 point stock) is having enormous implications on how people produce things, like direct mail, for example.
While all of this is, in a way, revolutionary, in some ways, it’s not. And I think many of us probably don’t fully understand yet or appreciate the technology innovation trends that are occurring in the market today. Or how they have accelerated the transition from offset to digital printing.
The Labor Advantage
The labor pool shortage, for example, is being addressed with technological advancements in digital printing. If you’re going to attract and retain technologically-savvy workers, it benefits you to shift digital. We are going to need to run more modern types of technology to take advantage of the kind of labor that we have available today.
For example, everybody knows how to operate a cell phone or smart phone. When you go to recruit new staff today, it just makes sense that they want to see devices that they can intuitively relate to. The good news — and a big change that is occurring today — is that the newer equipment coming out is friendlier to operate. It requires much less human interaction. And it’s more consistent. Some of the workflow software coming out with today’s digital devices, for example, is so good that once you’ve programmed it once with your strong first operator, the second operator on that shift, who may not be as strong technologically, can just hit a few buttons — and it works.
So to summarize, when I consider the most important trends today, these are my top three:
1. Inkjet technology is equal to or, in some cases, arguably better than offset technology in terms of quality.
2. Inkjet technology has become more flexible than ever before in terms of the substrates you can print on
3. Inkjet technology has become more flexible in terms of ease of use, making it much easier to attract good talent.
What’s the Point?
Altogether, these things allow you to address the needs of the end customer. We understand that you’re ultimately concerned with three things:
· Can you do these really short runs?
· Can you turn these jobs around faster?
· Can you print enough of these jobs on your devices to deliver in a timely, profitable manner?
The answer to all three is yes! It used to be the case that, on digital printing equipment, you could produce, let’s say, 2,000 books. Today, however, we can easily go from 2,000 to 10,000 books on an inkjet press. In the not-too-distant future, that number will increase even further. We are in a true innovation phase right now that is incredibly exciting. It’s the sea change that this market has been waiting for. And, in my opinion, the future looks better than we’ve ever had it before in the print industry.
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Marco Boer is CEO at IT Strategies.