Passion for Printing May Lead to Serious Competitive Battles

Passion seemed the operative word at Graph Expo/Converting Expo on October 6-9 at Chicago's McCormick Place. It may have been only coincidence, but two of the largest exhibitors — Heidelberg and Creo — were in total marketing synchronization in communicating their passion for printing. And it wasn't just hype.

Undeniably smaller in terms of total floor space and attendance than past editions, nevertheless this Graph Expo/Converting Expo seemed to attract printers with serious (if not passionate) buying intentions. Many of the exhibitors heaved heavy sighs of relief, expressing that maybe this show was following the trend set at Labelexpo of the Americas and signaling the beginning of improved business conditions. Here was an opportunity to close the gap between this year's profits and losses.

By its name, Graph Expo/Converting Expo implies that it serves both the commercial and industrial printing (converting) industries. But GASC show organizers probably wouldn't argue that the emphasis — even in the converting pavilion — caters largely to the paper converting needs of commercial printers. When industrial converting was addressed, however, it seemed treated as a new business opportunity for commercial printers' involvement.

There was little doubt on the show floor, as well as at the Executive Outlook conference sessions held on October 5, that if commercial printers are to survive, they must prepare for growth, become cost efficient, and, more importantly, they must reinvent themselves. How? By becoming converters, too!

It's obvious that presses have become more flexible over the years; this includes offset presses that are the norm in most commercial printing establishments. It's no news that companies traditionally enjoying profits from printing brochures, direct mail, posters, forms, publications, reprints, and now wide-format banners, etc., have experienced a deep recession. Many are out of business; others are looking passionately for a means to survive.

Many commercial printers believe converting packaging materials is comparable to reaching the “promised land.” Vendors often preach that crossing over from commercial printing to package printing is a logical and easily taken step. It's largely true.

Commercial printers have technology advantages many converters don't. Long ago, commercial printers invested in CtP (computer to plate) and fully digital workflows. They were among the first to invest in digital printing. Converters, on the other hand, have lagged behind for years in adopting most of these technologies. Well, guess what? Many of these commercial printers are either preparing or already have added package printing to their list of capabilities.

Converters' businesses are in danger. Doubtful? Consider this: The Executive Outlook conference was themed, Emerging Technologies/Shifting Markets — Turning Threats Into Opportunities. One session on which I was asked to speak was titled “Package and Specialty Printing — An Opportunity for Commercial Printers.” Somehow it didn't feel right telling a passionate competitive business sector how to take jobs from my converter readers. But I do have ideas on how the two industries might work together, and I'll share them in next month's editorial.

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