The Diablog™

Hey! Where is my commercial printer?

I enjoy ebay. I even use ebay. Beyond actually buying and selling, I like to visit ebay just to look around. I tell you that I'm a fan so I don't seem overly negative with the observations that follow. Ebay is the combination of a garage sale and a clearance outlet. If I was trying to be the next Andrew Wyeth, and I found one of my original paintings on ebay, I'd probably switch to house painting.

It's interesting to me how ebay is a barometer for what is current and what has lost popularity. I recently sold a $9000 (new price) 4x5 film camera on ebay for $300. Why? No one wants to shoot film any more. We've moved on to something better - digital cameras (a public sentiment, not an absolute truth!). Film cameras, even professional ones, are novelties. TGIFriday's is probably buying them up to screw to the walls of their restaurants.

You know what you can buy on ebay these days? Sheet-fed offset printing presses. There's no more need to debate Heildelberg vs. Komori - buy one of each. I just saw a 6-color 40" Komori listed on ebay for the price of a nice car (or make an offer!).

Fifteen years ago, when the internet was just beginning to make waves, the buzzword was "paperless office." Every tech-oriented publication included at least one article about how paper was dead. After a few years of reading "paper is dead" in paper-based communications, we all began to doubt the veracity of the paperless office story. Perhaps the concept was still gaining momentum.

I have a theory about what's going on today in the printing industry. Small businesses are historically late adopters of new technology. If you miss the melodic whine of a dot matrix printer, go buy something from your local auto parts store. In 1995, the internet couldn't make much impact on a business that didn't own a computer. Today, small businesses have caught the internet bug. The value of a dynamic website and electronic communication is now apparent to millions more business owners than even a few years ago.

I believe that the specific shift has come from an understanding that websites can be easy to revise and update. That is the inherent problem with printed collateral. If a business prints a brochure, they have several options: print a small quantity of brochures (message can be updated fairly often, high unit cost) or print a large quantity (low unit cost, but inflexible message). If a business opts for the lower unit cost option, they either resist changing their business to stay true to their communications, or they allow their business to evolve and accept that their brochure will be less and less effective.

Just a few years ago, many business owners had the perception that websites have the same problems as printed materials - expensive up front and quickly lose relevance. They were surprised to hear about tools like Dialogs that make websites affordable and easy to update. That doesn't seem to be the case anymore. Today, site owners are shopping for Content Management Systems that include all the features they need to consolidate their communications activities. As more businesses understand that an easy-to-update website does not have any of the downsides of printing, the printing industry in general loses market share.

I have heard about more commercial printing companies closing this year than any other time in my professional career. Printer reps I know who have been selling printing for decades are looking for sales work in other industries. This trend should be a wake-up call to creative agencies that focus on ink-on-paper work.

If you don't take my word, look on ebay. If that doesn't do it for you, look for a Speedmaster screwed to the wall in your local Friday's.