The Printer's Promise: We've Changed
As printers understand and accept their new world, they’re becoming “much more than printers.”May 1, 2011 By Jim Sturdivant
The story for printers in 2011 has been one of diversification. A desire to meet shifting publishing needs has led printers to embrace new facets of production and manufacturing—even in some cases moving into the design, marketing, editorial and financial services spheres, all in an effort to gain new expertise and leverage existing capabilities in new ways.
There are challenges aplenty, with an economic recovery struggling to gain traction and new competition from digital service providers and overseas markets. Yet those same factors also offer opportunities:
- for growth and return on investment (ROI) in an improving business climate for printers making the right strategic moves now;
- for an expanding market in digital and premedia services and business process management for those companies moving into those spheres; and
- for new business in emerging economies. (RR Donnelley recently reported an 11-percent increase in international sales from increased volume in Asia, Europe and Latin America, for instance.)
For Publishing Executive's annual look at the state of the printing industry, it got the inside scoop from several printers on their views of the marketplace and its future. Included in this year's printing-industry report are:
- Joan Davidson, group president, The Sheridan Group
- David O’Donley, vice president of sales and marketing, The Ovid Bell Press
- Eric Roberts, director of sales, Bartash Printing
What are the most important changes you've observed in the industry during the past year?
Davidson: The rapid shift in interest from digital editions to mobile platforms and the quest to monetize these new media.
O'Donley: Competition in the marketplace and price sensitivity have remained high this past year. As more printers continue to close their plants, there is an overall pricing war going on in the market to compete for that business.
Roberts: The industry has actually changed to a back-to-basics philosophy. There are not so many big ideas that reflect true consumerist spirit, but rather publishers are building books by selling ads, one at a time. More than ever, it's about beating the streets, shaking hands and making deals. Since 2008 or so, every publisher complained about the economy like they way people complain about the weather. In the past 12 months, though, I have encountered publishers feeling more empowered about being successful regardless of the economy, and that is a relief.
What are the primary challenges for you right now?
Davidson: Sheridan Magazines continues to investigate rapidly changing content dissemination needs and then develop products and services based on our findings. The challenges lie in bringing good products to the market quickly and giving publishers the right tools to capitalize on them.
O'Donley: Publishers seem to be more and more busy these days, possibly due to fewer people working now to publish a magazine. Getting people to talk to you and give you feedback about their publications is tough. In addition ... we are now faced with increasing fuel prices. Many of the publications we print are regional titles, and shipping has gone up to get these magazines back to their respective locations.
Roberts: The primary challenge is no different than the recent past. It is about creating a better, faster and more cost-efficient product. It is still about creating value.
Where do you see opportunity?
Davidson: Being creative and flexible when helping our customers with their changing needs. Assisting them in finding new and creative ways to drive revenue and achieve relevance in the market.
O'Donley: Niche markets still continue to be a source of opportunity for us.
Roberts: The new opportunity now is in embellishing services and media convergence. We are accommodating the tightest deadlines in our marketplace, and we need to be able to offer even more throughput.
What are publishers telling you they are looking for in a printer?
Davidson: As we poll our magazine, journal, catalog and book customers, we are clearly hearing the need for help with revenue-building tools, membership/readership-sustaining tools, guidance through the mobile media morass, marketing assistance, as well as technical consulting.
Time-saving solutions are always welcome, of course, but today it seems that printers can succeed if they are ready to interact with their customers as solutions providers, willing to listen and collaborate, and able to actually develop products to fit brand-new and emerging needs.
O'Donley: Publishers are looking for a better price and quicker turnaround times. Many publishers are also asking their printers for help in creating new and innovative ways for their advertisers to get their ads noticed.
Roberts: Publishers tell us that they need a partner, of which my response usually is: 'We've been waiting for you!' Customers are looking for media and marketing experts in their printer now, more than ever. Although many publishers would like to treat print like a commodity to marginalize differentiation and value, the reality is publishers need real leadership and consultative sales to help them grow their respective enterprise. Publishers need printers to offer a better experience and a faster product; all in context with new media offerings.
How has the way you insert yourself into magazine publishing workflows changed in recent years?
Davidson: In years past, the value we brought to our clients had more to do with streamlining print workflows and processes. Today, we still continue to deliver efficiencies to our customers, but with a technology focus and across many different delivery channels. For instance, we offer several tools to help publishers work more efficiently by automating their ad management systems and their layout processes. Perhaps more significant are the technology solutions we provide now that heighten reader interactivity. Our involvement has expanded beyond the publisher's world and is now reaching our customers' customers.
