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At the “Reality Show” That Was Graph Expo, Clear Thinking and Common Sense Prevailed

There were many reasons to attend Graph Expo,

By Patrick Henry
Published: November 5, 2008

There were many reasons to attend Graph Expo, but Guy Gecht, CEO of EFI, summed them up succinctly.

Those prowling the aisles of McCormick Place had come to find out “how to do reasonably well in a downturn,” according to Gecht, whose company specializes in MIS, workflow and process automation for printers. That presented them with three choices: do nothing and hope to muddle through; capture new sources of revenue; control costs and drive efficiency. Gecht said he believed that most attendees were committed to the latter two.

Common-sense observations like Gecht’s were heard frequently at Graph Expo, a show tempered by the realities of the mostly bad general economic news surrounding it. But the downturn seems to have clarified thinking and refocused attention on business essentials, creating the kind of constructive atmosphere for fact-finding and decision-making on which the success of any trade show depends.

Marke Baker, president of Mitsubishi Lithographic Presses, caught this pragmatic tone in his explanation of the urgency of investing in new equipment. “The longer you wait to acquire new technology, the longer the learning curve for your personnel,” he said. Because printing technology evolves so rapidly, those used to operating 10-year-old equipment will have to work hard to update their skills for Mitsubishi’s new Diamond V3000LX sheetfed press and the other high-performance litho equipment promoted at the show.

Our notebooks were full of vignettes like these by the time Graph Expo was over. Here are some others.


The economic slowdown clearly isn’t putting the brakes on 4Over Inc., the “super trade printer” whose founder and CEO, Zarik Megerdichian, was a customer panelist at the Komori press briefing on the eve of the show. He said that investing in new equipment was the key to staying competitive in a downturn and to emerging in even better shape when business conditions return to normal.

Last year, 4Over demonstrated its commitment to this principle by equipping its plant in Huber Heights, OH, with a Komori System 38 web press, two Komori Lithrone S40 sheetfeds, and a host of prepress and postpress systems from other manufacturers.

The opening of the facility in Huber Heights, near Dayton, was the most recent expansion of the 4Over footprint, but it won’t be the last: the company, headquartered in Glendale, CA, intends to open plants in Newark, NJ, Dallas, TX, and Miami, FL, in 2009. Each of these sites is to receive a pair of Lithrone sheetfeds along with other production machinery, and the entire network will be equipped to offer 500-lpi stochastic screening for the highest of high-quality printed output.

That ought to be enough to make any company pause for breath, but Megerdichian’s plan for growth doesn’t stop there. He said that 4Over has four additional cities under consideration for plants as it pursues its ambition to become the premier national provider of 24/7 printing services to the trade. The company, which does 100% of its business with brokers and other trade buyers, expects to be able to cover 90% of the U.S. market via two-day ground delivery when the Newark, Miami, and Dallas sites enter production.

But 4Over’s growth spurt is still not over. The web sites of its non-lithographic divisions, Large4Mat.com and Grand4Mat.com, remain under construction for now, but Megerdichian is encouraging his customers to bookmark them for follow-up. When the divisions become fully operational next year, he said, the sites will be portals to a complete range of inkjet services for posters, banners, and other indoor and outdoor signage.


An article by Ralph J. Nappi, president of NPES, in the PIA/GATF 2008 Forecast contained a statement about digital printing with implications for the future character of the Graphic Arts Show Company’s Graph Expo and Print events, which continue to seen primarily as venues for conventional production.

Nappi wrote that according to research by NPES and PRIMIR on the digital print market, “more than one-third of jobs currently being produced on a color digital press were printed on a ‘traditional’ press two years ago.” With the installed base of digital production presses forecasted to reach 70,000 devices in 2011, he continued, “commercial printers are expected to comprise half of all color digital production press sites” by that year.

If Nappi’s assertion about job migration is correct, it would tend to undermine the claim heard from most digital press manufacturers that their products are “complementary” to offset equipment. The rate at which commercial printers are said to be adopting digital systems also raises questions about how complementary the new devices can really be when growth in many print product categories is flat or close to it.

One counter-argument is that the glass is two-thirds full because the digital jobs not taken from offset represent new volume. In any case, the handwriting on the wall for the GASC shows is that if printers continue to come to these events, they will be coming as much in search of digital output solutions as conventional ones—and that the shows will have to be rebranded and remarketed accordingly.

