2011 is looking like a good year … or is it?

Over the last few weeks I’ve read several reports on the state of the printing industry and the outlook for 2011. I’ve been surprised. Most of them project sales, especially in direct marketing to be up – not a lot, but still up. That’s a huge improvement over the last two or three years. Most of the top corporations anticipate spending more on print this year. One of the reports even surmised that volumes would return to pre-recession levels because of pent-up demand.

There might even be some logic in this. The stock market is in good shape. Fortune 500 corporate profits are higher than they’ve ever been. The recession has made process improvement and efficiency tantamount. We see a lot of that in the printing industry. The industry leaders, such as Quad and Consolidated are acquiring firms and merging operations to keep a handle on costs, while looking at how to handle the predicted increase in demand. It looks like printing is successfully holding its own against the social media evil empire. Maybe we can return to the good old days of the past after all.

But let me take off my rose colored glasses for a moment.

After I read these reports, I thought I’d talk to a few of my old printing clients when I recruited. These firms ranged from about two to fifteen million in annual sales – your basic range of the majority of commercial printing. Their client bases consisted mainly of local and regional firms cut across a wide range of industries. They print collateral as well as some direct marketing and even some retail signage.

While we can sit back  in our living rooms and read the latest NAPL report – we can’t help but see there’s an elephant blocking the view of our TV. And this elephant is the printers I called – printers like the majority of you that read my rants. But I don’t need to tell you that.

I didn’t hear about acquisitions. I did hear about plant closings though. I didn’t hear about hiring talent to gear up for the upturn. I heard about layoffs, layoffs of not just employees – but friends. I heard a lot about losing business to Groupon, from the smaller firms. The “evil social media empire” hasn’t so much been kept at bay as one would think reading the trade publications. All this talk of customers preferring the printed piece seems to have been lost on the customer themselves. The owners I talked to gave me the impression they’d just gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson. And they can’t wait to get out of the ring.

This is our real print industry. It’s not the one that has public shareholders to report to. It’s not the one that’s always on the look out for the next company with an owner that’s hitting the late rounds. The real industry is one where their son’s best friend has a father who out of work and worried about making his mortgage. The owners of the real print industry are worried about paying that college tuition for their kids they’d never thought they’d have to worry about. This the industry that doesn’t make the trade publications. They’re not necessary out of business … but they can sure see it a possibility – voluntarily or not.

If you drive around your community you’ll probably see a new coffee shop opening up. or you might see a new Walmart or Target store. But what you won’t see is a new printing company, even though you might see where one once was a year or two ago.

Most of the news we read or watch discusses the economy in macro terms. GNP is up or down. Unemployment is 8.8% or 8.9%. We might hear hear state numbers, but for the most part, it’s all national, it’s all macro. It’s looking at the forest from a mile up. It looks fine. The big trees stand tall. But what we don’t see is there is no growth down below. None of the nourishing sun reaches the floor. None of this supposed up turn in the economy has reached Main Street. And unfortunately – we live on Main Street.

But according to the reports, things are going to be fine again. Apparently all we have to do is  is be patient. Good times are just up on the horizon. Recently I read a couple posts here by Carl Gerhardt, with the most recent being yesterday.  In his articles Carl took the position that not all printers are set up to take advantage of the new communication world represent by social media, other online alternatives and 1:1 marketing. If you’ve read anything I’ve written over the last few months, you’d know my opinion on the necessity of change in our industry. At first I wanted to comment, but I decided to step back and look at things from the perspective of someone in the trenches – especially a smaller firm like those in the Carl’s Allegra network.

I can only imagine that for a small printing company, adopting these new age products and services must seem a daunting undertaking, if not outright insurmountable. To most owners of these firms, Facebook and Twitter are useless internet things their children and grandchildren waste time on when they should be doing, well … anything else. And their opinion of Groupon isn’t much better. Even if these owners saw merit in these new technologies – how to incorporate them in their work-flow and revenue stream is another story completely. The time and effort just isn’t worth it. After all, things are going to get better aren’t they?

Let me ask you something. What did you do when you were teaching your daughter to ride a bike. What did you do, after she fell down, scraped her knees and said she didn’t want to try anymore. I guarantee you didn’t let her quit. You pushed her, and you helped her until she was successful. It was hard, but she worked her way through it. What did you do when your son wanted to run for student council, but was afraid to get up in front of a group to give his campaign speech. I’m willing to bet you encouraged him and gave him the support he needed and told him he’d knock’em dead.

Why is changing your printing company any different. Yea, it’s going to be hard … damn hard! Once the emotional momentum wears off – you’re going to want to go back to doing business the same way you have in the past. But you can’t. And you can’t turn back time. None of us are Michael J. Fox and have a DeLoren equipped with a flux capacitor.

Maybe your firm doesn’t have the talent to make this jump. Find it! You don’t have to load up your payroll either. I’m sure there’s plenty of small web or data base firms more than happy to partner with you. Just because you’ve always been the lone wolf … doesn’t mean you have to stay that way. The first post I wrote for Printing Impressions was called “the Alliance.” It would do you good to go back and read it if you haven’t, or re-read if you have.

Our industry has reached a critical juncture. And I believe we have not seen the end of the carnage either. Printing will still be a viable business. It just won’t be a business like it was … no matter what you read.

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Related post: Why Should We Keep Print Alive?

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Check out more of my rants on my personal blog, “On the Road to Your Perfect World” or follow me on Twitter at @clayforsberg

~ by Clay Forsberg on March 29, 2011.

2 Responses to “2011 is looking like a good year … or is it?”

  1. Opt In
    vs.
    Opt out

    Digital
    vs.
    Analog

    I agree with you Clay!
    Feet in the street interviews, Do reveal a bleak landscape.
    Are there no new Digital business models that can sustain a MegaPrinter in 2012 and beyond?

    What’s left to print that a SmartPhone/iPad/tablet/PC/etc. can’t deliver?

    Insurance? Just paid my Life Premium online an hour ago.
    Medical? Just logged in to Kaiser and saw the results of my most recent test. (Negative! YEA!)
    Seed Catalog to get ready for spring? Googled “Heirloom Tomato Seeds” in Jan., and bought seeds online.

    The days of press runs 500k or greater…? going, going, gone?

    Analog Printing is going to continue to shrink to a niche market of numerous, long run, Government mandated notifications. (i.e. Terms & Conditions for a Credit Card, IRA account, Banking, etc.)

    Not sure there’s an answer moving forward.

    Could be like Blockbuster Video.
    Digital passed them by……….

  2. Wow, what a fantastic article. Thank you.

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