Roberts: We launched Bartash Media Services in 2010, with great validation in the marketplace. We are 'widening the river' by offering an Internet complement to the print piece, in addition to mobile solutions and insert procurement programs to help customers attract younger readers, grow their businesses and stay relevant. We are exploring also 'going upstream' with offering production services for publishers, like page building and art creation.
Is supporting multiplatform production now the critical element?
Davidson: Yes, most definitely.
How have you adjusted your suite of services to meet these new demands?
Davidson: The Sheridan Group, our parent company, has initiated a significant technical solutions development tank, which we introduced earlier this year as the Sheridan Technology Lab. Even in advance of this concerted effort, we've introduced new technologies (both publisher-centric and reader-centric) almost exclusively over the last two years. Some of these technologies include Sheridan Dynamic Editions, Sheridan Mobile Editions, Sheridan Print-to-Mobile QR Codes, Sheridan Custom Publishing, Sheridan Mobile ePrints, ad management software and magazine layout software.
O'Donley: We now offer digital editions called OMags to our publishers.
What effect has digital printing had on your business model? How is the role of offset changing, if at all?
Davidson: Print runs have been shrinking for several years as a result of publishers' developing an online presence for their publications. We anticipated this trend in our businesses and have built a state-of-the-art digital print facility within the Sheridan companies to accommodate print-on-demand and digital print runs. Our Sheridan production facilities are able to go from print-on-demand; sheetfed, and web, depending on the need of the publication.
Roberts: The role of digital print in our particular business model is limited to ink-jetting addresses, maps and text-based offers for now, but digital web technology is coming to our marketplace soon. The trend in offset is continuing in the direction of lower runs, with more individual editions. This mandates that we do more set-ups and makereadies in the course of any given day. This impacts speed and throughput on every job. Shorter runs and more versioning will play a bigger role in our world in the very near future.
How do you expect instability in the coated paper market to affect you?
Roberts: The opportunity to convert a coated publication into a cold-web production is happening more often. The ability to offer true one-stop shopping where we can print and bind a publication while simultaneously creating the Internet version and the mobile versions in less than a day makes a lot of publishers stand up and take notice of Bartash.
Some printers are moving more into digital content management. What does that mean for your operation?
Davidson: Welcome news. Because we saw the sea-change coming, understood and accepted it as our 'new world,' we have already become much more than printers. We are solutions providers in every sense of the word-providing technology-based solutions for pre-production print as well as delivering a wide range of content platform and management tools and services tailored to readers. As service providers who have served publishers successfully for over 100 years, we fully expect to be major players in the industry for decades to come, regardless of what platform or device is needed to distribute the content.
Roberts: As mentioned earlier, media convergence is a better opportunity than content management. In the old days, the axiom was that the printer who holds the film holds the next printing. This has not translated so comfortably in the digital era. Digital content is not so expensive to manage anymore in-house, and many of the repurposing has nothing to do with print files anyway. I believe that DAM (digital asset management) will continue to migrate in-house with our customers managing it, and trying to wrestle it away will be futile.
Where do you think opportunity lies for printers in this market?
Davidson: Print will always have its place. We have delivered to the highest standards on that front for decades, and we only know one way to deliver print products-with the best quality and service in the industry. That won't change-in fact, in the face of this digital content evolution, print may also evolve [in]to a high-quality prestige product, where craftsmanship and pride-in-quality matters even more. Our customers have seen that we have been nimble and quick to assess the changes in the market, delivering quality technology solutions, ... technical support and service. ... It's easy to deliver a technology solution. It's quite another thing to support it thoroughly and thoughtfully.
What do you think the magazine printing industry will look like 5 years from now? 10?
Davidson: Without a doubt, magazines will still be in existence, and I'm sure that they will be progressively easier to access. It's the form magazines will take that I couldn't even guess at, based on the seismic change we've already seen in this industry over the last few years.
O'Donley: The printing industry will still be strong in the years to come. Print will never go away. We will see fewer players ..., and those who do survive will offer a wider range of services.
Roberts: I suggest that in the future magazines will be oriented to being an event for people with time. If you take notice to what impact film had on theater, or what TV's impact on movies has been, you can appreciate that magazines are in for more change. Will magazines hold on to the middle class? Will the middle class hold on anyway? I am no clairvoyant, 'but strap in, cause it gonna be a bumpy ride.' PE