New DNA for Print: Swords to plowshares


It’s time to once again think about the printing industry and online print. The reasons are obvious: the current figures and forecasts for the future of the industry are more than just a source of joy.

Market figures are usually retrospectively oriented: in 2018 this or that was so and so large. With forecasts – as we develop them at zipcon – the situation is somewhat different. Such forecasts are always the result of many years of market research, they are based on data, discussions and interviews that we gather for our customers as part of studies and are a summary of trends. We also review (upcoming) technologies and assess whether the new methods can provide useful applications for print.

Extracting oneself from the price war spiral

As we predicted years ago, online print, for instance, is now firmly established and complements the printing industry on all fronts. This is because, as always, it is in a competitive market economy: the better offer wins the customer or the order. Accordingly, almost every industry is currently “disrupted” by suppliers who discover, awaken and ultimately satisfy new consumer needs with new ideas and concepts.

In all seriousness, would we have gotten into a dirty taxi in the past? No. But today, in the case of Uber, we don’t care whether the car is shiny or not – the main thing is that it’s on the spot immediately, and I can pay conveniently with my credit card, and I have a price based on performance and demand. Finding such new ways is the real challenge in our current time of digitization and transformation.

That’s why the printing industry has to ask itself: How can print be remarketed? How can we offer better or faster services? And will this make print more attractive again? As soon as an entrepreneur has found an answer to these questions, he will (at least in part) be able to overcome the price war spiral that has been lamented for years.

A better printing industry

Those who now want to identify online print as the cause of the price war in the printing industry have not understood the principle of a market economy – nor the customer’s desire for simplified ordering methods. It is not uncompromisingly about online printing, but generally about a better printing industry.

It must finally be understood that online printing is only one aspect of transforming the printing industry. And that there is no such thing as an online printer in any case. There are a number of suppliers who sell printed matter via online shops with very different concepts. But there are also at least as many more classically oriented companies that offer their customers new services via online shop architectures. This is because printers can develop, offer and produce effective solutions and products using modern systems – and this does not exclusively mean online shops, but the entire “customer acquisition, order, production, logistics” theme chain.

But if you take a closer look: Which printer has a clever CRM tool for customer acquisition and support? Why doesn’t anyone in the printing industry use tools like Salesforce and Co.? Why is it that printing companies only take action in the area of transformation when they are on fire?

Cultivate the field first

Every entrepreneur must first understand where they stand in the changed market. Most firms carry out their own analysis and then ask a supplier of printing equipment for advice. What emerges as the solution is self-evident: a new machine plus a little software – with the hope that one will find his salvation in digital printing.

The real problem, however, is hardly recognized by anyone: the inability of many printers to change themselves and not the pressroom! Many entrepreneurs still don’t want to admit that the world has changed completely. And even worse – they still believe in miracles through machine technology.

Therefore, my current slogan is: Swords to ploughshares – this means first cultivate the field before you begin a price war with a new hammer machine and subsequently heat it up the war even more.

Just a quick background: “Swords to Ploughshares” is a partial quotation from the Bible, which from the 1980s onwards became the idiom and symbol of disarmament initiatives and the peace movement.

But before I am misunderstood: I have nothing against new machines and nothing against software. But I do have something against senseless upgrading. With the mere purchase of a machine or a piece of software nothing changes (at first) at all. One should at least know where the journey should lead them and how to use it optimally. This means, at any rate: learn about it!

The printing industry needs to work on its DNA. After all, “mastering production technology” as inherited information is no longer enough to survive today. Source: © Photo by Watchara Khamphonsaeng /

We have to work on the DNA. We must reorient ourselves, adapt our DNA so that we still have a justification as we enter the digital age. Print must realize that what we have learned is no longer enough to survive today. This is because the DNA of a printer, i.e. its genetic information, is production driven. That is what he has learned … and that is exactly what makes him the last and most interchangeable link in the chain of media communication today. If printers were already involved as consultants in the creation of customer orders, things would look quite different. Some companies have already understood this – but unfortunately most have not.

Thinking and acting as a landowner

As a result, there will hardly be any opportunities on the market for print shops with traditional thinking and conventional production, who are also receiving a huge investment backlog. A look behind the scenes at some (even large) companies reveals hierarchical structures, encrusted notions of the market and innovations, as well as a pronounced landlord thinking and acting instead of modern employee management. Such companies are too unattractive for sensible succession planning – and the fact that the entire sector is considered to be less “sexy” is a further factor. Who is still surprised at the shortage of skilled workers?

