Consider these trends within graphic arts industry as summarized last month by Dr. Joe Webb over at WhatTheyThink.com:
Last year, shipments were up +0.9%, but were down on an inflation-adjusted basis by -0.7%. Since 2006, these inflation-adjusted shipments are down -19.6%; employment is down -23.5%. We know the reasons: weak companies are gone, volume has consolidated to healthier shops, and printers have been cutting back on production expenses in light of flat market prices and rising materials and other costs.
The total volume of printed material is down and so are the total number of employees needed to produce it. There may be many reasons as to why printing shipments are down at the moment but the pattern over the last decade has been consistent. There are less printed pages which translates into less printers and less print shop employees. The industry too often takes an insular approach when figuring out the causes such as rising material costs, crazy competitor pricing, online competition, and so on. But what if we were to look at the problem from a macro level and focus specifically on the great disruptor — technology? (Dr. Joe Webb has written a couple of books on this topic.)
In less than 30 years the industry itself has seen massive technological change that reduced the amount of labor input to produce the same results. Desktop publishing, computer-to-plate, lean manufacturing, and equipment automation have all had drastic effects to the print production process as it stood prior to this time. Again this is an inward looking approach. If we narrow the scope and look at the last 10 years of technology changes we can see even more disruption. The Internet matured into Web 2.0 bringing social media, e-commerce, and mobile technologies with it. In less than 10 years we have seen the rise of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, with the iPhone or iPad as perfect consumption points.
All that was once on paper has already or continues to move to digital media and consumption — the great march from pulp to pixels.
- News gathering
- Greeting Cards
- Corporate Communications — annual reports, forms, etc.
- Product documentation / instructions
Sure other product segments such as packaging, POP, or grand format might see a long migration, but is it realistic to think they will likewise be unaffected?
Perhaps Jim Raffel said it best last week:
Sure, it saddens me to know I could live to see the demise of the industry I’ve called home. The reality is I’ve known that for 10 years or more and have been preparing and adapting to confront that eventuality.
Perhaps we also push the nostalgia, denial, or other motivators aside and commit to preparing and adapting to change that eventuality? After all, the great march from pulp to pixels knows only one direction.