State of the Industry-Industry Wide
LAST OCTOBER, DURING a panel discussion at GRAPH EXPO® and CONVERTING EXPO® 2002, one long-time industry observer noted that the printing industry isn't really one industry at all, but rather a collection of different niches and specialties in which conditions, pressures, and opportunities can vary widely.
Bearing this diversity in mind is the key to understanding where our industry may be headed in 2003. Clearly, the starting point for any such discussion is a distinctly lackluster 2002. A number of factors have come together during the last two years to create one of the most challenging periods our industry has ever faced.
National economic conditions have been sluggish at best. Closer to home, print sales overall declined in both 2001 and 2002, according to the National Association for Printing Leadership, which projects, however, a return to growth in 2003.
Orders and shipments of printing equipment closely follow these trends. From a historic high of $2.7 billion in 2000, equipment shipments declined to $2.5 billion in 2001 and are projected to total $2.3 billion in 2002. Supplies shipments have also contracted, from a high of $1.961 billion in 1998 to about $1.441.7 billion in 2001, and another decline of $100 million or more estimated for 2002.
NPES expects that growth may soon return to several product categories. Shipments of sheetfed offset presses, for instance, have been flat in 2001 -2002 but are expected to post about a 6 percent gain in 2003. A number of other categories are also poised for growth.
An ongoing survey conducted through the NPES Web site has found that nearly 60 percent of respondents expect business to be up in 2003, and another 35 percent expect roughly the same performance as in 2002.
Certainly optimism about 2003 was increased by the success of GRAPH EXPO and CONVERTING EXPO last October. Exhibitors across virtually all product categories reported strong sales and buyer interest. In some categories marked by rapid technology development such as computer-to-plate and digital printing, it seems reasonable to think a long period of "wait and see" is ending, and printers are beginning to execute concrete investment strategies.