According to the organizers, drupa can be described as follows:

drupa is to the printing and paper industries what the Olympic Games are to athletes. Every four years, hundreds of thousands of experts come to Düsseldorf for drupa. It's an unmissable opportunity for seeing all the latest technologies in media production and processing live in action. No other trade fair has such a vast, fundamental economic and technological impact as drupa. Drupa is a constant reflection of the printing and paper sectors.

We can look back on a millennial drupa (2000) in every sense of the word! Just from looking at the numbers, it becomes evident that this 12th staging reached new dimensions. Over 428,000 trade visitors from 171 countries - including over 200.000 from overseas - more than 4,100 journalists from all over the globe, 1,957 exhibiting companies from 49 nations, and an exhibition space of over 1.7 million square feet- these are some record-breaking figures from the last drupa. But what's quantity without quality? Exhibitors and visitors gave drupa 2000 top ratings; time and time again they referred to it as the "best drupa ever." And it is true that drupa 2000 was marked by an unexpectedly high eagerness to invest, which rocketed the international printing and media industry right into the 3rd millennium.

Is Drupa So Important?

Even without closer analysis, most in the business world would admit that anything portrayed in such grand and historical terms ought to be approached with matching skepticism. Drupa is not the Olympics, after all. It is not a World's Fair to dazzle the world. It is not a tourism event. It is just a trade show and therefore it is supposed to be a cost-effective marketing and sales opportunity. Anyone with the money to buy a stand can participate. The old and obsolete will be there right along with the newest and greatest. Many that will exhibit will be out of business within the year. There are no Olympic type committees determining who gets to solicit sales, no pre-qualifying trials. Nor is anyone regulating the claims, the hype and the promises of those who buy a ticket to sell there.

So here we are again, about to both revere and endure another drupa. Certainly, on the basis of the facts presented above, if drupa 2004 comes even close to the same statistics, the show management will have something to crow about. But is the show's gigantism really "a constant reflection of the printing and paper sectors" or more a reflection of the trade show industry? Approaching 500,000 attendees, drupa is roughly 10 times the size of the largest competing domestic trade shows. Yet, we have to wonder:

  • Is exhibiting and/or attending drupa, even with the positive benefits of the worldwide networking opportunity, a worthwhile investment financially as well as personally?
  • Does the fact that for manufacturers it is a must exhibit situation really mean that it is financially beneficial?
  • Does the rush to show products that cannot be seen again on such a dramatic scale for another 4 years, until the next drupa, so skew the environment that it is no longer a service to the industry?

Perhaps there aren't easy answers to these questions, but there are some observations that have been made to us by participants on all sides that we would like to share.

  1. Drupa garners so much attention of the exhibiting companies that much normal business just plain stops from about six weeks before, until a few weeks after the event. We have been told that various hot, but not drupa related, business deals could not be completed because the participants were too busy planning for drupa.
  2. Many potential equipment buyers have indicated an unwillingness to go through with their selected purchases until they can see whether something better is going to be unveiled at drupa.
  3. Manufacturers, rushing to make sure that they aren't upstaged by a competitor and anxious to let customers know how creative they continue to be, will show a combination of finished products and barely strung together new ideas  all as products that can be purchased from them either today, or in the near future. Andrew Tribute, WTT contributing columnist, recently noted an example of the hype and promises, in the following excerpt from one of his pre-drupa reviews. Talking about a new product announcement from Esko-Graphics, he indicates:

    Espresso is still under development and the prototype will be shown at drupa. It will enter beta test later in the year with shipments planned to start in early 2005.

    We don't mean to make an example of Esko-Graphics; this kind of example is repeated over and over again in the pre show hype and the expected on show floor presentations. Based upon past experience, where many such new products were either delivered much later than expected, or never were completed at all, we have to question whether this every 4 year rush really provides a healthy environment for the printing industry.
  4. Customers will have a hard time discerning between these two extremes, and will need time to follow up with the manufacturers after the show  slowing sales.
  5. As a result of the above, we have heard many a manufacturer claim that the expected business to be written as a result of all their hard work and execution from previous drupa's just didn't happen.

Many manufacturers, in fact, see a drop off in sales (or at least none of the expected bump up) for the balance of the year after drupa, as buyers try desperately to determine what they can trust to buy.

It could be argued that as the printing industry matures and the expectations of a great breakthrough in printing technology  so palpable in the 1990's  begins to fade, the hype and hopes of Drupa have correspondingly risen. Like a bull stock market that is fueled by pessimism over any other financial or business opportunities, rather than by overall optimism, Drupa may just be the embodiment of our dashed hopes and memories of past glory. Our local shows were lackluster and poorly attended. Our national show was a disappointment - but just you wait until Drupa!  

So, we have to wonder, whether all that time, cost and energy that goes into this every four-year event is really worthwhile for most of the participants? In 2004, developing and supporting a worldwide presence through innovative Web-based information content and localized marketing has become a very cost effective and measurable way to do business. Wouldn't we all be better off if companies showed what they were able to deliver today and the demand for products continued as in non-drupa years? We have finally gained enough perspective to discern that large national shows may no longer be really cost-effective. Do we dare make that assessment on our one true global show?