Trends: The path to the future is not a linear one


Increased speed in structural change, digital business models and transformation – the twenties will provide decisive momentum for the printing industry.

The contemplative spirit of the Christmas season has past, the turn of the year has signalled the entry into the 1920s of this century and thus also into a new decade (yes, even if it is often hotly debated: a decade begins with a 0 and ends with a 9). So first of all, all the best for the year 2020 and on into the twenties!

Traditionally, the beginning of a new decade has always provided an opportunity to look into the crystal ball or to quote the views of trends and future researchers. At least that is my impression, but this time it has not happened. I can even imagine why. Because the megatrends are getting on in years! Globalization, individualization, the age of ecology, the triumphal procession of the Internet – all of these were already identified in the 1980s and 1990s. And many current trends are merely derived from the megatrends of the past. That is why it is sometimes surprising to see what is declared to be a new trend today.

Digitization, for example, is one of them. Nowadays, it has to be used for the smallest of challenges. Not to mention the big ones. Of course, the topic is far from over, but the term “digitization” is slowly wearing off, because it has long become part of everyday life since we started sending e-mails and conducting banking transactions on the Internet. For more than 40 years, digitization has been changing our world and industrial structures. And continues to accelerate.

Growth rates cannot be sustained

Digitization may still be a generic term, but it has not yet been precisely defined. That is why the assessments range from euphoria to catastrophe. In fact, where digital technologies (which is probably the better way of describing them) are rampant, there is no stone left unturned. Which doesn’t necessarily have to be bad. Digital technologies have completely changed the way we work and, thanks to their transformative character, are paving the way for new and promising business models. They allow us to produce, trade and consume in a completely different way than just a few years ago. But it is grossly exaggerated to associate digital transformation with disruption and the collapse of entire markets.

“An innovation only becomes an innovation when it has matured and established itself as a usable technology in a market. Everything else is and remains an idea.” – Bernd Zipper

This is why the success of digital media cannot be continued with past growth rates. The rising curve for e-books has long since flattened out, the market share has levelled off at just a few percentages, and trend researchers believe that the major social networks are past their peak. Even the two to three-digit growth rate for online print can only be achieved in exceptional cases.

The future will not develop linearly. And even more important: no medium will be replaced by another. Instead, however, media is changing, acquiring a different status or branching out.

How to avoid the hamster wheel

These facts also prove that trends and forecasts should never be considered in isolation, but always in relation to other developments. After all, trends always meet counter-trends. Digital media could ultimately play into the hands of print, for example, by producing “breaking news” non-stop and, through their high frequency, they have created a culture of sensationalism and excitement that has become uncanny to many people. Advice books on how to avoid this hamster wheel now fill entire shelves. Mindfulness is the name of a new coaching trend: Mindfulness is the awareness of what you let into yourself and your brain. And researchers have discovered that print in particular offers media mindfulness.

Therefore, one should not just let the flood of news and digital information come rushing at oneself and become nervous, but instead separate the relevant from the unimportant and deal with it calmly. Newspapers or news magazines, especially the serious trade press or blogs such as this one, have proven to be effective filters that offer classification and provide orientation.

Identifying potential early on

In this context: We will certainly be bombarded once again this year – especially in the context of drupa – with superlatives and the term innovation. Many of those who use the word in an almost inflammatory way, and I too will probably use it again in abundance, should be aware, however, that an innovation is only one when it also becomes established as a usable technology within a market. Yet, this is not the case with many developments.

In the case of some inventions, it was possible to guess early on what potential they had. Amazon boss Jeff Bezos, for example, saw – and exploited – the fact that the Internet would be ideal for selling books, CDs, and later all kinds of things. The same is true for the distribution of printed products via the Internet. Initially only a few people correctly assessed and implemented this. However, we at zipcon recognized the potential of the new business model early on and pushed the issue in the industry. The question I never asked myself was whether online print would prevail, but how long it would take for e-business print to establish itself. After all, it is still an ongoing process of change, which some have already completed and others still have to go through. To them it should be said that online print is a considerable part of the structural change.

The last 20% is the most costly

However, the history of technology also shows that some people who are too optimistic overestimate themselves. Maybe the idea is good, but too early for the market. Or perhaps: A technology is there, but not yet fully developed – this last step is particularly costly. After all, to bring a technology to maturity, the last 20% or so of the way requires 80% of the effort. This applies to machines as well as to the transformation processes. If energy or motivation is then lacking, it can mean the end of such a promising project. And if there is a lack of speed in implementation, it inevitably falls into a state of a deep sleep.

That is why we will be working on several new developments in the coming months, and we will try to evaluate them, find out how future-proof they really are and what relevance they may have for the industry and thus for each individual company. These will include such topics as automation through intelligence (and not necessarily artificial intelligence), customer journey, user experience, services, mass customization, new business models … and in case of doubt, we will also focus intensively on printing technologies.

My Take: Printing companies in Central Europe have made enormous progress in recent years in terms of digital maturity. Most of them have made the transition to automated workflows, but now it’s a matter of networking and integrating these workflows and at the same time establishing or expanding digital offerings. This is because a print web shop alone is not enough. New customer touchpoints must be set up to make digital business faster and more flexible. There are a lot of approaches. And that is the 20% I was talking about, which involves a lot of effort. In other words, there is a lot to do! 2020 will be a very important year.
Trends: The path to the future is not a linear one
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Trends: The path to the future is not a linear one
Increased speed in structural change, digital business models and transformation - the twenties will provide decisive momentum for the printing industry.
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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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