In an interview with Balthasar Mayer / SIP, Bernd Zipper talks about online printing in the German-speaking region. How he views the overall economic situation, which trends will determine online printing and what role the Online Print Symposium plays in the process.
Balthasar Mayer: Mr. Zipper, first of all, a clarification of terms: What is online printing, what is web-to-print?
Bernd Zipper: Let’s look at this one by one – online printing first. There is traditional printing, and then there is online printing. Whereby online printing is very vaguely defined. That’s why we at zipcon consulting differentiate between two terms: First, there is the online-driven print revenue, the ODPU. This includes everything that is channeled into a print shop online in any way. Even in the case of a traditional printer who receives orders via a portal or an API, for example, this is online-driven print revenue. On the other hand, we are talking about pure online printers. These are the ones that make at least 70 percent of their revenue solely through their online store or e-commerce platform. So the OGPU is the upper set and includes pure-online print. Web-to-print, on the other hand, is nothing more than the technical basis for designing a print template online. There are two processes here: one is “upload and print” – I upload a PDF, perhaps see a preview and can have it printed. And then there’s the online editor, where I can insert images into a template, for example, or use an Indesign-like editor to design entire documents. That was the short version. These terms must all be kept carefully apart.
Balthasar Mayer: Where will web-to-print and online printing stand at the end of 2020?
Bernd Zipper: At the end of 2020, we will of course all be reeling from the shock of Covid-19. Obviously, pure online print has suffered a massive slump throughout the year. This is because many events that are normally advertised, such as concerts, have been cancelled. At zipcon consulting, we estimate that just under two billion euros will not have been generated in the German-speaking world in 2020. That is dramatic. However, on the other hand, other users are ordering online – namely those who may have previously worked with a normal print shop but have realized that, especially in times of home office, you can do a lot via your own ordering channels, even if you are not in the office and have to be highly flexible. There’s a clear trend of new customers coming in.
Balthasar Mayer: Have online print shops basically come through the Corona crisis better than traditional print companies?
Bernd Zipper: You can’t say that. Everyone who produces, whether print, shoes or something else, suffered losses during the Corona crisis. You can’t distinguish between online and offline. If the occasions aren’t there to promote, you’re not going to get an order, whether online or traditional. My guess is that we won’t see a recovery there in the short term. It may be that in January it’s better, that we’re better able to handle the situation. What we are seeing is that the second lockdown is not having quite as severe an impact as the first one. A lot of companies will be lucky if they barely make it to zero through the holiday shopping season. But there is just no difference. Everyone is suffering in the same way.
Balthasar Mayer: Are there any print shops that haven’t been hit so badly because of their focus?
Bernd Zipper: There are a few where it appears better because of their specialization – those that make labels, tags, and packaging. Even those that make end-consumer products, in this case photo books, personalized children’s books or canvas pictures for the living room, are doing well; because people had and have a lot of time to make a memory book for grandma. So there are some in the B2C sector that made more sales in the spring than in the previous year.
Balthasar Mayer: The Online Print Symposium 2020 that you organized was one of the last events that still took place as an on-site event …
Bernd Zipper: THE last event! (laughs)
Balthasar Mayer: When you look back again: How was online printing doing at that time – before Corona?
Bernd Zipper: Quite well, actually. Our online print index combines the top five players we see in the German market, i.e. Cewe, Flyeralarm, Cimpress, Onlineprinters and United Print. In 2019, these have combined sales of around 1.7 billion euros. And we saw an average growth rate of 9.5 percent for 2019. We have developed a prognosis for 2020 from this: Before and even during the symposium, we assumed growth rates of 7.1 percent in the B2C area and 8.5 percent in the B2B area. That is no longer the case. In the B2C area, we certainly had growth this year; I would even say between 10 and 12 percent, exact figures are not yet available. In the B2B area, however, we are definitely down, I would say around 12 to 18 percent. Before Covid-19, we still had a forecast that we saw around 8.74 billion euros in online-driven print sales in the DACH region in 2020. For this, we took into account everything that is generated online – this includes pure online print, but also B2B portals and online B2B offerings from traditional printers, plus the sales of foreign online providers that are made in Germany. We have to revise this 8.74 billion euros. Also driven by the second lockdown, between 1.6 and 1.8 billion euros will flow out of the market – sales that will not come back either. That’s pretty stark, because online printing in particular always needs fresh money to be able to reinvest.
Balthasar Mayer: Can you already venture an estimate for online printing in the post-Corona era?
