Earlier this month, we looked at the top Business Challenges from our Print Business Outlook Survey and this week we turn to top Business Opportunities. As we saw with challenges, there has been something of a sea change in how print shop owners and managers see their businesses. Some of the top opportunities we saw perennially top the list since the 1990s have become less important, and some new items have come out on top. As we remarked in our look at Challenges, our most recent survey has been a bit of departure from the prevailing attitudes we have been seeing for the past 20 years. 

The number one business opportunity, selected by 43% of our Print Business Outlook Survey respondents (up from 27% last survey), is “customers outsourcing more work to us.” There is always the danger that customers will be able to do a substantial amount of their own printing in-house (back in the 2000s, we saw a big migration of print work—usually of the “quick print” variety—to desktop/network printers). The idea is that customers can save time and expense in the long run by re-outsourcing this work. This is especially the case when it comes to things like wide-format and other kinds of specialty printing.

At number two for the second survey in a row is “helping customers integrate print and non-print”—up from 28% to 37%. This is a very proactive opportunity and a good sign that the industry has at long last realized that print sits side-by-side with other kinds of media. Folks weren’t always cognizant of this fact—or they were in denial. Bolstering this is the opportunity that comes in at number five: “offering electronic, non-print services for customers” at 17%.

Interestingly, the top opportunity this time around is not “improving economic conditions,” which, at 31%, is down from 41% the previous year and slips to number three. This is not surprising; the economy has been pretty good, but then even in the mid-2000s—before the Great Recession, when the economy was recovering from the 2001 mini recession-ette—this was still the top one or two opportunity.

These results—and many many more—can be found in our Printing Outlook 2019 special report and it’s refreshing that “improving economic conditions” is a tepid opportunity since we never really thought of it as an “opportunity” per se. Sure, it’s nice to have a growing economy—sales are certainly easier—but print demand hasn’t followed economic conditions in a long time. Unfortunately, in today’s economy, better conditions mean more investment in digital communications that displace print or reduce the need for it, which was exactly what happened in the last big economic boom in the 1990s (the Internet in general) and in the boomlet of the mid-2000s (social media and mobile). Then, when the economy went south, it was all that much easier for businesses to gut print budgets since cheaper alternatives were already in place.

So we should be nervous when 5G becomes a reality; the next economic downturn may not be especially pretty for our industry.