Today's printing industry, defined by close client-provider relationships and the breakdown of the traditional market for documents and marketing materials, represents a change from the previous conditions that defined the sector for decades. What print service providers now need aren't more concerns about just how different things are today than ten or fifteen years ago, nor wishing for things to change back. Instead, leaders need to think up practical ways to survive and thrive in a market that currently values different attributes.

Technology's ascendance isn't the kiss of death for print. Companies that hold that view, and eschew adding too many IT-based processes based on either pride or a lack of knowledge, may end up far behind their peers who take a more pragmatic look at digital solutions. From the printers on shop floors to the digital interfaces connecting clients and service providers, each piece of the industry is evolving, and therein lie new possibilities and opportunities.

Making measurements
The decision to buy print is not the same choice executives faced in the past. In the '90s, marketing campaigns were print or nothing – record-keeping, too. With high-powered digital alternatives available for important everyday business functions, print service providers have to prove their offerings can compete.

As WhatTheyThink columnist Joe Webb recently pointed out, not every company is ready to make that direct comparison. Digital-only marketing campaigns make it easy to measure return on investment. Lack of such measure is a weakness of print, one that providers have to be ready to compensate for.

Webb noted that media buyers today are looking for ROI calculations, while executives and salespeople in the print industry are better prepared to give them quality comparisons. The only way to secure a spot in a marketer's budget, however, is to compete on whatever metrics the potential client wants to see. This means integrating print products fully with digital practices, embracing their user-friendly nature and acknowledging that even campaigns that heavily employ print will be organized around IT-based principles.

According to Webb, there are a few characteristic elements of companies that have absorbed the reality of the present printing business and are ready to address the actual needs of today's marketers.

  • Digital infrastructure: Even when physical offerings are a company's bread and butter, that provider can show they understand the present market and are ready to offer relevant solutions by basing offerings on a digital model. Proudly old-fashioned providers may find they don't have kind of provable ROI today's buyers need.
  • Media-agnostic mindset: When companies regard their clients' choices as print or nothing, those buyers may choose nothing. Organizations need to focus on giving the answer that will help a partner launch a successful campaign, whether or not it's based around print products.
  • Responsibility for results: Being able to study ROI is one thing. Standing by the results and taking accountability for them is another. Organizations that can take on this new kind of model may find their appeal to marketers improving.

Print preference is still out there
Holding on and trying more digital integration may seem like an odd way to keep the physical printing industry strong. In fact, some may argue that they're just incremental steps toward an all-IT world. However, printers that adopt those measures and stay present and effective in their markets may find their print offerings are still desired and relevant in the years ahead. According to Printing Impressions contributor Phil Riebel, research conducted in mid-2016 holds promising signs for the physical side of the industry.

The author indicated that seeing the results of Toluna's Attractiveness and Sustainability of Print and Paper survey casts the industry in a more positive light. People of all ages prefer to consume information from printed documents. The internet's ephemerality and always-on nature can be exhausting, and individuals just find reading from physical pages easier. With more respondents acknowledging that there are sustainable ways to use print, there is hope that providers will be able to use physical documents as a unique angle for clients – rather than an afterthought.

Finding a new place
With print still an appealing option – but companies demanding to see digital-friendly metrics such as ROI – it appears a fully integrated hybrid model is the way forward for the print industry. Combining the best of both worlds and becoming a trusted voice in the communications field: a worthy 2017 goal.