See a response to this column from GASC below.

There has been much discussion about association consolidation and the limited funds industry suppliers have to support many of the organizations and events in the industry. I want to discuss the PRINT 09 event that is organized by the Graphic Arts Show Company (GASC).

GASC is owned by PIA (Printing Industries of America), NAPL (National Association for Printing Leadership) and NPES (The Association for Suppliers of Printing, Publishing, and Converting Technologies). Profits from GASC that operates both Print and GraphExpo events are shared between the three, and these profits are shrinking as show attendances are dropping. I believe the format of these shows has hardly changed over many years despite developments in how the Internet can open up new ways to put together events. For example the Kodak presentation at PRINT 09 where no equipment was shown indicates how a new form of event could take place. I also wrote about an interesting traveling trade show organized in Sweden by publisher AGI that shows a possible future vendor funded event format.

My comment on this is I feel it is time that the Graphic Arts Show Company changed the way it operates. I think that there is no longer sufficient demand for an annual USA national trade show. In most parts of the world we don’t have annual national printing trade shows. There is no demand for them and the vendors certainly don’t have the resources to fund annual events. In Europe both drupa and IPEX only occur every four years and China Print is not an annual show.  PRINT should become the major North American based international and national trade show and should be cycled every four years to align with the other three major international events, drupa, IPEX and IGAS (Japan).

I can assure you I am not alone in these thoughts. Many of the leading industry vendors do not want so many trade shows. I believe that if there is no change that many of the vendors will pull out of GraphExpo. The industry vendors have been complaining about the number of trade shows for years and the shows failure to attract enough visitors. In these times the vendors cannot afford to continue as they have in the past. No vendor really wants to be the first to rock the boat but if there is no change in the future I feel there will be a mass withdrawal.

This has happened before where exhibition organizers failed to take note of the exhibitors’ feelings. Remember Comdex, the monster electronics show in Las Vegas. The organizers failed to adapt to the changing market and the show no longer exists. A similar situation happened in Germany with the huge CeBIT trade fair. This used to be a major event for print applications but here many of major vendors have withdrawn from the show. If I recall this started when HP withdrew and was soon followed by almost all other print related vendors.

One area that could help in this is to build a major conference that would attract greater numbers than the current events. After all there hasn’t really been a good conference in this industry since Seybold in the 1990s where we could really cover the key issues. I would suggest that as a replacement for GraphExpo that every two years between the PRINT events there should be a major print industry conference sponsored by GASC.

No doubt I will be accused of heresy in my comments, particularly as I am a Brit and don’t reside in the USA. I can assure you however that there will be a lot of support for my ideas.

Editors Note: We asked for GASC to respond to Andy's commentary before it was released, below is their response. 

GASC does not typically reply to columns regarding policy and strategic issues about our shows because we believe there are venues more appropriate for debate and discussion of issues of this magnitude.   These venues include committees and task forces made up of constituents that support and attend the events.  This exception is because WhatTheyThink requested a response and GASC recognizes this is an important industry issue.

The heart of the issue is not really the number or frequency of trade shows in the US but the ROI that exhibitors AND attendees realize from these shows.   This is an issue that GASC understands and considers seriously.

GASC is owned and operated by three non profit organizations which, like GASC, are directed by governing boards that are made up of exhibitors and attendees of Graph Expo and PRINT.  This is a far more customer and industry driven model than the majority of the shows in our industry and the ones referenced in Mr. Tribute’s column.  The bottom line benefit of this model to exhibitors and attendees alike was highlighted by the recent and unprecedented decision by the GASC Board of Directors to offer an economic stimulus package to this year’s PRINT exhibitors that cost over three million dollars to GASC.  Another benefit of this model is the proceeds are shared by the partners and invested back into industry through programs and services for the very exhibitors and attendees that support these shows.  Programs and services like representing the industry in Washington, research, data and statistical programs, technical training and management education, standards development and supporting our industry’s secondary and post secondary educational institutions to name a few.

Over the last five years GASC has eliminated much capacity from the show marketplace in the US including 4 regional shows and 1 conference which clearly indicates recognition of the industry’s changing dynamics and capacity.  Mr. Tribute also notes the lack of change in GRAPH EXPO and PRINT over the years; but his own colleague, Dr. Joe Webb, in this very same medium only weeks ago lauded GASC for being surprisingly adaptable and responsive to our industry changes.  These changes have been documented in numerous places including in

Now some facts and data:

  1. Despite statements to the contrary there are many countries that support annual shows such as India, China, Brazil, Mexico, Canada to name a few.   And if the EU was rightly considered as a common market there are many shows annually in the graphic communications arena in a geographic and population comparison to the US.  
  2. PRINT is already considered, as Mr. Tribute suggests should occur, one of the four international events along with drupa, IPEX and IGAS.
  3. 18,999 buyers came from 10,512 companies to PRINT which indicates about a third to half (depending upon which sources used) of the US commercial printing market was represented at PRINT in the toughest economic year our industry has seen in decades.  If we were to consider the market share of the companies represented at PRINT it would equal about 75% of the US commercial printing market.
  4. An independent survey conducted after PRINT indicated that 71% of attendees said they would “definitely or most likely” attend Graph Expo 2010 and 79% said they would recommend a colleague attend Graph Expo 2010.
  5. The US print market is the largest print market in the world by almost two times the next largest market.  Does a market this size not justify at least one industry event a year?
  6. Mr. Tribute’s idea of a major conference is sound and while Graph Expo and PRINT have corresponding conference programs that generally attract in excess of 1000 people last month PIA, NAPL and NPES announced plans to join together in the spring of 2011 to sponsor a major conference. 

GASC understands and appreciates the pain taking place in the market and recognizes the status quo is not an option.  We solicit input from exhibitors and attendees regularly about the content, length and frequency of our shows (the length of PRINT has been reduced twice in the last two PRINT shows).  We also recognize that the real issue is less about show frequency and length of the show but return on the time and cost invested in exhibiting and attending our shows. 

GRAPH EXPO and PRINT are exhibitor and attendee driven shows more than any other major graphic communications event in the world.  Because of the industry’s challenging dynamics we expect major changes and upheaval but also believe that our constituents will lead us to where the show needs go based upon our industry’s future not past.  Simply put this is a show by our industry and for our industry and the infrastructure in place allows GASC to be as adaptive and responsive as our constituents expect.

Ralph Nappi
[email protected]