There were noticeable differences at Graph Expo 2008 as compared to previous years, in a number of areas.  It appeared that attendance was down, for one thing.  That’s not too surprising, considering what has been going on with the economy.  Inside of that, though, some booths were busy all the time.  An Adobe representative told me that the company revised its strategy for the show, eliminating demo pods and focusing instead on a central theater presentation and other specific educational opportunities around CS4, Acrobat 9 and more, including an opportunity to “Speak to the Experts” who could help visitors sort out specific problems or answer knotty questions. That was apparently a good strategy for keeping their booth filled. The last presentation Adobe did ended at 4:30 on the last day of the show, and there was even an audience. But the taxi lines were significantly shorter, even in peak periods, which was telling.


EFI talked about having its biggest booth ever (9,900 square feet), picking up space that Heidelberg had given up

At its press conference, EFI talked about having its biggest booth ever (9,900 square feet), picking up space that Heidelberg had given up. EFI was right up front next to Heidelberg, and Heidelberg only had one press in its booth!  It hasn’t been too many years ago that the prime up-front spots were largely taken by the heavy iron players.  More recently, software and digital companies have been moving in to those areas. And according to the show company, 25% of the floor space was dedicated to digital printing in 2008.

For a few more off-the-cuff stats, of the six front-row booths, which arguably are the prime real estate, four are digital companies (Canon, EFI, Kodak and Océ) and they consumed 74% of the front-row space.  That being said, Heidelberg still had the largest booth, at 20,700 square feet.  But HP, a couple rows back, was close at 17,600 square feet.  Those were the two largest booths on the floor. A quick, non-scientific analysis reveals, in fact, that conventional offset press manufacturers took about 63,500 square feet of space, while digital press manufacturers occupied 77,200 square feet (55%) of space.  It would be interesting to go back historically to find out when the tipping point actually occurred, where digital press manufacturers first took more space than offset press manufacturers. Perhaps 2008 was the year.

Although I haven’t been able to confirm this, while there appeared to be fewer attendees, I have been told that more individual companies were represented.  This means folks are sending fewer people to the show, but more companies are at least sending someone.  Most of the exhibitors I spoke with reported that those representatives tended to be at a higher level in the organization, and often were prepared to make a buying decision at the show.

In addition to Adobe’s shift toward a more educational presence, both the show and many of its exhibitors have stepped up their educational focus as well.  GASC scheduled a number of free educational sessions for attendees, and in addition to Adobe, Xerox, Kodak, Infoprint and others made their experts available in a more formal way for one-on-one discussions with visitors that allowed them to dig into specific business issues and concerns that go beyond simply making a buying decision for a piece of hardware and software. Xerox may have started this trend last year with its “conversation stations.”

The show organizers did a nice job of establishing guides for a larger number of special audiences, making it easier for them to navigate the show floor and spend time in the areas most relevant to their businesses.  This really made Graph Expo a number of shows within a show rather than one large homogenous show. These specialty online guides were developed for book printing and publishing, creatives, transactional printers (including TransPromo), in-plant printers, mailing and fulfillment, and quick printers. The guides identified conference sessions, free seminars, specific exhibitors and other opportunities for attendees to focus in on their special area of interest.  On two mornings of the show, a well-attended Print Buyer Conference was also conducted by Margie Dana’s Print Buyers International, encouraging attendance by this important constituency of our industry.  In fact, according to the show company, there were more than 70 educational programs going on during the show.

Despite the economy, a few companies went against the grain and brought more people than last year.  One example is Andrew Field’s Montana-based PrintingForLess, who came with 10 people.  Field uses this event as a combined reward for deserving employees and educational opportunity, as well as a research and networking opportunity to benefit the company as a whole.  His team came on two separate flights.  The contingent on the morning flight had a near-tragic experience, with the airplane engine blowing up (well, that is probably a slight exaggeration) as it was taking off. The plane’s wheels were still on the tarmac and everyone escaped unharmed, thank goodness.  I am not sure I would have gotten on the replacement plane, though.

Our U.S. Public Printer, Bob Tapella, brought 28 people to the show. They fanned out across the show floor to accomplish a wide variety of objectives to benefit the agency. By the way, Tapella indicated that the agency is moving fairly quickly toward dominance of digital printing in its internal production operation as the price/performance of these devices continues to improve and the run lengths of printed materials produced by the GPO continue to decline. If you have ever had the pleasure of visiting the GPO printing plant, its web and sheetfed presses take up lots of space.  It will be interesting to see what that looks like three to five years from now.

Although I am not walking the floor with buying on my mind, I always try to set aside time to explore the smaller booths as these shows as well.  There are often some very exciting and innovative companies who don’t have the name recognition of a Heidelberg, Kodak or Xerox that are well worth investigating, and the shows offer an opportunity to discover something new, and learn more about them and how they might be applicable to your business.

Next year is Print, and I am hearing that many exhibitors have already booked space—and significantly more space than they booked for this year.  Let’s hope the economy doesn’t discourage attendance and that things have settled down a bit by then.  Meanwhile, it is not too early to plan to attend.  It is a terrific learning opportunity, a great way to network with your peers, and a good venue to make final buying decisions for the important investments that will ensure the successful future of your business (although I am sure the suppliers to the industry would prefer that you not wait that long). 

I will look forward to seeing you there.  Any bets on the offset/digital floor space mix?