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Economics & Research Blog

More Q&A from the March 25 Economic Webinar


By Dr. Joe Webb
Published: March 25, 2009

Q. Printers get business from customers in various industries. Which industries (if any) are projected to increased spending on print - where print includes transactional, commercial, direct mail, in-plant, etc, that is, not just for marketing promotion.

A. Thanks for adding “if any” to your question. There are so many factors at work here. Among them are the sense that avoiding print is “green” and printing is “not green,” no matter how many computers it takes. This also means that companies have an extra incentive downsize their print volumes, not just for cost control. The availability of digital media for online product information and downloads is better than ever, and is expected by information seekers. The uptake of electronic invoicing and bill payment has been slow for years, but green sensitivities push more consumers to using those options. Then there's the multi-decade trend of printing things out on desktops. There's also all of the various gadgets, especially iPhones, that encourage the “anywhere, anytime, any format” approach to information distribution. Other than packaging it's hard to think of any area of print that has a long term trend of underlying growth. This is why the strategy of true cross media (simultaneous information deployment through multiple channels, as opposed to serial deployment) is so important to make part of the overall print business' strategy.

Q. Where can I get statistical data on print equipment suppliers and market conditions?

A. A great place to start is NPES. They have statistical reports, statistics programs, and through their affiliated organization PRIMIR, provides an an excellent core of custom research as well. Then, there's our very own Economics & Research Center, especially our Industry Snapshot. Stay on top of what's updated through our free weekly newsletter.

Q. Do you think the efforts of the current administration will free up the credit markets? How long will it take?

A. It's not just this administration, it's the prior one, too. They've been trying to fix this since September 2007, and it keeps getting worse. The efforts prevent buyers and sellers from knowing what prices of assets are, so buyers can't or won't deal with the uncertainty. Heard a great description of the difference between risk and uncertainty the other day, uttered by investment manager Paul McCully. Risk is when you're playing 21; you know the rules and you watch the cards and make decisions based on that. Uncertainty is when you're playing 21, and then in the middle of the game, they say it's not 21, it's 25. The game's not over, and then they say it's 18. There is so much uncertainty, with the threat of inflation and tax rates rising (why buy something if the gains will be taxed away or inflation will create fake gains that will be taxed?). This can take forever or longer. They are in the strange position of trying to use credit and money expansion to support the prices of goods that have already been made. Credit should be used to support investment in goods that have yet to be made. This will take time and will keep hanging over the markets.

Also look at these:
WSJ Notable & Quotable mentions economist Ludwig von Mises, founder of the Austrian School
Economist Robert Murphy discusses limitations of Keynesian approaches to stimulus

Do you think that mobile messaging will be the new technology for communications companies to invest in?

A. Absolutely. Marriott booked $1.25 million in hotel rooms in just 100 days of having their interface available for the iPhone. We are headed to a market of fulltime network access without regard to geography. There are enough devices and formats that all communications need to be crafted to work in these various environments. That's where our skills can come in.

Q. What do you believe is the outlook for Print BPO organizations (Business Process Outsourcing) in 2009?

A. All BPO businesses, not just for printing, will be getting scrutinized by enterprises looking to downsize and use resources more efficiently. BPOs are part of the constant trend of specialization that makes economic functions far more efficient.

Q. Is print education a good way to retain current customers and get new ones or is this even needed by our customers?

A. I always worry when education is directed to customers to correct something deficient in their knowledge. I look at it as education is part of every sales and other contact, and it's a two way interaction. Clients learn about you, you learn about them. The idea is that each side needs to learn about ways to get the most out of what they do for each other. Educational programs are good ways to attract new customers, especially if it's something like “Get the Most Out of Your...” or “New Ways to Be More Effective By...” or “How to Cut the Costs of Printing By...” Go right to the heart of why they should be interested beyond some kind of production focus. As my friend, consultant Peter Muir, reminds me: find ways to may your clients and prospects heroes in their companies.


Dr. Joe Webb is one of the graphic arts industry's best-known consultants, forecasters, and commentators. He is the director of WhatTheyThink's Economics and Research Center.



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