Laying the Convergence Foundation During PRINTING United
As one of the driving concepts behind the launch of PRINTING United, it was fitting for the show to open with an intensive educational session devoted to discussing the impact convergence is having on the printing industry.
Led by two printing industry consultants and subject matter experts — Marco Boer, VP of I.T. Strategies and David Zwang, principal consultant of Zwang and Co. — the session provided definitions and analysis of convergence, and strategies for printers looking to explore new opportunities.
To open the presentation, Boer and Zwang explained that in the past, printers tended to focus within a single application segment. But as the internet and digital technologies have impacted the industry, the lines between the various segments have blurred, paving the way for convergence — or printers entering industry segments outside of their traditional core competency — to emerge.
But with so many print applications and subsegments to choose from within the worlds of commercial, publishing, packaging, and functional printing, understanding where there are opportunities and low barriers to entry is essential for printers to understand which segments make sense to explore.
The first step, Boer explained, is for printers to identify synergies between their current segment and the one they may be interested in pursuing. Specifically, segments with synergies among the common substrates, ink or toner being used, software needed in the process, finishing systems required, or go-to-market strategies utilized, can present some of the best opportunities for convergence.
“The first step is to find the technical synergies between what you do today and what you might want to get into,” Boer said.
For example, if a printer in a segment that uses non-porous substrates, such as those used in magazines or catalogs, has an interest in entering the packaging industry, the non-porous film used in labels and flexible packaging may provide some familiarities.
Workflow software is another key, yet often overlooked area to explore for synergies. Zwang explained that software is the underlying force driving production in a printing plant, and while it can be a difficult investment to measure compared to a printing press, it’s important to understand the impact it can have.
“When you’re looking at software, you need to think of it as an infrastructure and need to look at it for the long term,” he said. “You need to say, ‘This is where I am today and this is where I want to be 10 years from now.’”
While it may be less technical, another key area to explore for synergies is in go-to-market strategies. For example, if a printer is in a segment primarily utilized by businesses, it may not be the best approach to enter a consumer-focused segment, such as garment printing.
Once synergies are identified, the next step in the process is to assess the ability to match or overlay the synergies within the segments.
For example, Boer explained that while packaging can be an attractive segment to explore, it provides significant complexities that printers from outside the segment may not be accustomed to in finishing, workflow, and the number of stakeholders in the process.
“People love packaging from an industry perspective because it won’t be replaced by the internet,” Boer said. “But it’s a far more complicated ecosystem.”
Preparing for Expansion
Presenting a breakdown of “convergence power rankings” and the potential that these opportunities hold for convergence-minded print service providers, Boer and Zwang urged PSPs to be clear about the number of competitors they will face in the spaces where they would like to expand.
They said there are, for example, 5,000 sites in North America where marketing collateral is produced — more than the 3,000 sites offering wide-format graphics, and in even sharper contrast with the 1,000 or so sites where the specialty is soft signage (signs printed on polyester substrates using dye-sublimation).
The result is that there is, according to Boer, “a lot of jumping into different buckets” as PSPs weigh the opportunities that convergence affords. But, he cautioned that not every jump is a guaranteed leap into prosperity. He noted, for example, that despite the industry’s increasing adoption of Web-to-print based production, there still are “less than 10 ‘pure’ Web-to-print providers in North America with more than $10 million in revenue per year.”
Boer and Zwang were joined by Mark Subers, president of PRINTING United, in a review of how the show will help to communicate all the benefits of print to the broadest possible audience. Subers particularly recommended “The Experience Zone,” a 4,000-sq.-ft. exhibit with more than 100 printed applications that demonstrate how printing shapes consumers’ lives.
Zwang said that in terms of the hardware and technology that was presented in the 724,000 gross sq. ft. of space, “I haven’t seen this much in years” at a trade show.