Ipex is one of the longest established and most successful printing trade shows in the world, and is second only to drupa among European trade shows. Its timing for many years has been between the four-yearly drupa shows and always been a major target for equipment vendors as a key product launch location where one would see the official sales launch of products that may have been previewed at the preceding drupa.

Ipex 2014, which moved from Birmingham to London, was anticipated to be the key event for availability of the raft of new digital presses announced at drupa 2012. Unfortunately Ipex was hit with two major difficulties. First the printing industry did not appear to be recovering from the recession, and second almost none of the new products announced at drupa were going to be ready for release by March 2014. Many of the major vendors, whose sales were still hit by the recession, as printing companies were not investing in new products, saw little point in coming to Ipex without new products. In fact a number of large companies, who had no major product launches timed for Ipex felt the costs and complications of too many trade events were a problem for them and saw an opportunity to save money. Heidelberg was the first to make a move when they announced they would not be exhibiting in 2014. This started a major rush by other companies, not wanting to be the first to make such a move, followed by announcing their withdrawal. These included Landa, HP, Kodak, Canon, Xerox, Ricoh, Agfa, Komori, Roland, and others.

It is interesting that the withdrawal statements from many manufacturers talk about new ways of keeping in touch with users. One vendor stated the following “the company was withdrawing from Ipex after re-evaluating how best to reach customers and prospects, concluding that they now want to connect through regional and personal engagements. As an anchor exhibitor for many years, this decision was not an easy one, but we listened to what our customers were saying around the globe and their direction to us was very clear.” Surprisingly in this time of cost reduction I did not hear a single vendor indicate cost was a consideration in their withdrawal. It is a shame vendors could not be more honest.

Informa, the owners of Ipex were put in a very difficult situation losing almost all their “anchor” exhibitors. At the time of these withdrawals they put out a statement saying the following. “The findings of our own research conducted by AMR International indicate that there is still a real appetite from European print service providers to engage with multiple digital suppliers in the exhibition environment. Our research shows unequivocally that international visitors still consider landmark industry events such as IPEX to be the most effective means of researching and evaluating new products and suppliers, and to be on a par with supplier sales visits for making purchasing decisions.”
Informa claims its research shows exhibitions score ‘significantly higher’ than any other platform for peer-to-peer networking, with 30% of visitors saying they visit exhibitions for this purpose. “On this basis, we believe that an event such as Ipex has a significant role to play in research, information gathering and buying process for printers, making it a vital sales, promotion and customer engagement platform for suppliers targeting these buyers.”

With only four anchor exhibitors, EFI, Konica Minolta, Screen and Fujifilm, Informa decided on a major restructuring of Ipex. The emphasis was changed to be a cross-media content driven event. A major part of this was having a range of seminars running through the duration of the event alongside the exhibition. My own thoughts on this at the time were not very positive. I remembered back at Ipex in 1998 in my days as International Editor of Seybold that we planned a Seybold Ipex event to be a major part of Ipex. We found a major lack of support for such an event and we dropped the event just a few weeks before Ipex started. I have found that printers don’t like paying to attend such seminars. I have also seen at other events such as GraphExpo that seminars had little effect in drawing visitors to a show and were disliked by many vendors as they felt they took attendees away from the show floor.

Having just returned from attending the first few days of Ipex 2014 I have to say I was very wrong in having my doubts about running these cross media seminars within the event. I have to congratulate Informa in creating a new format that I feel may be a model for future trade shows. At Ipex 2014 there were two types of seminar, the World Print Summit and the Ipex Masterclasses. Both of these were free to attend, walk into events held on the show floor. At the same time as these the Cross-Media Production exhibition and conference, a dedicated production and pre-media event,  was taking place in another hall at Excel and Ipex visitors had free access to this. The World Print Summit was predominantly non-vendor oriented and had presentations and discussions from some very high-grade industry leaders from around the world. These speakers came from the creative industries, retail, brand owners, commercial and packaging printers and newspapers. Most of the forty-five minute sessions I attended or looked into were very well attended, often with more than 100 people. Perhaps the largest attendance where all seats were taken and attendees were also sitting on the floor and standing wherever there was space was where Frank Romano moderated a discussion between two of the highest levels CEOs in the business, Benny Landa and Guy Gecht of EFI. I was impressed with the approach taken by Informa where speakers were chosen on the basis of their expertise and their ability to draw attendees, not because they were exhibiting. This is shown particularly by having Benny Landa, whose company was one of the highest profile companies to withdrawn from exhibiting at Ipex. It was also interesting when Guy Gecht emphasised the Informa research rationale outlined above with the following comment in his World Print Summit talk by saying “Standing still is not an option for anyone in our industry, so people need to come to Ipex to see what’s possible.” He also stated that attending Ipex was a strategic decision though, because “Europe and the UK represent great opportunities for EFI.

