A couple of months ago, I did a post on the changes that will be going on in your neighborhood print shop in order for them to survive and thrive in this new digital age. In that post I cited the book Renewing the Printing Industry, written by Dr. Joseph Webb (Dr. Joe as we call him in the industry) and Richard Romano. Well, this year they came out with their second book on the subject entitled “Disrupting the Future, Uncommon Wisdom for Navigating Print’s Challenging Marketplace”. The picture on the cover says it all. The photo appears to be centuries old with a printer using a manual letterpress to print a document. Standing in the crowd watching him is a person holding up the iPad for him to see. Talk about the contrasts that we are seeing in the printing and communications business right now.
The book can be downloaded free for members of What They Think, an online source of information for the printing industry, or is available at Lulu.com in the hardback version for $19.95. Even if you are not a member, go to the free section to see some interesting analysis of what is happening in our industry.
So What Does the Book Say?
Well, the authors start out by saying that if the printing industry had grown at the same rate as the GDP from 1993, that total printing shipments in the U.S. would have been about $176.2 billion in 2009. However, printing revenues were only $88.2 billion, making the case that, in that period, the industry has lost 50% of what it should have had if it had grown at the same rate as the country. Therefore, the decline that has become quite evident during this Great Recession really started back in the mid-1990’s.
One of the defensive arguements that a lot of printers, including myself, have been using during this period is that print has value and print is vital and therefore the decrease in not entirely warranted. The authors argument here is that print is not vital. It continues to be one of the communications mediums out of several and, in fact, may be the most expensive option available in a lot of circumstances. As the choices of alternatives have developed over the past several years, print has suffered the consequences.
So, Is Print Dying Declining?
The answer is yes. Print will not die in the foreseeable future but it will continue to decline as more and more alternatives become available to our customers. So, what are we going to do from a printing standpoint? Well here are some of the answers.
1. Embrace the new media and become experts in it. In order to promote our own businesses, we need to not only understand the new media but we have to become experts in it. From getting a FaceBook personal page, to setting up a Twitter account for our business, to registering on LinkedIn and to setting up a FaceBook fan page for the business. We need to claim our listings on Google Places (Maps), Merchant Circle, Yelp, Bing and Yahoo. We need to understand SEO and how that increases our rankings with Google and Bing. We need to advertise our businesses by using email marketing.
2. We need to start thinking of ourselves as Print Communications providers. For centuries, the only communications medium that we concentrated on was print. In most cases, that was all we needed because, quite frankly, we made a lot of money producing printed items. This has to change. There are now more ways for our customers to communicate with their customers. The great thing is that most small and medium sized businesses cannot adopt these new communications avenues without help. As we become experts in these new mediums, we can help our customers in all of their communication needs.
3. We need to start thinking about the entire marketing and communications process instead of just the print project. This means we have to have more in-depth discussions with our customers. We cannot survive in this new environment by waiting for our customers to call us when the file is ready to be printed. We need to be part of the overall planning and discussions of the communications project. This means we need better trained salespeople who become more than order takers.
4. We may have to set up a separate division away from the printing company. This is a point that the authors made in their book that I have not entirely accepted. Their major concern is that there is a perception out there that we are printers only and that the best way to become marketing and communications experts in the eyes of our customers is to have a separate company or division that specializes in these areas. I think that having the right conversations with the right customers will ease these erroneous perceptions over time. Will the general public seek us out for our marketing advice? Probably not. But that is not our target. Our existing customer base is where we need to start.
5. We need to hire different people. I’m not saying that we need to fire all of our printers and bindery people. What I am saying is that we need to focus on the marketing and technical skills when we are looking to start hiring again. (If that ever happens). A lot of this will happen naturally. Most of our new hires will be coming to us having grown up in this digital age. They will have their own FaceBook page and they will be active on Twitter. You would not believe the qualifications of the candidates for my last bindery/delivery position. Most of the candidates had a marketing degree at a local university.
6. And lastly, we need to continue to talk about how print is an integral part of the marketing and communications process. We need to start explaining how print can enhance the results of a marketing campaign by many multiples. We need to explain how print is not destroying the environment and, in fact, is better on the environment than all of this electronic equipment over a long period of time. We need to get across that print is the Cadillac of the communications process. Yes, it is more expensive but the returns are significantly better than its digital brethran.
I know that I have not done this book any justice, and I do suggest that all printers read this book, the sooner the better. I will use one quote out of the book that I think summarizes where we have to go as a printing industry:
“The successful printing company of tomorrow will be the hub for managing the creation, coordination, deployment, measurement, and management of communications logistics.”
Thank you Dr. Joe and Richard for a book well on-point.
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