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The print business in transition from trade to industry

Hardly any other craft was subject to such rapid technological development as printing. First the change from lead typesetting to phototypesetting; then desktop publishing and later computer-to-plate, through which some job profiles disappeared. And finally the advent of digital printing. Print shops were able to cope with all these technological innovations.

But then the Internet appeared and triggered a profound change in media usage – away from print and towards online. Since then, at the latest, the printing trade has been in a state of severe turbulence.

In parallel, the traditional sales structure has also changed completely. On the one hand, printing companies have become very comparable by modern production technology on all sides. Quality and on-time delivery, which in earlier times were often unique selling points and elements of customer loyalty, are now standard.

Customers are shy game

On the other hand, the close customer relationships that have been built up over the years are becoming increasingly fragile, and customer loyalty is in decline. No wonder, given that online print portals with low prices for standardized print products are vying for orders.

Over the years, these online print shops have constantly expanded the range of print products - while in the beginning it limited to order rather simple print products such as business stationery, flyers, folders and the like, the web-to-print business has long since expanded to include catalogs, books, labels, vehicle lettering, magazines and much more.

Online print shops stand for the industrialization of the print business. They offer their services nationwide, new technologies are quickly adapted, and offers and business models are flexibly tailored to market and customer requirements. They manufacture customized products with high efficiency, even in very short runs.

Trade versus industry

Traditional artisan printing companies with traditional structures cannot keep up. All too often, however, the transition from craftsmanship to industrial production is being missed.

Many print shops still rely on their many years of experience to make gut calculations without accurately calculating the manufacturing costs as the basis of the sales price. Post-calculation, procurement management and cost controlling often do not happen.

All this was feasible in times of large print runs with comfortable margins – but with today's narrow profit margins, this can quickly become dangerous.

Digitization of processes is a stepchild

This development can only be tackled by digitizing business processes – but while printing houses have continuously invested in modern production technology, this aspect has usually been neglected.

The software used for pricing, order processing and production control usually dates from a time when the current shape of the printing industry was simply science fiction. This applies both to the design of processes and the architecture of such programs.

The systems of this "Generation One" are mainly client/server based, complex in administration and not user-friendly. Features for feasible and flexible planning and material management are often not available – not to mention open interfaces for connectivity between different programs or even to machines.

This leads to enormous effort in order processing, which is becoming a bottleneck for all processes in administration and production due to the large number of manual processes. They are systems of their time, not bad at that time, but without perspective. They can no longer meet today's requirements in the printing industry.
As part of the urgently needed digital transformation of print businesses, processes must be optimized "to the max" with the help of software. This can only be achieved by standardizing and automating processes. Another prerequisite is the bidirectional exchange of data between as many systems as possible across the entire value-added chain. Both aspects are characteristics of industrial production.

Only those companies in the printing industry that are open to digitization and set the course in the right direction will have a long-term future.

In our next blog post, we will take a look at the biggest hurdle in digitization – and it's not about software or hardware.

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