One question people often ask me is: Where is Print going? I think we can all see the influence of digital technology within our industry, the proliferation of online tools and the evolution of consumer preferences — and wonder how will this all play out? Will we see print disappear in a complete technology shift, like the VCR? Or, will we see it continue to be relevant, evolving and morphing into new segments? When I’m trying to understand if new solutions will fully replace existing technologies versus turning into something complementary — or how quickly a shift in the market might take place — I typically look at these key differentiators:
While certain new technologies do end up replacing their predecessors, most of the time technologies evolve such that they become complementary and work together. Of course, market dynamics also inevitably shift, often impacting the consumption model for current technologies. For example, while people still listen to the radio, today they no longer gather together in the living room to listen to radio programming. Trains are now primarily used for transporting cargo in the US — and near and dear to our own hearts at Kodak — film has shifted from being used by consumers to capture their precious memories to professional and commercial applications.
Change is certainly occurring in the print industry. And, when change happens there are both tremendous risks, as well as great opportunities for incumbent suppliers and new, disruptive competition. The truth is that real growth, and the ability to drive significant change, is only achieved when a market undergoes disintermediation. While volumes in certain segments of the print industry are down, print is still a very cost-effective way to distribute content, and it remains differentiated as a communications medium. For example, according to WIRED magazine, people retain information better when reading from a hard-copy print versus e-reading. In the art publishing market, the visceral experience of a printed book is one reason why galleries continue to launch ambitious publishing programs. There are also market segments that are growing like Digital Printing; Packaging; Printed Electronics; and 3D Printing.
Our job isn’t to sit by and watch change happen, or to follow ‘where Print is going,’ but rather to enable the industry to build a new future and to redefine Print. In my opinion, the traditional markets where Print will remain a vital medium are book printing, direct mail, UV Commercial print, digital printing, and packaging.
But, it’s not just about where it’s going in these conventional spaces. As an industry, we must also focus on changing the public’s general perception of print. In particular, the rapidly expanding 3D printing space provides an opportunity for us to merge traditional print technology into 3D printing equipment, especially high-speed production devices.
Beyond that, significant opportunity exists in the printing of electronic circuits — depositing conductive inks on substrates for applications from batteries and solar panels to antennas, capacitors, and more. This will one day empower print customers to expand into the printing of conductive inks, helping them grow into new markets while becoming more profitable through the ability to deliver new customer value.
As change transforms our industry, we need to continue to invest and develop the technologies that will redefine and power this new future of print. But it’s not just about new technology. It’s also about becoming an even better steward, advocate, and partner to the industry.
So, where IS Print going? It’s my belief that the future is bright.
SHIFT TO DIGITAL
The shift to digital, particularly in retail, is helping printers do more than just print variable data on different packaging substrates like corrugated board; it helps retailers, brands and product owners engage consumers in novel and authentic ways. That’s the difference between a printer selling price-sensitive print or supplying a business solution. Digital printing is helping brands and retailers catch consumers’ attention in increasingly busy shops. It’s a boon for printers as the majority of the retail industry’s demand for printed signs is indoor signage (72%), much of which has a short shelf life.
Consumers are currently more price-sensitive and less brand loyal, typically searching for bargains or promotional offers for many kinds of products. Retail outlets are therefore the obvious winners when it comes to using graphics and signs to brand and sell direct to consumers. Unsurprisingly, grocery retail uses the most printed signs. Also unsurprisingly, particularly in South Africa and other African countries like Nigeria, where previously volatile inflation rates and other macroeconomic factors led to rapidly and regularly changing retail prices, particularly in groceries, point-of-sale (PoS) and signage have among the shortest lifespans in printing. That’s obviously good news for printers who work in this segment and can most benefit from rapid and reduced press setup procedures, colour matching, change over times, and make-ready for digital presses. Retailers use a variety of signage for a variety of purposes that lead to a variety of print opportunities. For one, retailers are challenged to maintain national or global brands while creating and preserving local authenticity. They also need to bridge the digital and analogue chasm, linking online marketing to in-store products and promotions. One of the best ways is to use smartphone cameras to snap barcodes, QR codes, or augmented reality codes like Clickable Paper from printed materials in stores. Those can be printed on PoS, promotional materials, or direct to even corrugated product packaging itself. Even printed electronic circuitry printed in conductive inks can be used in-store to link consumers’ immediacy to interact with the product, the retailer, or brands.
© Brad Kruchten with material support from Ricoh.
ABOUT BRAD KRUCHTEN
Brad Kruchten is the president, Print Systems Division, Kodak, which serves graphic arts and commercial print customers with printing plates, computer to plate imaging solutions, electrophotographic printing solutions, OEM toner, and all equipment services.