Opportunities Enabled Post-COVID by Inkjet Printing
Today is the third day of the 14-day PRINTING United Digital Experience and it’s devoted to digital inkjet printing. This morning, Marco Boer, VP of IT Strategies, kicked off the day with a sobering examination of print market trends and how they have been impacted by COVID-19. (Watch his presentation here.)
In short, the pandemic has sped up the decline of offset printing and boosted the rise of production inkjet, the well-known industry analyst and consultant argued.
“COVID … is accelerating the shift away from offset to digital by at least two years,” Boer proclaimed. “In other words, all of a sudden we’ve accelerated that decline [of offset] much faster than the trajectory that we were on.”
This is because of a permanent shift in behavior brought on by the pandemic. “The habits of how people buy print are changing dramatically,” Boer said.
During the pandemic, people have been using up the printed materials they had been storing and ordering only small amounts when they need more. They are reassessing their need for printing. The result of all this, according to Boer, will be a future marked by very short print runs. He expects a 30% to 40% decline in offset pages this year. (Register here to attend the PRINTING United Digital Experience.)
Boer emphasized that the industry will not rebound from the current recession like it did from the 2008 recession. “We expect to see a significant decline in overall volumes that will not go back to volumes where they were in 2019,” he contended.
Between 2019 and 2024, Boer predicted, total printed pages will drop 44%. “Many of these print providers aren’t going to survive,” he warned — as many as 30% of them. Those that remain, Boer added, will find themselves with 18% fewer overall pages to print, based on shrinking demand. Print providers will need to right-size and re-equip their plants to prepare for the increase in shorter runs, he said. Automation will become essential to reduce setup times and allow fewer workers to handle the work — and there will be fewer workers, he emphasized.
Boer expects the labor force to shrink over the next five to six years, as fewer young people enter the job market. At the same time, offset press operators, whose average age is over 55, are now retiring, partly due to their vulnerability to COVID-19. All this will bring about a significant rise in wages, and necessitate smaller workforces.
Paper Costs Will Also Continue to Rise
“We believe the cost of paper is going to increase significantly,” Boer noted. “You might see the cost of writing papers double by 2024.” Though he said this was a worst-case scenario, rising paper costs will certainly reduce the demand for printing and fuel the desire for shorter runs — which is precisely where production inkjet technology comes in.
“If we want to really shift most of those offset pages onto a digital printing platform, inkjet is the only technology of choice out there,” Boer declared. “Production inkjet is the key tool that is going to enable us to transition to this new business model — and new sources of profit — and I am fully convinced that, by 2024, we’re going to be in better shape than ever before.”
Bob has served as editor of In-plant Impressions since October of 1994. Prior to that he served for three years as managing editor of Printing Impressions, a commercial printing publication. Mr. Neubauer is very active in the U.S. in-plant industry. He attends all the major in-plant conferences and has visited nearly 170 in-plant operations around the world. He has given presentations to numerous in-plant groups in the U.S., Canada and Australia, including the Association of College and University Printers and the In-plant Printing and Mailing Association. He also coordinates the annual In-Print contest, cosponsored by IPMA and In-plant Impressions.