As Cary Sherburne astutely observed in her show recap earlier this week, the tipping point in terms of floor space allocation probably has been reached already. (Also see her related post at PrintCEOblog.) When the manufacturer (Komori) that brought all of three presses to the show can claim bragging rights for the most lithographic equipment displayed, it’s hard to resist concluding that Graph Expo and Print have a different mission and a new set of expectations ahead of them.

Maybe this is occurring for all of the right reasons—but there is still room for perspective on the shift to digital output and the consequences of that shift for offset. Asked about it during his company’s press briefing, manroland CEO Vince Lapinski replied that while many printers have added digital capability, not all of them have been successful with it.

Like all of the other litho press manufacturers, manroland has refrained from adding digital presses to its product portfolio (although it offers plateless, digitally rewritable printing cylinders in a proprietary technology called DICOweb). Lapinski said that while the combination of offset and digital can be a “nice marriage,” conventional printing retains advantages that will help to protect its market share. The economy of offset for longer runs is one such asset, he noted.


As president of the U.S. arm of what is still the world’s leading manufacturer of sheetfed presses, Heidelberg’s Jim Dunn keeps close tabs on media trends that affect the demand for sheetfed output. During a presentation at Graph Expo, he was able to share something encouraging from research by a major advertising agency into projected media spending by the agency’s clients in 2009.

The forecast was that although these advertisers would reduce their overall media spends by 10% to 15% next year, their print spend would increase by 7%. What the agency found, Dunn explained, is that its clients’ media buyers were growing dissatisfied with the ROI from their online investments—not in terms of hits, which were abundant, but in terms of sales generated, which were less than anticipated.

The media buyers foresee a better return from packaging and direct mail, but in shorter runs and with much more regionalization. Packaging, in particular, is gaining new recognition as a marketing tool. A package, Dunn said, is no longer regarded just as a container for the product, but as a vehicle for promoting it as well. The emphasis on packaging is good news for Heidelberg, which offers not only presses but a large assortment of postpress equipment for folding-carton production.


Dunn also is co-chair of The Print Council, an advocacy group that got its start at Graph Expo 2003. He set aside part of the Heidelberg press briefing to let Ben Cooper, the council’s executive director, explain what motivates the group to push on with its plans into what Cooper called “such a strong economic headwind.”

When it was launched, The Print Council acted primarily as a liaison to the U.S. Postal Service, which also has a stake in printing’s future among the mass media. Since then, Cooper said, The Print Council has broadened its effort to promote the greater use of print by recruiting printing companies as members for activism at the grass roots.

The Print Council assists members by offering them marketing materials such as “Why Print? The Top Ten Ways Print Helps You Prosper”, a freely reprintable brochure on the value and effectiveness of print communications. Cooper said that more than 40,000 copies of “Why Print?” have been distributed in six languages.

The Print Council also funds Print in the Mix, an online clearing house for a large body of downloadable research on the advantages of print-based advertising and marketing. Print in the Mix, hosted and managed at the Printing Industry Center of Rochester Institute of Technology, celebrated its first anniversary in September.

The time has now come, Cooper said, for The Print Council’s next major initiative: the development of a formal media campaign to promote the use of print. The group will work with Leo Burnett USA—whose executive vice president and director of print management, James Mikol, is on the council’s executive committee—to target C-level executives at print-buying corporations.

“Presently, print has very little if any relationship with these decision-makers on how to spend money,” said Cooper of the CEOs, CMOs, CIOs, and CFOs that the campaign will seek to influence.

He promised that the council would not make the mistake of trying to sway these no-nonsense business leaders with “pretty pictures.” He also said that the effort would not be modeled on the famous but feckless “Got Milk?” campaign, a $60 million undertaking that managed to turn its slogan into a national catchphrase without actually causing people to drink more milk.

Instead, The Print Council intends to spend $750,000 very judiciously in media outlets that C-level executives are known to favor. The group will seek donations from the industry in order to raise the money, Cooper said. He added that in carrying out the campaign and its other advocacy programs, The Print Council was not trying to function as a separate trade association and should not be perceived as one.

Patrick Henry, Executive Editor for WhatTheyThink.com is also the director of Liberty or Death Communications, a consultancy specializing in research, education, promotional, and editorial support services for the printing and publishing industries.

Patrick Henry is available for speaking engagements and consulting projects. To get more information contact us here.

Please offer your feedback to Patrick. He can be reached at patrick.henry@whattheythink.com.



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