Top Takeaway from PRINT ‘17: Look Beyond the Press

If you were at Print 17, the first thing you may have noticed was just how warm it was in there. For those used to having to wear jackets and sweaters because of the intense air conditioning required to cool the presses, it was quite a change. With so few presses being brought this year, it was t-shirt weather. 

That was, in fact, one of the key takeaways from the show. Your presses, whether offset or digital, are still the engine that drives your business. But the focus has moved from the presses themselves to the business end of printing. 

We can now look back and say that this industry has undergone a tidal shift in how print is produced. Notice the emphasis on the words 'has undergone.' It’s not that people aren’t still investing in hardware and workflow and finishing. They are. But the broader industry transformation of the production environment is largely behind us. 

Printing has changed - so now what?

Print 17 was about answering that question. Now that commercial print shops look very different than they did a decade ago, and now that most printers have made significant strides in revamping their production floors (if not having completely overhauled them), what is the next step? 

The answer is making money with those investments. With the extreme pressure on print in today’s digitally-driven marketing environment, printers are turning their attention to cost management (not just of the press, but the administrative side of the business, too), business development, and channel integration as a way to keep print relevant and desirable, and in front of marketers and print buyers.  

For example, from a cost management perspective, printers are looking, not just at workflow automation, but at cloud-based services that will allow them both to be more efficient and actually reduce investment in servers, computers, and personnel. Not that they will reduce their staff, necessarily, but the cloud will enable them to more efficiently utilize and reallocate the staff they 

It’s not all about managing costs

There was also a continued focus on web storefronts. As reported in the new book Cloud Production: A New Path to Profitability, by Slava Apel and Dr. Joe Webb, released at the show, “upwards of 30 percent of print customers say that they will only order online” (Cloud Printing, p. 99).  This isn’t about saving money. It’s about convenience. As the authors note, “Even VistaPrint’s parent company Cimpress identifies that only 10 percent of the market they are targeting is ‘price sensitive.’” 

Print as part of the cross-media mix

It’s the same with marketing channels. Print needs to go where the customers are, and that’s online. This sounds counter-intuitive, but we are increasingly seeing one of print’s greatest values as being able to capture eyeballs and draw people into the online sales funnel where those leads can be nurtured all the way to the sale. Many of the sales conversions are coming from people who would never have heard about the company unless they had received a printed piece first. Companies like DirectMail 2.0, which let printers match customers’ mailing lists to Facebook users and create direct mail/Facebook campaigns, are critical to this effort. It’s no longer just about pairing print with email and mobile. It’s about finding the sweet spot for pairing print with social. 

Make your business environment as efficient as your print production

So if you took anything away from Print 17, it might have been the need to focus on the business environment around the press. How efficient are you business operations? How effective is your project management? How are you positioning print to complement (not compete) with digital channels? 

As a printer, you have made tremendous investments in your production, your workflow, and your finishing. Now it’s time to put the most efficient business environment around those investments to get the most out of them. 

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