The Ipex Masterclasses were like the World Print Summit and had two show floor theatres with a walk in, no registration attendance, and covered a wide range of subjects on the themes of better business and better margins based on building new business areas and increasing business margins. Whenever I looked at these they were very well attended and the attendee responses were very good.

I arrived at Ipex on day one of the event, this being a Monday. It appeared to me that this first day was not that well attended, however the attendees appeared to be predominantly overseas visitors. Day two however was different and the show floors were crowded and this time the British were there in volume. This confirmed the Informa Ipex strategy of starting on a Monday and finishing on the following Saturday. This allowed for overseas visitors to arrive early or come later in the week and spend a weekend enjoying the delights of London, one of the world’s great cities.

On Tuesday morning I had the opportunity to speak with Trevor Crawford, the Ipex event director. He stated that despite relatively low attendance on Monday the exhibitors he had spoken to were very happy with the quality of attendees and the serious levels of buying intent they showed. He also said he had spoken with representatives of a number of the companies that had withdrawn from exhibiting and got the feeling that they felt they had made a mistake by not coming.

One of the major exhibitors, Heidelberg obviously had seen the benefit of Ipex and had put on an Open House in its London showroom in Ipex week. Heidelberg UK managing director Gerard Heanue had previously stated the following. “We always said that if we held an event it would be a complementary event to Ipex – the hope is that they will also attend Ipex. Equally, people that are attending the show might want to come to our open house. We’re also going hold a ‘celebration of print’ at Stationers Hall for UK and Ireland companies that have done business with us to say thank you.” In my opinion this move by Heidelberg is very disingenuous and cheap in exploiting the benefits of Ipex without the costs.

Overall I believe that Informa have done a brilliant job in putting on an interesting and effective Ipex without most of the major players in the market. I am sure that they have lost money because of cancellation charges for unused space at the ExCel exhibition centre, however they are going ahead with plans for IPEX 2018. The concept of using content and information through the World Print Summit and Ipex Masterclasses to drive visitors to the event could well be the format for the future of print related trade shows.

So what is the future for trade shows, and what can we expect for the future. Obviously the major vendors, including those that withdrew from Ipex are key for future shows. Many of these vendors however do believe there are too many trade shows and also have doubts about the needs for events that cover all forms of printing. I spoke with Simon Lewis who is responsible for strategic marketing of HP Indigo and he indicated the amount of pressure on vendors. For them Ipex was one show too many at this time. For HP they have just had a very successful HP Indigo only event with DScoop. There is also the upcoming FESPA European Sign Expo in May that is a major event for display, point of sale and signage. LabelExpo Europe, the world largest label event was held in Belgium in September 2013 and will be held again in September next year. LabelExpo Americas will be held in September this year. In the packaging area the leading packaging event Interpack takes place in May this year. Simon Lewis also stated that HP Indigo was concentrating heavily of getting it 10,000, 20,000 and 30,000 product ranges into the market and had no other new products to introduce at this time.

One of the successes of this Ipex was the amount of new small companies that were showing, many for the first time in Europe. Shows like Ipex and GraphExpo in the USA are ideal for small companies in getting to the market, however I feel that with a few exceptions that the big all encompassing trade shows are a thing of the past. Instead we will have the specialist shows like FESPA, LabelExpo and InterPack, the new InPrint event in Germany in April for industrial printing, plus the vendor specific events like DScoop, EFI Connect and Canon/Océ Business Days. Ipex may have shown a new type of event for the future where content may drive visitors, and where a host of smaller companies will be of great importance that are particularly in the area of added value operations. In fact at this Ipex perhaps the key aspect was that it was very much a digital print-finishing event. There was a lot of innovation in this area and many printers were looking specifically at adding value to the existing printing operations.

My final comment on this subject is for the future. I believe that there is not a market for big shows in a specific market area such as Europe that are less than four years apart. Today the development and introduction cycles for new products, particularly digital presses, are so long that a four-year cycle should allow for a preview of the product at one show and the a release for sale of this product at the next show four years later. This theory of mine will be shown at drupa 2012 when some of the products, Landa Nanography as an example, that were previewed at drupa 2012 may become available for sale by drupa 2016.  I feel that for all encompassing print shows covering all forms of printing, that the market will perhaps have just three events. In Europe this will be drupa, in the Far East a Chinese event, and in perhaps Brazil a new South American event. In these I also see a downsizing will take place. At drupa 2016 obviously the big German and Japanese offset press companies may be there but with much smaller stands. As there is very little growth in offset in commercial printing in Europe and North America I feel the only large offset stands at shows will be in the South American and Far Eastern events. The glory days of the big European, North American, and possibly Japanese print events are over. The future is specialized vendor events, industry specific events, and small composite shows for the smaller printers driven as we saw at Ipex by content and education.