The state of the Printing and Paper Markets
A new year is upon us, and again we peer into our crystal ball. The goal: to try and forecast where two of our biggest costs are headed. For two years it was strongly believed that printing and paper costs had to go up, because we were experiencing historically low costs in those areas.
We endured a 1-2-3 punch: the dot-com advertising crash, the Sept. 11th tragedy and subsequent wars, and financial debacles at major U.S. corporations. Yet we were still standing. In the past, any one of these events might have been enough to drastically alter the economy. Here all three occurred in a relatively short period of time, and the American public and the U.S. economy remained remarkably optimistic.
It was our confidence during these hard times that kept the economy from taking a serious and terrible downspin. Don't misunderstand me: our economy suffered, especially advertising and related industries such as publishing, direct-marketing, printing, and paper.
Everybody suffered. Lack of demand kept paper prices down, and fostered a price war among printers. Printers were offering attractive incentives for customers to renew contracts before they expired. They aggressively pursued new work at low rates just to keep things running without major layoffs or shutdowns.
What's been interesting, though, during this downturn is that technologies in both the paper and printing industries have improved. Paper quality has gone up to match foreign characteristics, tensile strength improved to where web breaks are rare, and more specialty finishes are available.
Printing presses have, finally, joined the computer age. Electronic prepress reduced make-ready times, cameras monitor ink registration and folding, publisher ink density preferences are stored for future use, and improved online finishing services have all contributed to faster output at lower costs.
There are now strong signs that the recovery is well under way. Magazines are stable, and maybe even growing a little. If my mailbox is any indication, the catalog industry is stronger than ever. Printers tell me they are experiencing some growth. Times seem to be getting better.