Sat, Apr

Getting the wider picture

As Image Reports distributes its eighth annual Widthwise Report on the state of the UK and Ireland’slarge-format digital print sector, Richard Gray of Printfuture, considers the global state of print in general.

48% of printers from across the world expected their companies’ economic performance to improve in 2015 when questioned last autumn, with just 7% expecting things to get worse. Would you describe your prospects so positively? I look forward to reading the detail in the full 2015 Widthwise Report due to be published with this issue. But it is useful to set those findings against the bigger picture of the global print market.

First let me briefly set the scene. This was the second annual Global Trends report written by Printfuture and published by Drupa at the end of March. It was based on a survey of the Drupa expert panel made up of over 800 printers and 300 print industry suppliers conducted in October last year. The majority were from Europe but all other regions across the globe were well represented. The participants were recruited from amongst visitors and exhibitors to Drupa 2012.

Was the very positive picture of prospects for 2015 (and the results for suppliers were almost exactly the same) evidence that you need to be an optimist to work in the print industry? Or was it a confident forecast that better times are just around the corner?

A more detailed examination of other performance indicators gives a much more challenging picture. On the one hand, 39% of printers (across all markets and all regions) saw their revenues rise whilst just 22% saw them fall. On the other hand only 15% of printers saw prices rise and 38% saw them fall and just 16% saw margins increase and 43% saw them fall. That so many printers were able to report a positive economic forecast for their companies can best be explained that most are earning to run faster i.e. they are dependent on an ever increasing utilisation (43% of commercial printers reported improved utilisation versus 22% reduced utilisation).

Digital print continues to grow fast with digital cut sheet colour print volume growth rates outstripping all others. Wide-format print was covered by ‘digital rollfed’, which was reported to be growing steadily but at a third of the rate of cutsheet colour.

However for most printers conventional print still generates the majority of turnover. Only 10% of the print service providers surveyed achieved more than 25% of their 2014 sales in digital printing (2013: 8%), although this figure increased to 38% for commercial printers (within which market definition most wide-format print falls).

Looking at market performance, it was clear that the packaging market is thriving globally whilst times are more challenging for commercial printers and those printers that serve the publishing market. For example 23% of packaging printers reported improved margins last year compared with just 13% of commercial and publishing printers. For commercial printers one common response is to seek additional sources of turnover by adding additional services. Wide-format print was reported as one of these by 40% of commercial printers (after variable data print 72%, creative design 60%, stock storage and fulfilment 51%).

Given the general optimism reported, it is not surprising that there was strong investment plans reported with ‘print technology’ the number one target (51%) followed by ‘finishing equipment’ (48%) and then ‘pre-press/workflow/MIS’ (41%). In terms of print equipment for commercial printers, ‘digital cutsheet colour’ was the number one choice (39%) followed by ‘sheetfed offset’ (24%) and then ‘rollfed inkjet’ including wide-format at 13%.

So to return to the somewhat surprising optimism for their company prospects, as reported by printers from across the globe in the Drupa ‘expert panel’. This appears to fly in the face of much disturbing performance data that the same group reported. Maybe they are just whistling to keep their spirits up or maybe they realise that despite the slow recovery from recession and the clear transition to increasing digital communications, print can form the core of many marketing plans. Wide format is a great example of how digital print can extend the range of print services in a way that generates fresh demand and growth opportunities.

If you want to download the Executive Summary of the second Drupa Global Trends report then follow this link: http://goo.gl/dd6tU7 (registration required).

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