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Printing is not enough these days – how print businesses are turning into media service providers

Traditionalists are all too fond of singing the praises of the good old days. In terms of the printing industry, that was the era of long runs, splendid margins and a rather settled business – back then, customers almost reverently recognized printing as being a form of art. But we all know that this era has long since come to an end.

Nowadays, print buyers are more mature and more price-conscious. Business stationery, for example, is ordered cheaply from the well-known online printers, while letterheads now often come from the company's own color printer. While print may not have lost any ground in the last ten years due to increasingly digital communication, the annual volume of printing for example in Germany has flatlined at around 20 billion euros, according to the Bundesverband Druck und Medien (German Printing and Media Industries Federation).

As a result, the printing business today is rather lively. Many small jobs want to be completed quickly and at super low cost. Margins are on the decline (but paper and material prices are rising regularly – but that's different story).

Print businesses should reinvent themselves

In order to absorb and survive this development, print businesses should reposition themselves, should reinvent themselves. On the one hand, this involves optimizing existing processes from customer service and costing through production and finishing to logistics and shipping – all with the aim of minimizing frictional losses and thus significantly increasing the time and cost efficiency of all processes.

On the other hand, this usually much needed optimization falls short if the order volume cannot be increased. Print businesses should realize that pure print production today is an interchangeable service. Customers today rightfully assume that the quality of the mere print is simply right – thus it fails as a feature for differentiation.

In addition, business in traditional commercial printing is characterized almost exclusively by price. The drivers of this development are the major print brokers.

These companies have managed to industrialize print production through strict standardization and automation. While the product range was manageable at the beginning of online printing, the motto "everything goes" now applies – from commercial products to posters, textile printing to vehicle lettering, almost anything is possible.

New business models safeguard the future

If print businesses want to reinvent themselves, they cannot escape the development of new business models. A good way to get started is certainly to cooperate with one of the print brokers, who offer dedicated partner programs for this purpose. This can strengthen sales power. 

Corporate printing portals are another interesting option for expanding the scope of the business. This business model is based on a web store that print shops develop for their corporate customers in their brand design.

Employees or business partners of the print store customer can use such portals to order standardized print products such as stationery, business cards, flyers, posters and much more.

The advantage: once a customer has opted for such a service, he is less likely to switch – corporate printing portals are thus a means of increasing customer loyalty.

The printing house LONGO Germany near Munich, for example, currently runs such stores for 30 customers, including the SOS Children's Villages in Austria, the emergency service Malteser Hilfsdienst and the Hugendubel bookstore chain. The team currently generates some 40 percent of the print shop's order volume through these services. 

The company also makes its expertise in this area available to other print shops and develops similar portals for them.

Becoming a logistics partner

A stepchild in most print businesses is the logistics division; it is usually limited to merely shipping the finished print products. 

In this area, print shops can relieve their customers of many worries by offering warehouse and shipping logistics as fulfillment partners. In addition to storing the print products produced for customers, they can also ship them to customers or their partners as required. This saves the print shop's customers storage space and logistics costs – a major advantage in terms of efficiency that will quickly be recognized.

New role and self perception

In this new world of the printing industry, traditionally minded print businesses will reach their limits. The knowledge of the old printing business, characterized by craft structures, no longer counts today. 

Those who want to survive in an increasingly competitive environment should develop a new understanding of their role. Today, print businesses should position and present themselves as competent and reliable partners in all matters of media production – as holistic media service providers, who stand by their customers in all challenges of media production in a "one-stop shopping" approach. 

A good example: Bechtel Druck in Germany repeatedly produced 3,000 catalogs for a customer. The print shop also took care of shipping and received the "current" data inventory for each mail shot. The team once checked the address data supplied and discovered many duplicates and incorrect data entries. The result: the customer discovered that just 500 catalogs were enough. This meant that the print shop lost revenue, but was able to sustainably position itself as a service partner and advocate for the customer's budget – and what customer wouldn't honor that?

The team must be involved

Every change process is a sensitive matter; there will always be skepticism and concerns about new procedures and products. Employees have to be convinced to go along with the new path and to face the new challenges.The magic word is information – if people know and understand the meaning and purpose of changes to familiar processes, they are more willing to accept and implement them.

Openness is an important prerequisite for this – openness to new technologies, but also openness, for example, to cooperations with other print businesses, with developers of online services, or even logistics partners. In this way, specialized services can be sourced without the need to develop the necessary expertise in-house. 

Nothing is feasible without IT

What is needed, however, is an understanding that these new approaches are data-driven and thus inconceivable without a modern IT landscape. "Modern" means that the systems used for order management and production must be able to map the new thinking with openness and flexibility. 

Our MIS Keyline, for example, communicates with other internal and external systems and machines via an open interface. This makes it lean, clear and flexible. Keyline is the holistic control hub in which all data is standardized, bundled and distributed to up and downstream solutions. Only this way can print businesses can optimize their processes "to the max" and leverage efficiency potentials that they need to exploit so urgently.

Print shops are the masters of data

Regardless of the fact that print businesses have the approved print data of their customers' jobs, data is generated throughout the entire value chain by workflow systems and other software solutions, as well as by the machines used.

Awareness of the great importance and value of this information is just beginning to develop in the printing industry. For example, associations are opposing data monopolies held by manufacturers of software and machines – monopolies on information that could, for example, enable print shops to develop data-driven business models.

Democratization of the printing industry

So what's needed is a democratization of the printing industry – and that's where our open platform Zaikio comes in. On Zaikio, we bring together print businesses, customers, brand owners, suppliers, and the manufacturers of software and machines so that everyone can communicate and exchange data at eye level.

Via an open standardized interface, all applications and machines integrated with the platform will be able to read and write product and process information. This will turn a multitude of individual integrations into a single, holistic integration – that of the entire printing industry.

Zaikio Procurement, which is already available and can be used free of charge, provides a brief taste of what is to come. Printers can use this module directly from their familiar MIS to order paper and later also inks, plates and other consumables from various dealers and suppliers. In doing so, they access the manufacturers' systems directly and transparently. All product and price information is therefore always up to date – an enormous time and efficiency advantage.
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