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by Julie Shaffer

The annual PRIMIR Insights Conference has always been the must-attend event for those who want to be the first to review the current year’s cutting-edge PRIMIR research studies. The 2018 PRIMIR Insights Conference, held July 18-20 at the Parc 55 Hotel in San Francisco, featured previews of four current PRIMIR studies, a review of the PrintStats demographic resource program, and two dynamic keynote presentations. Together, the program offered a compelling look at the industry today and what we might expect going into the future.

The Plant Tour

The program kicked off with a pre-conference plant tour of Everett Graphics, a family-owned producer of folding-carton packaging solutions in Oakland. CEO Whit Everett shared an overview of the company’s operation, explaining its focus on sustainable practices and innovation in developing alternatives to plastic food containers. With its reputation for developing custom packaging solutions, Everett Graphics was even tapped by vendors in the budding West Coast marijuana market to create secure packaging solutions for Cannabis products—getting in on the ground floor of what might prove to be a large growth market.

During a tour of the hyper-clean plant, attendees saw many innovative production solutions and products developed by Everett Graphics, including special boxes for cannabis products and a small cardboard container to replace the typical plastic containers often used to hold small foods like berries or mushrooms. Attendees came away from the tour of Everett Graphics with a keen appreciation of the ingenuity and engineering acumen that is central to this successful business.


The Keynotes

David M. Hogue, UX Design Leader at Google opened the conference with a fascinating keynote on the psychology behind great usability design. He explained that the goal of the designer, especially in creating user experiences, is to conceal the complexity of the system so that users can focus on the task they’re trying to accomplish, not how the system model works. He says one of the biggest problems in interface design is giving people the option to do everything, everywhere, and provided some examples of overly complex program interfaces from our own industry. He noted that reducing choices, even for powerful applications, should be a key goal in elegant user interface design.

One of his interesting examples on the psychology and design mashup centered on how framing a question to solve a problem can influence the outcome. He described how Proctor and Gamble approached developing more cleaning products with the question, “How can we make mopping more effective?” Certainly, there is a chemistry angle to that question, as getting things like spill resistance and to have dirt adhere better to the cleaner would help. But the company set a research group to investigate, and they that workers cleaned the dirty mops almost as often as the floor, and that they often spot-cleaned spills with a cloth, rather than mop the entire floor. That led to the development of the highly lucrative Swiffer product line. Had the chemistry people been asked, they’d have likely added Teflon to the chemistry of the cleaning fluid and that Swiffer business would never have been born. Hogue’s bottom-line message was that understanding the people for whom you design leads to better products, and that goes for global web interfaces like Google, a menu at a restaurant or print production equipment.

In the second keynote address, serial entrepreneur and author of the bestselling business book, “Disrupt You!,” Jay Samit gave a thought-provoking account of the disruption happening in all aspects of life today with some advice on how we can make the best of it. He noted huge disruption in major industries, for example the biggest accommodation company today, Airbnb, owns no hotels, the biggest taxi company, Uber, owns no cars, and the world’s largest retailer, Alibaba, has no inventory!

He pointed out that mature adults have lived through four major revolutions – computer, internet, mobile and now augmented reality – and that disruptive forces like these are moving exponentially, while most businesses move “arithmetically.” He affirmed the biggest disrupters will be in areas like transportation, where self-driving vehicles will eliminate tens of thousands of transportation jobs, and that mobile technology, with more phones than people on earth today, with augmented reality will impact nearly everything. He says that with disruption comes opportunity, and that the cost to launch a startup is 95% lower than a decade ago. Brand and trust, Samit noted, will be ever more important in a Big Data world and alluded to futurist Thomas Frey, who said that 60% of the best jobs in the next 10 years haven’t even been invented yet. Samit commented that in an era of endless innovation, we should realize that technology will impact our lives and careers and we should not set limits for ourselves or our businesses where they no longer exist.

All About PrintStats

Dr. Joe Webb provided a thorough review of the Association for PRINT Technologies PrintStats resource, a research tool that provides enhanced printing industry demographic data to support sales, marketing, product management, market research and logistics/distribution professionals. PrintStats provides 39 reports with data on the number of business establishments in a given physical area, employee data, industry revenues and shipments, plus numbers on spending and investment. Invaluable information for any manufacturer or product developer, and is a free resource, including telephone support from Dr. Webb and co-developer Mark Readdie.

One session attendee remarked that he used the PrintStats data to research for and qualify 200 companies they wished to approach, including the equipment on their floor, “right down to the phone numbers” of key contacts within each company.