Bernd Zipper: It’s difficult. We recently published a forecast for online printing in 2021. We said online-driven sales in Germany alone will be around 4.9 billion euros after the first lockdown. Actually, it might have been significantly more. But in 2021, we are seeing the market recover, with sales of 6.7 billion euros – again, just in Germany. Some will leave the market, especially when the reporting requirement for insolvencies resumes at the beginning of January. But many have learned that you can use the time when nothing else is working to position yourself and develop better digital strategies. Because when the occasions slowly come back for which someone wants to have something printed, or when there are new occasions that need explaining, print will benefit. If I invite people to a digital conference in the spring, I will inevitably come across print. Because print conveys a certain appreciation. No one signs up for a digital conference that costs 1,000 euros – at least not at the moment – if they haven’t had something in their hands that has previously given them confidence. After all, the currency on the Internet is definitely trust, but building something like that on the Internet alone is a bit problematic. And that’s why we believe that in the spring print will pick up slightly; as soon as normality returns, there will be a boom. People want to do business, they want to position their events. For example, many cultural events that are now cancelled will not be made up for, but will be presented in a new form. And this has to be advertised. That’s why we see next year at a level well above the current one – unless there’s another lockdown. Then we see the danger of a major economic crisis, which no state will be able to absorb. But I believe in the self-healing powers of the economy and in the will of companies to survive. I see this in many companies. They want to and will find a way.
Balthasar Mayer: So more and more will happen online in the future. But an online presence and a web store are not enough. What has to change in companies for them to become an online print shop?
Bernd Zipper: Pardon me, but that’s the wrong question. The right question would be: What does a print shop have to do to transform digitally as quickly as possible. Companies don’t necessarily have to become online printers. Becoming Flyeralarm or Saxoprint overnight is not an option at all. Print shops don’t have the means to do that. What they do have the means to do, however, is change the mindset: The mindset has to change. Away from “I resist digital” to “I embrace digital to advance my business.” There are still entrepreneurs who operate on the same principle as in the 1950s: Rule and make money. But that is no longer the way. The way is cooperative collaboration. And that comes before any digitization. Of course, digitalization also brings with it a lack of knowledge. You have to learn something new; you have to try in some way to switch out the old a bit and find a new way with digital tools. But the opposite is usually the case – taking the old way and trying to bend something digital around. One example: MIS systems. There’s months of fiddling around until a super tool is adapted to the old process, only to have it not work. Instead, I have to cut the old cord and start over.
Balthasar Mayer: What do entrepreneurs have to bear in mind here?
Bernd Zipper: There are simple rules: Analyze where I am today, what I want to do tomorrow, and how to get there. And then ask a consultant to accompany you – someone from the outside who tells you to cut off this piece and do something new. And if you don’t have the opportunity to do that, then, if necessary, you set up a second production facility in your company that functions differently from the analog one. Then develop a culture that also extends into the old world and convinces your colleagues at the machine that this system can be better. If I as an entrepreneur want to digitize, that’s all well and good. But if the team doesn’t go along with it, if the company, the colleagues and also the families behind it don’t go along with it, then it becomes problematic.
Balthasar Mayer: Are print service providers perhaps worried that they will lose contact with their customers as a result of an impersonal web store?
Bernd Zipper: I am absolutely in favor of a personal relationship between customer and printer. But you don’t need a personal relationship when you’re printing stationery or flyers. It’s only when things get complex that you need advice. And this advice is also very important. Customers can order standard products online, but for everything else they have a contact person. The more personal, the better – the impersonal website or online store is a tool, just like the keyboard on your cell phone. And that’s to get a price quickly. And the cell phone, that will play a very special role in the future in the area of online printing and web-to-print.
Balthasar Mayer: In what way?
Bernd Zipper: The cell phone has become the information collector of choice for us. All contacts, all social media channels, all news channels converge on the cell phone. It gives me access to information at any time, for example, how much a ticket, a rental car or even a flyer costs from various providers. And in this way, the cell phone also becomes the control center for procurements in the B2B sector. If someone stands out positively on social media, for example, then you transport that with you to the workplace or into the tasks you take on in a company. In this case, you also use your phone to calculate, to see what suppliers are out there. I can also link information quickly. If I’m out and about as a boss and spot something interesting, I send the link to the office and have it ordered. Few will place a print order on mobile, certainly not for something complex. But they will forward the product and price information to the person who will implement it afterwards. And we see every day that cell phones basically work in the print sector – with photo books, with postcards, with all these products that can now be ordered via an app.
Balthasar Mayer: Fittingly, the motto of the next Online Print Symposium, which will take place on June 8 and 9, 2021, is “Start Up and Print Online!” What can one imagine by this?
