Commentary & Analysis
Consumables Market: Turning Suppliers Into Partners
By Frank J.
By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: October 19, 2006
By Frank J. Romano October 19, 2006 -- In the late 1970s, I found myself in Cambridge, Massachusetts at a hotel on the banks of the Charles River. I took a walk and discovered the remains of a large industrial building that stood nearby since the late 1800s. Amongst the rubble, I discovered ledger pages from the Riverside Press, a prestigious printer once owned by publisher Houghton-Mifflin. The pages listed the consumables that they purchased. They bought twine to tie up lines of metal type, lead to cast lines of type (which they re-melted and re-used), pigments and linseed oil to make their own ink, glue, thread, and material for book bindings. The only real consumable that they purchased was paper. At that very moment in time, the prepress and printing industry were going through a revolution. Phototypesetting replaced metal type, and film and plates replaced letterpress printing. Photo offset, as some called it, ushered in the age of consumables. Film, photo paper, proofing papers, chemistry, and plates became an important part of our businesses. The consumables market has changed the very nature of the printing industry and made suppliers our partners, whether we like it or not. It was Compugraphic that helped create the phototypesetting paper market for Kodak. Later, Agfa would acquire CG in order to bundle the machine and its consumable. They once tried to sell a phototypesetting material that could only work in one line of imagers. The industry did not buy it. As CTP came into use and film went out, suppliers of the machine were different from suppliers of the plates. Today, some suppliers see the advantage of bundling equipment and consumables. This is most apparent with digital printing--you can only buy toner from the maker of the digital printer. Third-party inkjet ink refillers and packagers have seen legal and technological hurdles placed in their path. The consumables market has changed the very nature of the printing industry and made suppliers our partners, whether we like it or not. Printers miss the days of alternative suppliers. Recently, Pitman acquired Charrette, a provider of digital and traditional imaging supplies to the graphics, corporate, and technical design marketplaces, and the largest provider of wide-format inkjet supplies in the U.S. Charrette has 40,000 inventoried items used in design and wide format imaging applications. The company's online catalog offers in excess of 10,000 searchable products. The century-old Pitman Company provides the full spectrum of product and system solutions, service and support for both digital and traditional prepress and pressroom operations. Pitman.com is the world's largest online printing and equipment supplies store. Why did this merger take place? Because dealers were the intermediaries between consumables makers and consumables consumers. As the suppliers made consumables more and more proprietary and sold them directly, the supplier no longer needed the dealer as a channel. Thus, over the last ten years, most of the graphic arts dealers in the U.S. have disappeared. Today, and tomorrow, consumables make the printing industry go 'round.