Is Print Part of Your Future?

Everyone knows newspapers, magazines, and books are going through a game change. Digitization is making it possible for them to be delivered in new ways (phones, eReaders, social media, etc). New business models are coming and going in the print industry as a result, and there is more turbulence ahead promising to spawn new applications and new ways of delivering information.

Printing in the U.S. is $140-150 billion dollar industry. There is a lot more to it than newspapers, magazines, and books. For example: catalogs, direct mail, legal and financial forms, documentation, stationary, packaging, credit card statements, and more.

Full disclosure: I am working with executives in the print industry to develop a strategy for these changing times. Much of what you read below comes from focus groups and interviews I have conducted as part of my work.

Here are five trends impacting printing today. Check them out and then, please answer the question at the end. I want to know what you think.

1. The digitization revolution is not over—the endgame is not clear.
There continue to be significant changes, new advances, emerging business opportunities, and further upheaval in the marketplace. Nobody sees a conclusion to the changes now taking place.

2. The ways we communicate are continuing to change with major impact on the value chain.
Spending and ROI are both being influenced. This in turn is causing organizations to restructure as new opportunities appear and other revenue streams flatten or recede. Further, digital and ink-on-paper are evolving together.

3. U.S. companies are expanding internationally.
There is continuing growth in other countries (e.g., China, Indonesia, Eastern Bloc countries such as Poland, Brazil and many countries in S America, India). It is a complicated playing field. Every region, every country has different prevailing constraints, does business differently, and is at a unique point in its evolution.

4. Globalization is coming home, impacting U.S. companies doing business in North America.

The U.S. market is shrinking in terms of dollars, traditional print sites, and commercial printers—growth is near flat at best, mergers & acquisitions are active. China is moving in as are other international players.

5. There is an untold story about sustainability/green issues and the facts for the print industry.
Everyone assumes not printing on paper saves trees. But printers are among the most resolute supporters of managed forests, planting trees to ensure the continuance of their industry - they'd be foolish not to. The issue is complex; there are many variables. The carbon footprint of an eReader or a cell phone has not yet been established. Sometimes printing on 100% recycled paper requires more energy, having more impact on the environment than printing on paper with a smaller percentage of recycling. The devil is in the details and the details are not clear.

Print is arguably the most important revolution of modern times changing civilization and human progress fundamentally by making it possible to capture words and communicate them. And now the game is changing for sure. So, here's my question for you: Is there a place for print in your future? If so, what is it?

Seth Kahan (Seth@VisionaryLeadership.com) is a Change Leadership specialist, helping leaders successfully adapt to the new world of business. He has worked closely with CEOs and executives in over 50 world-class organizations that include Shell, Prudential, Marriott, World Bank, Peace Corps, American Society of Association Executives, Project Management Institute, and NASA. His Web site is VisionaryLeadership.com. His latest book is Getting Change Right: How Leaders Transform Organizations from the Inside Out. Download a free excerpt at GettingChangeRight.com.

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