The U.K. printing industry has been going through a significant transformation and much of it has to do with new and far more specific expectations from customers. This dynamic drives paper sourcing, skill availability, design requirements, and workload management. Additionally, customers are becoming far more socially and environmentally conscious. This too is becoming a factor in what services customers choose and which vendors they favor.
Digital Media Has Redefined Printer Services
People still want to see a brochure, a well-done poster, a card, or a flyer. But 95 percent of their interaction today with communications and imagery is happening online. Whether it be with a computer, a tablet, or a mobile device, people are using technology to understand, see and enjoy information. Paper still has its place and, when designed right, it really catches people’s eye, but it is not the medium by which daily communication happens anymore. Because of this fact, printers have to be equipped to handle design work and output both in paper and online formats. The construction of web pages and mobile destinations are as important for regular business generation as brochures and reports were 20 years ago. The online design and landscape is now the daily bread and butter of print shops.
Paper Sourcing and Social-Consciousness
There is no question that globalization has significantly opened up resource markets for paper that were once inaccessible or impractical. Paper suppliers, both large and small, are realizing a growth in paper sources, especially from countries on the south side of the equator. However, many of these operations, while possibly producing raw material savings for paper suppliers, also raise concerns with local region exploitation (http://www.twotomorrows.com/industries/paper-print-publishing/). As a result, many customers are also looking for guarantees that the paper they are provided has been validated as not being involved in unethical business behavior. For example, many customers want to know that their paper from South America is not involved in wiping out Amazon forests or dislocating indigenous people.
Additionally, the recycling movement is also gaining steam across societies. The idea of using entirely new, virgin paper is now raising eyebrows as wasteful, especially with how much paper exists that can be refabricated into usable form again. As a result, socially-conscious customers are also examining how their print product is made and whether a good portion of it is recycled (http://www.twotomorrows.com/industries/paper-print-publishing/). However, this is a bit of juxtaposition: people want to use recycled paper, but they also want it to be high quality perfect and not obvious mish-mash paper. Paper is not always the easiest material to refabricate into perfect form again.
Finally, for the extremely environmentally sensitive, some customers are now requiring information on exactly what the carbon impact is of the paper they order for print jobs. This requirement in turn has driven printers to have to figure out a process for providing such information. Large paper producers have come up with “paper profiles” which essentially provide a rating for a certain amount of paper used, to function as a working metric for customers and printers.
Deflating Markets, Inflating Operations
A second problem many printer businesses are facing today a hard squeeze between customers looking for a better charge and the fact that supplies and materials aren’t getting cheaper. This economic problem is not unique to printers; all sorts of retail sector businesses are feeling the pinch trying to make sales but operational costs aren’t helping. Again, globalization is rearing its ugly head by making many more options available for end-point customers. Unless printers can differentiate themselves with unique and quality services, they will find themselves in the ugly price war chase.
Taxes, Taxes and More Taxes
It’s no secret that the U.K. government is sorely strapped for funding and has had to cut back hundreds of services. That said, the governmental belt-tightening hasn’t meant that taxes have become less. In fact, the government has been very creative at finding new ways to generate tax revenue, and the print industry is not exempted. Numerous levels of taxation exist and are increasing in the form of value-added tax, excise taxes, import and export taxes, sales tax, income tax, and of course, business license taxes. As these forms of government financing on the back of businesses, it only makes the world harder in which to run a printing operation (http://www.pwc.co.uk/retail-consumer/issues/retail-and-consumer-industry-issues.jhtml).
Direction and Solution
Because of the above dynamics which are all hitting at the same time, it’s clear for many that the paper side of print will definitely become a unique extra in business and end-retail communications over time. That said, as noted earlier, it doesn’t mean that paper communications are done for. In fact, they are very much entering a bit of a renaissance period. With online and electronic communication taking care of the regular day-to-day needs, paper is becoming the luxury item that companies and people can use to make an event special.
The fact is, people still want to feel the natural, traditional means of communication that paper print provides. This is why people still marvel at real photographs, they save wedding invitations, they frame diplomas, and they clip and cut newspaper articles. Each item places a person and their memory of that paper in a particular moment and time. The paper makes the event special and unique.
So, with this in mind, printers today can still use paper and should. It is still a viable, marketable product. But it needs to be pitched and defined anew; paper needs to be made a luxury item. In its nostalgia it will join many other products that have passed their mass-production point and have seen resurgence again because people like yesteryear. They want to remember what life was when it was tangible and not megabytes or gigabytes. This is what makes printers valuable and keeps their print products in demand.