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Commentary & Analysis

Show and Tell

As the current industry trade show landscape changes, Frank Romano looks back at how the trade show landscape has always been changing.

By Frank Romano
Published: March 23, 2018

At one time, there were two annual national commercial printing shows: PIA’s PRINT show and NAPL’s Graph Expo. There were also about eight regional shows. And then there were the every five-year, then every four-year international shows that alternated between the US (PRINT), UK (IPEX), Germany (drupa), Italy (GEC), and France. 

There were also newspaper shows. The ANPA annual production conference was once the biggest event. For many years, it took place in Atlantic City when the hotels were seedy and the taffy was salty. There were almost 10 regional newspaper shows. In 2010, I addressed the America East event in Pennsylvania with a talk about old industry jargon.

There were vertical shows like Type-X for evolving typesetting technology and the east and west coast annual Seybold conferences and exhibitions. XPLOR was a gigantic show for the transaction industry. When I did the XPLOR keynote at the Dallas Arena in 2000, there were 4,000 people in the audience. The On-Demand show was an east coast staple and took up most of the Javits Center.

There was also the Gutenberg Festival in Long Beach, Calif., that ran for years. The printing industry supported many events. It was after 2001 when all this began to change and attendance declined and many of the industry stalwarts began to fall.

NPES, The Association for Suppliers of Printing, Publishing and Converting Technologies, announced a name change to Association for Print Technologies (APtech). NPES was the association for industry suppliers and they sponsored the US international show, PRINT. 

NPES member services include informational publications, statistical, safety, marketing, and education data and programs, government affairs representation, safety and technical standards development coordination (national and international), and international trade assistance. They are the secretariat for CGATS, the US part of the International Standards Organization, a very important service to the industry.

NPES ran PRINT 68, the first major show of the modern era. 2018 is the 50th anniversary of this historic event. Seven months before the show, the old McCormick Place burned down. They moved the show to the “cow palace,” a large hall near the stockyards. It was June, there was still stock in them, and there was no air conditioning. But it was a fantastic event and set the stage for the technological upheavals of the next decades.

In the 1970s, NAPL, PIA, and NPES decided to form GASC (Graphic Arts Show Company) and sponsor one annual show (which kept the Graph Expo name, and every four or five years it would become the international PRINT show. It was a good decision because the competition among shows was detrimental to all. In 1971, I was the marcom manager for Compugraphic and had to go to St. Louis to set up the PIA show, to Chicago for the NAPL show, and then England for the IPEX show.

The three organizations merged the shows and split the profits, which, for the PRINT shows, was $1 million or more each, and for the Graph Expo shows was a few hundred thousand dollars each. My guess is that 1997 was the peak and after that show, exhibit space and income declined. In 1997, the show took up almost all of the new and old McCormick Place. It was then that Dr. Joe Webb made the ominous remark “We will look back to this time as the good old days.”

Recently, that show agreement was dissolved. Sources say that NPES forced the situation and gave the other partners two weeks to make a decision. Both cannot compete for two years. PIA and Idealliance added $4 million to their coffers, but this is not confirmed.

Then NAPCO, a media company in the graphic arts, and SGIA announced an event called “Print United.” At the same time, NPES said they will no longer alternate Graph Expo with PRINT versions of the show. They will all be called PRINT.

SGIA began as a screen printing association and evolved into inkjet and all areas of specialty printing. I have been an SGIA member for well over a decade and have seen the show grow in size and prestige. Their educational offerings are superb. A few PRINT shows can now fit in one SGIA show.

Many exhibitors now exhibit in both SGIA and PRINT. Offset, flexo, and all the small suppliers to the printing industry need PRINT; SGIA is not their market. Most small printers will not travel to Dallas or Vegas for SGIA. And although we all have mixed feelings about Chicago, it is convenient for many printing companies. Medium and large commercial printers are moving to inkjet, and I have run into some of them at SGIA, but more of them at PRINT.

Kodak, Ricoh, and KBA have announced support for “Print United.” Will they exhibit at both as many companies now do? EFI is a major exhibitor at both events but brings its larger equipment to SGIA. Is SGIA too big? Will suppliers support two events? Will it have the number and scope of seminar offerings for the printing industry or presentations by suppliers? Will we all take sides? There are important implications for the entire industry.

The first SGIA show in “Print United” garb runs in 2019. Watch for lots of news, some real and some fake.

By the way, many of the largest printing shows in the world are now in Japan and China.

Frank Romano has spent over 50 years in the printing and publishing industries. Many know him best as the editor of the International Paper Pocket Pal or from the hundreds of articles he has written for publications from North America and Europe to the Middle East to Asia and Australia. Romano lectures extensively, having addressed virtually every club, association, group, and professional organization at one time or another. He is one of the industry's foremost keynote speakers. He continues to teach courses at RIT and other universities and works with students on unique research projects.



By Christopher Curran on Mar 23, 2018

Fascinating walk down memory lane and a very well organized summary of the event changes through the years. Thank you! In fact, I remember PRINT ’07 and attending when I was a student of yours at RIT. I was blown away by the scope of the industry I was soon to be entering. Also, what a great anecdote you mentioned about Dr. Webb. As you mentioned, through the industry corridors there’s a lot of talk about the choices that are being made. I’ve decided to pick the side I’ve always supported – which is a consolidation of resources and gaining efficiencies wherever possible. The size and scope of each of our roles in the industry will always be in flux but standing arm-in-arm, partnering, sharing, and evolving for the greater good seems to me a good strategy. I don’t know how many events will be around 20 years for now but I’m betting on the ones that are focused on breaking downs the silos, maximizing resources, eliminating divisiveness, and embracing inclusivity – not unlike the international shows abroad in European and Asian markets.


By Frank Romano on Mar 23, 2018

From Ken Garner:

I read your article related to industry trade shows in this morning’s edition of WTT with interest. It was a nostalgic walk down memory lane.

One correction…NPES did not give the partners just two weeks to respond to the buy-out offer. I represented Idealliance through that process so was at the table during all of the discussions. Truth is the actual process was negotiated over approximately two months and included considerable give and take.

I am certain both partners were thrilled with the outcome of the process.

Ken Garner
Vice President Business Development & Industry Relations
Association for Print Technologies


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