Print……how little has changed
I recently completed an assignment as the managing director for a business that was in business rescue. If you are not familiar with this term, essentially it a process whereby a business, with some solid foundations which has found itself on hard times, is able to rebuild itself using some innovative legislative protection.
This process brought me back into an industry that I had moved out of several years ago. This post is really a warning to this print industry, because what I found shocked me to the core. It also gave me a greater respect for one of my mentors (AGA) who called this several years ago.
In summary, this business has been around for over 50 years, they were at the top of their game and in fact were “market leaders”. They enjoyed and in fact still enjoy great support from their clients, albeit that this support has changed dramatically. It is easy, when one arrives into this situation to blame the previous management, they did make some really terrible decisions and I have to say that these ultimately brought the business to the place it found itself in. They however were operating in the moment and perhaps had some valid reasons for doing what they did.
What though is even more scary for me, is that the business of print has evolved very little from when I left it. There has been almost no work done on print innovation, aside from some advancements in digital printing and front end work-flows (all were around when I was in the industry) the industry has stagnated. The feeding frenzy on one another has intensified, the industry is effectively cannibalising itself and creating its own demise.
There are many smaller players that are “competing” for large runs and the big players are feeding, on each other, lower down the value chain. In short many more printers will face closure and many more people will be without jobs, not as a result of innovation, but rather through unsustainable printing practice.
While I loved the project because it allowed me to take in the sights, sounds and smells of a print plant at the same time helping to restore a business, I dreaded that the only point of differentiation was often the price. The client side of print enjoys the prize, they are effectively the winners in all of this as they go about playing one printer off against the other. In print the mantra is “Quality and Service are a given, we want the best price” The reality very soon is that with this attitude comes the very real prospect of an industry closing down on itself.
My encouragement to the industry is to work together, stop killing each other on the streets. To PIFSA, the 1960’s are over, you need to work at re-energising the industry and lobby for stronger support from external players. This industry has the ability to create jobs, take a leaf out of what the clothing sector has already gone through. It may be too late, but maybe it is not.
My hope is that we see a change in the printing industry, a change for the better.