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Ask the Prof

By Leon Minnie product manager: production systems at Konica Minolta South Africa

The print industry still has a long way to go to be a technologically advanced communication and marketing medium.

I thought it would be worthwhile talking about the opportunities and embracing technological changes or challenges that the print industry faces. The sentiment among many print providers is still that they are traditional printers, which do not need to change or accept new technologies that could enhance their businesses and services to clients. These dinosaurs still roam among us in the print industry and, yes, some are still successful, but, for how long will they continue to be relevant?

Many printers have managed to get away with not changing much, resisting spending money on technology that does not fit within the scope of the parameters of traditional print. Why should they invest in digital systems when their 30-year old press still produces excellent quality? Why do they need to spend money on software that does not design anything? Offering services whose ultimate goal is not to print, why would you do that…?

All of the modern points mentioned above actually drive print output at some point in time and, just like embracing digital and litho working in harmony to ultimately improve efficiencies within the print environment, one also needs to embrace the fact that print and electronic communication channels work hand-in-hand. These two platforms cannot survive without one another at this point in time. Maybe in the future, one will be less relevant than the other, but this will not be any time soon. The print industry is evolving just as it has many times before and, during this transition period, we have people who prefer electronic communication, while we also have people who prefer print. Situations likewise predict which medium is best suited for use and people now have a choice of the type of communication they would prefer.

One can almost say that for the first time ever, the printing industry is not only changing from one technology to another – like it did back in the day from letter press to photolithography – but it now has to compete for its rightful place as a viable communication and marketing channel. The print industry has never been challenged in its position as the sole method of communication and that of sharing information. Due to this competition, the print industry has had difficulties for the last few years. However, it should rather use this competitive platform to promote its own existence.

Many studies have been done on the effectiveness of print and electronic media as marketing or communication channels. Both have their strengths and weaknesses but neither one can claim to dominate over the other. For this reason, being a printer today should not only mean delivering output onto paper using a digital or litho press, it should mean using electronic platforms to deliver e-mail campaigns, posting ads on social media, as well as releasing electronic newsletters along with the printed output. An example of this is to design and print brochures for a client but to also create an e-book for his website or an electronic document for e-mail distribution. Printers need to realise that they should play a bigger role in the life of the documents they receive and create; looking beyond the one dimensional printing process to the promotion of the product’s existence across many different platforms.

In South Africa we would like to think that we could compare ourselves to the European and US markets. However, our political challenges and the situation we find ourselves in do make us, in many cases, unique. Our environment is ideal for exploiting both traditional print and electronic media. We have a postal service that is, and has been, struggling to fulfil its obligations to deliver postage reliably. We have a part of our population that hardly uses postage and has access to infrastructure that allows them to live ‘without’ print. We have schools and communities that rely heavily on print because the affordability and reliability of the infrastructure, if any, is out of their reach and to which they have limited access.

Print in its traditional form is certainly not dead, but we can roam around in yester year like dinosaurs. We need to become multi-channel service providers to fully grab the print opportunities or face extinction.

The following is a report from IBISWorld, which pointed out a few things that should be contemplated if you are in the print industry.

‘Substitutes to commercially printed material, such as online media and advertising, will continue to adversely affect industry activity. The industry will also continue to struggle as digital media replaces paper products. In order to adapt to declining demand, printers will diversify into cross-media products, including multimedia layout and design. ‘Online providers offer mailing at bulk prices, creative services and marketing lists. These online operators will help grow the short print-run market by offering small businesses and households more convenience and a larger range of services at competitive prices. Large online providers will raise the bar for traditional print providers.

‘The ability to access books and book catalogues on the internet has attracted search engines like Google and Yahoo. People are reading less printed media than they used to, and many publishers and printing companies are threatened by this development. Nevertheless, publishers are trying new business models to capitalize on the internet, such as introducing subscriptions for online newspaper content, thus reducing demand for the printing industry. In response, printing companies have been forced to do the same as downstream demand wanes. As digital media continues to grow, commercial printers have diversified into outsourcing document processes. This involves delegating any task or process in the document life cycle, from creation through delivery. They are also diversifying from traditional print products into cross-media products, such as multimedia layout and design. In short, more commercial printers are transforming from manufacturing- focused to service-focused businesses.’

** If you have any comments or questions please feel free to share them below.


Want to say something? Post a comment

  • @Sandy said:Posted on 18 May, 2016 02:08 PM

    Hi Prof,

    I agree with you.

    I love to browse the internet, I am fortunate enough to have internet at home where I can read for hours and hours, here if I have to attain the same information I would most likely have to sit in a library and read old outdated books. I do however love to read books, feel the paper and the book smells. Something an E-book will never be able to give me.

    I like a printed invitation, I think it’s more personal and makes me feel like I was intentionally invited, rather then a bulk emailer that is so generic generated and sent.

    As convenient as the internet is, I still prefer some things to be printed.

    Thank you for your blog, it’s very interesting, I can’t wait to see what you write about next

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