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Getting ready for tomorrow

Jul 13, 2001 12:00 AM

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FACT: Printing industry sales and employment rose in 2000, but the number of printing plants continued to decline. Industry shipments reached $163 billion last year, and employment topped 1.2 million. The number of U.S. printing plants, according to Printing Industries of America (PIA), declined from 49,400 in 1999 to 47,667 in 2000. These figures reflect an ongoing trend in the printing industry. “We are transitioning from an industry that was growing faster than the overall economy to one that has matured,” points out Dr. Ron Davis, PIA's chief economist. FACT: While the demand for skilled people within the printing industry continues to soar, student enrollment in traditional graphic arts programs continues to decline. The industry is struggling to attract new talent. Web offset printers are well aware of the problem. When asked what they considered to be major problems facing the industry, more than 77 percent of web printers said lack of skilled employees. This is up from 47 percent in 1998, according to the “2000 Market Outlook for Web Offset Printers,” developed by the Web Offset Assn. and the Web Printing Assn. FACT: Despite advancements in digital media, the overall volume of print is expected to increase until 2020, according to a new study from The Electronic Document Systems Foundation. Packaging and advertising will drive the growth, while reading materials, financial and legal documents, stationery and forms will experience volume declines. Eventually print will lose market share to audio and video-based information sources. “The question is not how print will die, but how will it live and integrate into a world that's hyperlinked to the future,” observes Frank Romano, chair, School of Printing Management Sciences, Rochester Institute of Technology. “Print and electronic media will co-exist for the foreseeable future as new technological forces take effect.” By 2020, 65 percent of all information will be communicated in electronic form. FACT: In 1999, 54 percent of all printing consisted of run lengths averaging 2,000 impressions or fewer. By 2020, 30 percent of all print jobs will be delivered in 24 hours or less, according to PIA. In 2000, 15 percent of all printing was delivered within a day, 18 percent in five days, and 13 percent in five to eight days. By 2010, PIA predicts that 30 percent of all printing will be turned around in one day — or less. Cycle times are shortening, and incremental makeready improvements may not, by themselves, shave enough time to meet ever-increasing customer demand for speed. These are facts that the printing industry lives with everyday. But in the rush to meet deadlines and fend off aggressive competition, there is little time left to envision what the printing business will be like in three to five years. And trying to forecast 10 years ahead is almost impossible. SCENARIOS OF THE FUTURE Still, if printers are to survive in the long term, they will have to install the infrastructure needed to support the future today. The forces for these changes are clear: skilled labor shortages, shortened print production cycles, competitive pressures, and the changing topographical map of what customers expect and how they wish to do business. In this special report, we will look first at the changes print customers are facing. From this base, we can then develop possible scenarios for our future growth. Each printing company is different, serving unique customers in varying markets. But there are basic principles that each business must consider when developing a strategic plan for the future. Everything stems from the markets you select and the customers you serve. Without a thorough understanding of these drivers, the printing company will face an uncertain future. In the following pages, we have attempted to profile changing customer needs and match these requirements to a variety of scenarios in the future. Whatever path you choose will depend upon your customers. There are no bullet-proof answers, but there are components for success that need to be put into play now if the printing industry is to thrive into the next decade. This FuturePrint will help to clarify your planning for the future of your business and your industry.