How Printers Can Survive the Pandemic’s Aftermath

The commercial printing industry is in trouble. And I don’t say that out of any dislike for ink on paper. To the contrary, I love print. It’s how I’ve made a living for more than 40 years, to say nothing of how I like to consume information. I began my professional career in sales, progressed through various executive positions and then consulted with printing firms ranging from the relatively small to the extremely large and everything in between.

I’ve also survived—and helped companies survive—a number of economic calamities over the years. And make no mistake, this is going to be a big one. Maybe the biggest ever.

Though I don’t want to dash anyone’s hopes, this is not the time to be Pollyannaish about print’s future. Big changes are coming, and only those companies that take the right, aggressive steps now will survive.

Here’s what I think is going to happen:

Large, Permanent Volume Losses. We saw this act before during the Great Recession. Commercial print volume reached its zenith around 2008 and then tanked dramatically as the recession unfolded. Digital media was already in motion and with less money to spend and the C-suite screaming for marketing accountability, the digital juggernaut gained even greater momentum. Print never fully recovered. After the recession, volume inched upward at 1 or 2 percent annually, but never reached its pre-recession highs.

This time will be worse. Not only was digital media already on the move, but the pandemic forced many organizations to further depend on pixels instead of print. The economy is likely to ramp up slowly with marketers again experiencing tight budgets and plenty of pressure to perform. And the digital world is now more robust than ever with younger marketers more prone to digital channels.

In addition, some segments will be terribly slow to recover. Markets like travel and hospitality are obvious, but many others will also suffer. Take the auto industry—already hampered by economic uncertainty, which will also take peripheral hits from developments such as the bankruptcy filing of Hertz, a large purchaser of new automobiles.

Expect a BIG fallout.  

The Industry Will Get Much Smaller. Respected industry analyst Marco Boer recently stated in a Printing Impressions interview that he expected the number of printing entities to decrease by 20 percent over the next few years—either by consolidation or closure. Offset printers (yes, that’s likely you) will be hardest hit as marketers gravitate to shorter, more personalized digital printing with higher, more measurable results. In my opinion, web offset printers stand to take the biggest hit and have the least ability to move to digital printing. They’re not oriented toward that type of business and there’s no way digital would ever come close to web offset volume.

What to Do

There’s a temptation to sit back and see how things sort out. But that’s a mistake. The world—and your world especially—is going to change. You need to figure out how and where you fit. These are my recommendations.

Look Hard at Your Markets. Companies aimed at bad segments are dead. You need to sit down now and see exactly where your business is coming from and decide how you need to adjust. And it won’t be as easy as saying now I’m in hospitality and entertainment but I’m moving to  healthcare or software. There will be a lot of people with the same idea, and you’ll need to be able to make a stronger case than ever about why someone should buy from you. Printing companies that can help design a results-oriented program to tightly targeted markets will do the best. Do you have the salespeople, systems and equipment to pull that off? How will you market to those customers? Do you have your messaging down and the right tools?

Don’t Overreact But Act. Even if you’re determined to take a wait-and-see approach, you better be thinking about Plan B. Explore creative partnerships as well as strategic acquisitions or being acquired. Consider your current equipment, systems and services mix. How could you better position yourself for the likelihood of shorter runs, more personalization and more services that go beyond print? Are there ways for you to do the same or more with less? Can you better train your sales force to succeed in a new marketing world?

A virus turned the world upside down in a short time. There is no magic formula to undo the damage that occurred. Time (and a vaccine) will help, but the problems for the printing industry go deeper. Good analysis and sound planning are essential. If you want some assistance and an outside perspective to help get your company through the crisis, give me a call at 708-610-9914, or send an email inquiry to

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Batavia, IL 60510
Mobile- 708-610-9914

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