Bernd Zipper: We want to bring together everyone who doesn’t feel part of the print industry but is still involved with print – the app makers of this world, the mypostcards of this world – and introduce them to a larger audience. I can’t say too much yet, but we have really interesting guests. We’re going to have a pitch afternoon: Start-ups can introduce themselves and present their idea live. There’s exciting stuff there, and we want to provide a platform for that. That’s why we’re no longer in a classic setup. We are going to a start-up center, the Design Offices Atlas in Munich. Here, we’ve rented the top floor, including the roof terrace, so that we can get some air now and then and have a barbecue in the evening – if the official circumstances allow. However, we expect to have a different situation next summer. In addition, we can operate with fresh air, can equalize that. I think we can manage a nice event.
Balthasar Mayer: Why is it important for an industry like online printing to get together in person?
Bernd Zipper: Many people don’t know it, but there is the Online Print Initiative. I founded the non-profit association eleven years ago with a few comrades-in-arms. In the beginning, it was all about a patent, but for the last eight years or so, we’ve mainly wanted to exchange ideas – the small with the large, the medium with the other medium, the large-format printer with the B2B printer – and to do that, we need a habitat. And this habitat is first and foremost the Online Print Initiative, in which 45 companies have joined forces – incidentally with total sales of almost 4.2 billion euros. And then there’s the Online Print Symposium, where others can join in. We place great emphasis on communication at the conference. Especially when I’m implementing a complex digital project, whether it’s a new function in the online store or an app or an editor, I need someone as a sparring partner, and I find that there. And it’s also a bit of a talent exchange: You can see that young people have this idea or that idea, and maybe they can help me, too. I also maintain that some developments in the online printing market would not have happened as they did if the symposium hadn’t existed. Because the right people came together.
Balthasar Mayer: I remember you saying at the symposium in 2013 that LFP was a niche market in online printing. How does that look today?
Bernd Zipper: LFP is now a permanent fixture in the online print mix. An enormous amount has happened in recent years. Most major providers, whether Onlineprinters or Flyeralarm, have their own LFP departments. There are also always new applications in the LFP sector, for example individual large packaging. The subject of acrylic glass is also highly interesting.
Balthasar Mayer: The LFP productions of online print shops are also often prime examples of technical equipment and process optimization.
Bernd Zipper: Absolutely. Even the topic of robotics would probably not have built up such momentum without online printing. Online printers, for example, are the first to look for solutions on how best to convey a 2-by-3-meter plate to a printer. Logistics is also a big issue here. There are suppliers that have grown tremendously just in the past few years, for example Probo in the Netherlands. They even have a workflow in their plant with a treadmill on which they transport giant plates through the company. It’s fascinating what has happened there.
Balthasar Mayer: Another area that had a big boom online was textile printing, specifically T-shirt printing. How do you assess the development?
Bernd Zipper: What we see in textile printing is basically the beginning of the mass customization era on a broad scale. The customer spends money to print a message on a T-shirt – or a mug or a ballpoint pen etc.. The customer has a goal, which is to distribute a message. And now he can afford it. Custom shirts used to be expensive, but today it’s an industrial process. If I do something like that at Spreadshirt, for example, I have my T-shirt within three days. And that’s just the beginning. With mass production, I’m not special when I wear it. But with a personalized T-shirt, I am. We see this approach to mass customization in many things, for example in interior design for hotels. Large format and textile printing are here to stay. Fabrics, wall coverings, carpets, all of these have now become firmly established in interior design, in the design of rooms. This means that we are still relatively at the beginning in textile printing, many things are still very impractical; we have to think about how we can improve usability and access. However, this is a process that will take some time – yet a lot will happen. But I don’t know if I would jump into T-shirt printing from one day to the next. The customer access points are well distributed, there are a few big ones, and of course they have clever systems behind them, like Spreadshirt. By the way, Spreadshirt made relatively good sales during the Covid 19 crisis. Because here, too, people had time to design something.
Balthasar Mayer: Large-format printing was integrated, textile printing as well – will there be a mixing of the various sectors among online printers?
Bernd Zipper: There will be a mixture overall. Flyeralarm, for example, has never been the pure online printer we always thought it was. The company offers much more – whether it’s digital services, videos, website design, and so on. It’s actually a classic 360-degree provider. But they’re using online platforms to get to the customer. We’re seeing that more and more. There may still be companies like Saxoprint that are pure-online players; but most of the providers we see are moving to offer much more comprehensive services and services. This shows that the whole industry is moving towards online. Because our industry is transforming towards automation: simple order taking, simple estimating, simple logistics in the back – a lot of things are currently still done in analog, via sneaker networks within companies. But sooner or later, everything that can become digital will become digital. In the print sector, the only things that remain are the printing process and postpress. In the long term – and I’m talking about the next five years – we will no longer have the division between online printers versus offline printers; instead, we will see exclusively transforming print companies.