It’s not “the economy, stupid” it’s the market. Maybe the phrase should be it’s the market, stupid. Printing companies have been dropping like autumn leaves with no immediate end in sight. According to the NAPL, the future is looking “dim” (my word, not theirs). They expect that a minimum of 4,000 printers to as many as 10,000 will shut down over the next 10 years. Over the last 4 years we saw a decline of 4,800 plants with approximately 150,000 employees. Since 1994 we experienced a loss of over 11,000 plants.
What does all of this mean? It means that the current state of the economy, while rough, isn’t the real reason for the decline in the industry. That’s why I say it’s the market, stupid! Thanks to the Internet,the methods we have used in the past to communicate with one another are withering away. For example:
Newspapers: Major metropolitan newspapers have hit very hard times. Some have already closed shop and many more are about to. It doesn’t take a very clear crystal ball to see that those that continue to exist will be very different from the newspapers of yesteryear. Why? Craig’s List, and other free online classified services eroded the base revenues for the papers. Who would pay for something they can get free, and that has larger reach? Also, every newspaper now publishes their content online. You can do more on a web page than a print page–it’s more flexible. For example you can beef up your story with graphics and movies on a web page. It’s also timely. Hot news can be displayed on the website within minutes, instead of waiting hours for the next edition to hit the streets. We have no patience.
Magazines: Reuters reports that, “Newsstand and retail sales of U.S. magazines fell 11 percent in the second half of 2008, with celebrity and women’s titles taking a hit as supermarket and drugstore shoppers cut back on spending.” Furthermore, “Fifty percent of all magazines are sold in supermarkets, and obviously those types of places took a major hit.” If the decline in single copy magazine sales is because of the economy, will we see a rebound when the recession ends? And more importantly, when will it end? Again looking through my rather murky crystal ball, I predict many titles disappearing, and those standing will see sharp decreases in readership. Printers relying on magazine printing will be hard hit.
Books: Booksellers report decreases, with the exception of Amazon Media who appears to be up. Amazon is invested deeply in electronics. The Kindle reader entirely eliminates the need for printing. Amazon has also benefited from third party sales (see my For Your Consideration Page on this blog). It is estimated that 1 in 3 books sold at Amazon is actually sold by a third party. Smarter marketing is bringing them more business. Borders reported a loss and announced they are trying to sell their international operations and may sell the whole chain.
Direct Mail Marketing: I was once told by Peter Harrison, a direct marketing expert who is now running Affiliate Crew an internet company, that “Everything that goes in the mail must be printed.” What happens when mail volume goes down? Think about it, banks and other financial organizations have gone paperless. You don’t mail in your bills anymore, you authorize payment on-line. Envelope printers have suffered because of this. Forms printers have also felt the effects. What about other direct mail campaigns? The US Postal Service keeps increasing rates as more and more direct mail companies discover other marketing avenues. The ones left in the game will bear ever heavier a postage burdens. Once the cost of postage reaches the proverbial camel’s back, the direct mail business will be through. Kaput. What will the post office have to do then, personal letters? Even with my cloudy crystal ball it’s as easy as seeing the housing boom collapse. Really, who didn’t see it coming with overinflated prices, and interest rates at 1%?
Catalogs: I had trouble finding some figures for catalog printing, but I can tell you that the catalogs are pushing web sales more and more. If you think about it they face similar challenges to newspapers. You can just do more on-line to show off your product than you can in print. Why not video the item, particularly clothing, so you can see front, back, and side? Once holographic technology is here the public will insist on 3 dimensional views. It’s just around the corner.
Wedding Invitations & Announcements: I’ll admit that invitations and announcements have never accounted for a big slice of the printing pie, but those printers specializing in them have been hit hard. Why? It’s because people have access to paper options, graphic design programs, and digital printing. They create their own invitations with their own style and creativity.
NAPL also reports that only [are the] larger plants growing in number. Those printers without deep pockets will be swallowed by the others. It’s the law of the jungle. The downside is that more print industry employees will find themselves unemployed. What are their options in the new economy?
Like the dawning of the Industrial Age big changes are happening, but at a much faster pace. What will it be like when clouds in my dirty crystal ball clear? I just don’t know–do you?