There will be lots of new buzz-words, just like in the past. One theme will be around the evolution from lithography to digital - and now particularly inkjet.
The best buzzword to describe how the industry is changing is that it is “dematerialising”. The industry now uses fewer materials than in the past. This is driven by a variety of factors. Some have come about because of the natural forces of technology evolution (if that is a natural force). New technologies want to find markets. They are invented and adjusted until they fit into a market.
Inkjet is a classic example. It is decades old. Past Drupas have witnessed inkjet systems that were nowhere near the quality to satisfy the industry or its customers. But once a path has been taken to enhance a technology, it will only continue to get better. Therefore, it is likely that before too long, inkjet will be the dominant printing method.
Another issue that has driven this dematerialisation is the growth of other media, in particular the iPad and similar devices. We can argue the benefits of the printed page for as long as we want, but the current generation loves technology. But more important is the impact new technologies have on investments in businesses. Releases of new “things”, in particular mass-market technologies such as the iPad, garner massive investor support. To put it in financial terms, the apps market has grown from $7 billion in 2010 to $18 billion in 2011. It is projected to reach $183 billion by 2015.
Another key to the dematerialisation of the printing industry has been the GFC. The magnitude of disruption to global markets was massive and obviously still being felt today. One fallout from the crisis was that large commercial organisations trimmed costs in printing. They knew print is probably the most effective way to communicate with customers, but they realised that they were printing too much in the past. Perhaps they didn’t need so many copies, or so many versions. They could be more conservative. The organisations could supplement the print with a web presence.
I haven’t seen any data or research to back this up, but it seems the volume of printing declined, but the number of print runs did not drop by as much. Friends in the corporate world tell me this story.
So this Drupa will be about an industry trying to reinvent itself to fit into an environment that has changed incredibly since the previous exhibition. The pressure of new personal technologies gaining the favour of the audience, new printing technologies that don’t need the skills and the amount of materials that were once required. And a customer climate that been forced to review how they engage with printing. This battle will require more than feel-good statements.
Phillip Lawrence is a PhD scholar, consultant and speaker who specialises in print and the environment