This morning I finally got around to reading the print and communication industry articles that have been piling up in my feed for a few days. Of all of the headlines and synopses, this one in particular caught my eye; US Commercial Printing Shipments Have Strong February, +5.2%, by WhatTheyThink.com’s Dr. Joe Webb. As a marketing communications guy who leans more toward the creative and problem solving side of things, economics isn’t normally shiny enough to get my attention. That being said, even though I am not what you would call a number cruncher, I do have a knack for identifying trends based on observations out in the wild. This particular article seemed to be aligned to one of those observations. Plus, Dr. Joe’s analysis is generally straightforward, concise and often entertaining; so I clicked.
I’m not going to restate everything in the article here, you should check it out yourself, but I will summarize one key point. U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Labor Statistics data shows that after a good January, February’s printing shipments were up over $300 million year-to-year. This means different things to different people. For printers who, as Dr. Joe notes, may still be facing reduced profits, it could mean some wiggle room as they adapt to a changing marketplace. For the people and organizations that put commercial printing to use, it supports the observation that print is not dead, it is alive and viable, but it is different.
Creative impact and efficiency – in terms of production and distribution – along with convenience and visibility – in terms of audience consumption – often drive tactical and media choices in marketing communication. What we print today is different from what we printed in the past. Many of the more pedestrian or throwaway items of the past have shifted to digital formats. It’s efficient and convenient. We can crank those out and reach the audience wherever they are at any time by doing it this way. But what is being printed today, and the people who are behind it, is impressive and surprising. We are printing on surfaces that, when I began my career two decades ago, were unheard of. We are combining print with technology that didn’t even exist ten years ago using processes that seem to be right out of mid-20th century science fiction. Organizations that you normally wouldn’t think to use in the same sentence as printing; companies like Google, eBay and Amazon, have successfully combined big data and high levels of personalization with extremely creative printing.
We may not be printing as much as we used to. What we are printing is more complex, more unique and more strategic than ever before. Organizations that are pouring their hearts, souls, dollars and trust into these projects need access to printers that are adopting new efficiencies and investing in new technologies to meet the needs of today’s print buyer. Print projects, and all of the people who play a role in them, need to be given the recognition and support they deserve. The numbers don’t lie. We are seeing a rebound in commercial printing and it’s not because we’ve given up digital communication and reverted back to ink and paper. It’s because we’re using print in wonderful new ways that, now more than ever, demand stronger marketing supply chains with purpose-built tools and methods for achieving the best possible results.