Print Procurement Coverage – Prospective Themes and Topics: Please Vote!

Kenneth Sponsler/Adobe Stock

I received some very helpful comments and perspectives on this past Friday’s introductory post about our new coverage on the printing industry, service, and supply chain. They have reaffirmed for me how the recent recession, subsequent recoveries, and unrelenting technological advances must remain at the forefront of effective coverage on these markets – and they are individual supply markets.

Digital Disruption

While we could argue that procurement is going through rounds of digital disruption as organizations find themselves having to manage old and new expectations (often with flat budgets), the supply markets of print, paper, and related digital solutions have already had their structures toppled, leaving them to rebuild from new foundations. These are already disrupted markets.

But where is the “you are here” dot for today’s print and related markets? It’s important as a critical reference point as we begin to tear down these supply markets and explore savings and other cost management opportunities. In forthcoming coverage, I plan to verify and provide well-referenced metrics where needed, but for now let’s consider what is widely believed to be the current state of the industry, much of which is counterintuitive and reminiscent of the quip often attributed to Mark Twain: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

  • Commercial printing is a major global industry with estimated total revenue of $90 billion.
  • Even without the presidential election year bump, sales growth is conservatively pegged at 1% per year now and through 2017.
  • Average net-profit margins are also projected to increase 1% per year.

Time to Sober Up – On Paper 

The sobering takeaway is that commercial printing represents $90 billion in spend and is growing at a snail’s pace, exclusive of pre-press graphic design cost (quite a different process from digital design for non-print multimedia). These estimates also ignore increasing investment in in-house high-resolution color digital inkjet technologies for on-demand printing and its capacity for customization that rivals digital presentations. This all points to the need to recognize that there is never one best solution.

This couldn’t be truer in the realm of creating and designing marketing communication to clients and prospects where, unfortunately, too many corporations are still squabbling internally over whether print or digital media should receive the larger budget. All too often, they eliminate or outsource the loser – along with valuable staff, tribal knowledge, and patchwork (but effective) technology.

I’ve seen this happen over and over again. In this false dichotomy, the corporation is the primary loser, as are the countless production managers and buyers who must make a transition in their careers. But there is at least a dull silver lining to the situation. The need to survive and achieve the ongoing right balance between digital and print within a multimedia approach is very likely why print is alive and well, albeit in flux.

Prioritizing Our Coverage

As I hone in on themes and topics for an optimal research agenda, please chime in with further perspectives, agreement, disagreement, and tales from the trenches to help me prioritize a daunting array of needed analysis.

Along with your suggestions for coverage, I will need your help in prioritizing the following issues and categories:

  • Where do supply markets look today for the greatest cost levers to drive savings and value creation given their evolution?
  • What is the role of technology today? How do specialized print and digital procurement technology solutions differ from generic source-to-pay solutions? What are the roles of online marketplaces and B2B for print, digital, and marketing services?
  • How relevant are green initiatives in print procurement? The printing and paper industries have historically been among the most egregious polluters. Those days appear to be behind us, but perhaps not permanently, as the political pendulum will never be static.
  • From a paper product and print perspective, the packaging industry is and will continue to be a major category and source of spend. I believe there are many opportunities for end users to become far more involved in supply chain savings. Yet packaging is often managed outside of print buying today and could benefit from its domain expertise.
  • Rumor has it that USPS is not seeing a decline in direct mail initiatives. Will this sustain, decline, or expand in future, and why?
  • Changing relationships: Is print a manufacturing process or a service industry? The answer is of course both, but where does the balance lie for clients, and is there sufficient incentive to pay for both? And what can this tell us about how best to engineer savings opportunities?
  • Are there existing relevant training and continuing educational programs to maintain pre-press and print production expertise domestically? Do they combine essential on-the-job training opportunities? Where will this employment market be in 10, 15, 20 years? Will it go the way of certain other supply chains, which are now, at the lowest tiers, almost entirely offshore?

In full disclosure, regarding impact, I am passionate about covering the ever evolving implications of print industry analysis upon the people who have dedicated their careers and lives – often multi-generationally – to the discipline and extensive empirical learning that the field has and will continue to require. So be assured I will always consider this element as well – but with a dose of tough love and medicine for all of us to survive and thrive in the brave new print, paper, and digital procurement world.

Please send me an email at wbusch [at] spendmatters [dot] com or post a comment. I welcome your input.

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