This means that print companies have to be future-oriented. With this there will once again come a younger workforce who would like to work in the printing industry. After all, who wants to work in a dusty industrial factory today when he/she can work for a few euros less in a nice start-up office or a fancy large company?

But print urgently needs experts. It ruins the image of an entire industry when badly printed and crooked flyers on the cheapest paper are delivered to customers because the experts have been thrown out – as is sometimes the case in “cheap online printing”. But we need the technical know-how – we also need old technologies, because not everything is done with digital solutions. In this context, changing print DNA also means preserving what is good and selling it as profitably as possible. With the Letterpress trend, we see that it can work – to a limited extent.

Out of the comfort zone

It is immensely important to bring your team with you during this retraining! First and foremost, the change in the print DNA affects people, the mindset, the attitude towards the job and the service readiness: 24/7 service and adequate online services. So, get out of your comfort zone and into service thinking and action.

„My current slogan is: Swords to ploughshares – so first cultivate the field before you start the price war with a new hammer machine, further fueling it.“ – Bernd Zipper.

Everything that is simple will be produced in print factories today and in the future. If the product becomes more complex, we will need experts and specialists. We see this with labels and packaging, but also with complex commercial printing, books, etc. However, the service is always different. That’s why the question “What can we still cut out cheaply with our old machines” doesn’t help any further, but rather “What more can we do to recognize and satisfy the needs of our customers?”

Yes, and in that case even a new machine may be needed. After all, automation, shorter set-up times and improved quality are basic prerequisites for modern and economical production.

And an online shop in itself is no guarantee for survival! The sale of print via an online shop needs e-commerce experts – and that’s not a cheap number. One indicator for this is the trend among some online printers to approach and support B2B customers via their own key account – Flyeralarm has been doing this for years, others have not.

Social media and print – A contradiction?

As a result – and also for other reasons – online printing companies with a turnover of more than 20 million will experience consolidation. The big providers will have to “buy” new customers (since they are making a lot of mistakes in the e-commerce sector). And they will do so with their smaller competitors. As part of our M+A consulting, I have been accompanying such processes for several months. It appears that predatory competition is becoming increasingly fierce among the big players and that “nothing will remain unchanged “. Almost all online printers are still growing – but not as fast as three or four years ago.

They are growing only moderately – due to the fact that some e-commerce companies continue to operate as they did ten years ago. It seems that many factors have not been understood. Among other things, social media printing has been completely forgotten. Now smaller providers have looked for a niche in this market and found it.

We must therefore also learn from this: print plus online plus social media plus radio plus TV plus streaming comprises a canon of media conduits that can and must be performed together. Every medium has its time. That of the newspaper seems to be over, but that of the online blogs is not. However, this can change very quickly if product and target group match. We are currently experiencing this with our publication “beyondprint unplugged”, which is printed as a newspaper. Nevertheless, and precisely for this reason, “simply carrying on like this ” is the wrong way in which to develop ourselves further.

What you can do concretely

Talk. Communicate. Open up and inform. Go to events that are perhaps more online. We are looking forward to attending the next Online Print Symposium on March 3 and 4, 2020 in Munich. In addition, one should consider whether a fresh development program – such as an innovation department within the company – could help to produce new ideas and new people.

But that alone is not enough. The first steps towards developing a survival strategy begin in the entrepreneur’s mind. However, he must also understand that entrepreneurship today no longer means secrecy, lack of transparency and ” cheap – cheap ” – but rather openness, communication, transparency, cooperation and coopetition, flat hierarchies, quick decisions – and that employees should become accomplices.

My Take: There is a lot to do. However, the entrepreneur has to get underway – even if things might prove very uncomfortable for him. After all, experience shows: Most problems are caused by the minds behind them. We are all dependent on constantly learning new things. Always – for years. Moreover, we must learn to think analytically and in a structured way. My team helps me with this. And I continue to learn from online and transformation projects on an international level, which so far I have been able to assist with. And don’t be afraid of consultants – I too take advice. This opens one’s mind and perspective. Incidentally, a good glass of wine – to reflect in peace with “my” consultants from time to time – also helps to develop new thoughts.

New DNA for Print: Swords to plowshares
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New DNA for Print: Swords to plowshares
It's time to once again think about the printing industry and online print. The reasons are obvious: the current figures and forecasts for the future of the industry are more than just a source of joy.
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Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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