The PRIMIR Research

Amy Machado, Research Manager, Printing & Document Solutions, IDC presented an overview of teh PRIMIR study, “Breadth of Press Offerings for Digital Packaging Printing.” She stated that what is driving the growth of digital print in the packaging space is that brands are looking for cost savings in any area. Consumer products companies are seeing flat growth overall, but good growth in niche or specialty areas. Shorter run digital packaging is at the very beginning stages of adoption and smaller companies are more apt to try digital applications, with shorter runs and the flexibility to take chances on trying new things, like augmented reality or printed electronics. Machado says that while customization and the ability to personalize packaging does matter, most of the growth in digital packaging will be because of the supply chain optimization it can offer, although cost of equipment and operation are both barriers to greater adoption.

She noted that there are now more than 50 digital packaging presses on the global market from over 30 suppliers. This is a small portion of the overall market today, predominantly in labels that should continue to dominate the segment as label presses have a lower capital investment cost. High speed inkjet, in contrast to toner-based presses, is expected to drive shipment growth. Machado noted that digital is by no means the death of conventional printing, rather it can nicely augment a company’s offerings, providing options to competitively produce the many versions of products that packaging printers and converters are seeing today.

Researcher Kip Cassino, Executive Vice President, Borrell Associates, shared some overall sobering statistics (with a few bright spots) in the presentation of teh PRIMIR study, “The Evolution of Print in the Cross-Generational World of Information Media.” Cassino reported estimated 2018 revenue declines for books, magazines, newspapers and commercial printing overall. However, some brighter stats show that while newspaper readership is strong only among Baby Boomers, Gen X and Millennials exceed Boomers in both print and electronic book purchases in the past 12 months. People from all generations continue to buy from catalogs—84% of Boomers down to a still respectable 70% of Gen Z’ers—with similar high numbers reported on sales from direct mail marketing.

Still, Borrell’s forecasts for print show distinct downward trends for spending on newspaper ads, direct mail, and periodical ads with a near mirror upward trend in display ad spendng. Daily time spent with print continues to decline, and, with mobile devices increase, in keeping with Jay Samit’s comments in his session on technology disruption. Cassino ended his report with three scenario forecasts for the future. One, continuing the status quo, which he ranked as a 28% possibility. The second, in which paper becomes ascendant, caused by, perhaps, an email tax, the postal service restructured, or younger audiences turn back to print. This, he ranked as 9% probabillity. And third, a paper-declining future, where the availability of inexpensive VR equipment has an impact, more states allow online legal documents and the postal service defaults. This he forecasted as a 63% probability, but reminded attendees that forecasts and scenarios are just that and always subject to change.

Dr. Sean Smyth of Smithers-Pira kicked off his report on the PRIMIR study, “Outlook for the Global Web-to-Print Marketby explaining that print will be part of the steep increase in global e-commerce buying. He defined Web-to-Print as a broad term covering the e-procurement mechanism of print, with the key feature being that there is no direct sales person involved—the system handles the transaction entirely. In 2018, some 2.9% of global print and packaging sales were transacted online, with the number predicted to grow to 3.5% by 2023 with numbers 1% higher in North America. Some of the largest among these printing firms are in Europe, including FlyerAlarm, SaxoPrint and OnlinePrinters, many of which are sheefed litho shops, with slick integrated workflow solutions and AI pricing workflow and job-merging capabilities.

Smyth noted that efficiency is at the root of those companies that will thrive in this space. Study participants report that there is money to be made in the web-to-print space, because it offers a way to attract new customers, fill the press schedule, lower sales and administrative costs, reduce mistakes and increase turnaround time. All of this, however, requires automation and operational efficiency.

Dr. Nona Woolbright, of Clemson University, noted in the PRIMIR study “Attracting New Talent to the Printing INdustry” that employment in the printing industry has been on a downward trajectory since 2008, and hasn’t enjoyed the bounce-back that is beginning to happen in manufacturing overall. One of the reasons, she posited is that print wages are well below average manufacturing wages, but all manufacturing companies are hurting from an overall lack of interest in manufacturing jobs.

Dr. Woolbright shares some research on why this may be the case based on a 2017 Deloitte study, which shows that one third of Americans would not encourage their children to pursue a manufacturing career and over three quarters believe manufacturing jobs do not offer sufficient security or stability. This should come as little surprise following the fallout in manufacturing jobs during the 2008-9 recession. It doesn’t help that many technical education programs, especially those in graphic communications, have closed. She shared some employment and retention ideas from general manufacturing companies, including apprenticeship programs (quite a throwback for print!), educational outreach, training/certification, social and media campaigns and multi-business alliances. Some examples of outreach programs include Louisiana FastStart®, or consumer brand programs, such as Cooper Tire’s ambassador program. Dr. Woolbright advised that graphic communication companies should build a strong employer brand in their community, compete with other manufacturers on pay and benefits, and ensure a strong onboarding process to retain employees.