Print, Paper, and Hard Copy Procurement: A New Category on Spend Matters

Contrary to popular belief – just ask Ikea what they spend on their catalog – print spending is not dead. Granted, while digital has completely upended the market, print and its intersections with broader marketing and agency spend refuses to be completely recycled into something else.

If anyone enjoys telling the history of it, I do.

Print buying once comprised a very large chunk of spend across all sectors with most large non- and for-profit Purchasing departments, employing many dedicated buyers. And it has refused to die, despite all the prognostications that it might.

Even back in 1980, when personal computing began to skyrocket, predictions that we would be a paperless society by the year 2000 abounded. It hasn’t exactly happened that way, even though we’ve become much more efficient at sourcing and managing the lifecycle of print procurement – and spend volumes have dropped. From a practitioner’s point of view, print buying today has become just one of many categories handled by a single buyer. In many cases, we’re still buying truckloads of paper.

This shift fascinates me – and raises a lot of questions.

  • What has changed? Or more appropriately, hasn’t changed?
  • Have buying strategies evolved with technology or simply adapted?
  • Why is 19th-century letterpress still popular as part of personal branding?
  • Is paper a lost art form?
  • Why does hard copy persist?

You might ask: Why am I bringing this all up? The answer: It’s going to be my new focus at Spend Matters as a member of the extended research team.

Now the skeptics among you are rightfully asking why I am qualified to cover the dramatic changes and future course of print procurement, supply chain, and adjunct services.

Here’s my (quick) story.

It’s fair to say that I’ve been in print since the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, when I would visit my mom at work after school and eventually help out in the print shop where she was a secretary (clearly this was pre-OSHA).

By early adolescence I was a small format offset pressman, working evenings, weekends, and summers (student work permits not required!). After college and business school, I still had ink in my veins and became the manager of a large in-house Ivy League university print shop, which had more than 25 employees. I had the additional responsibility of purchasing all paper and electrostatic printers for the campus. Later on, I started my own graphic design, advertising, and print brokerage business.

More recently, my tenure at Spend Matters (where I was the first hire) goes back over eight years. I served as the site’s first editor, wrote hundreds of “Friday Rants,” conducted telephone surveys, and – until this past spring – spent the last six years in business development and sales.

Now I’m honored to be covering print and related digital procurement areas as an analyst and hope that I can do justice to such a hallowed (and evolving) category.

I welcome your ideas on upcoming posts as well as suggestions for further research and analysis on the topic. Later this week, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on an optimal research agenda and themes to cover the topics. Later this month, once we’ve gotten sufficient feedback, we will share our research and editorial calendar with you.

So don’t be shy. If you’re a buyer or category manager for print, paper, or related marketing areas, please send me an email at wbusch [at] spendmatters [dot] com or post a comment. I need your input!

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Voices (3)

  1. Nani Paape:

    PS: Just don’t call us “print buyers.” Ugh.

  2. Nani Paape:

    I’m part of a generation of print production managers for design firms & agencies (many of us female) who lost our jobs in the Great Recession and in desperation, reinvented ourselves for our financial salvation.

    We are/were experts in print craftsmanship and both designers and printing industry folks miss us. It does my heart good to see some recovery in this area, and for print craft to be regarded as more than a just-push-the-button commodity.

    Feel free to contact me.

  3. Margie Dana:

    Wow Wow Wow Wow – this is terrific to learn about. I was a corporate print buyer for many years before founding a professional association for/about print buyer. During that part of my life I produced lots of events, catering to the education and social networking of corporate/agency buyers. Now I am a freelance copywriter for the print industry, having exited the event business. However, I continue to do research about print buying with a colleague, and the topic of the evolution of corporate print buyers is our focus. It fascinates me. I have a lot of thoughts/opinions about why they’ve evolved and what they’ve become. I see major movement into marketing environments, putting print pros right on the “frontlines” for shaping multichannel campaigns. Their roles have changed drastically due to all the reasons you point out. Print buyers have long been the stepchildren of the industry and I for one am glad they have more opportunities to make an impact on the marketing activities of their employers. However, this is by no means a majority of print people within companies. They still struggle to gain respect and to be included in high-level decisions. Often it comes down to an individual’s tenure and experience.

    Can’t wait to see future posts of yours. I’m interested in buyers’ future and in their career development – as well as in how they will manage to gain relevant print knowledge. It’s pretty much catch-as-catch-can, if that makes sense.

    Thank you.

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