The rise in digital technologies has impacted consumer demand when it comes to print products, with companies like HP being hit hard over the past 10 years and seeing profits steadily decline in line with a slowdown in demand for printers and copiers. That is not to say that print industries have been irreparably damaged, but there is a present need to re-evaluate and adapt in order to fit within the changing climate.
There are recent trends hinting that consumers are not as willing to give up on physical products as we once thought. After a surge in e-book sales in the beginning of the decade (Kindle downloads outsold hard copies of books on Amazon in 2011) paperback book sales have increased in the last couple of years, while e-book sales shrank an equal amount. Similarly, in the music industry, the vinyl record resurgence has been well-documented – in 2016 vinyl sales overtook digital mp3 sales for the first time ever in the UK. The reason for this is simply that consumers sometimes prefer to hold something physical in their hands.
There may always be a place for print in the business environment, but those in the print industry will need to find ways to adapt and evolve their products accordingly. This may revolve around personalisation and ‘uniqueness’ of the products offered, which is a big selling point for consumers as we’ve seen, but it might also be about finding ways to work in collaboration with the digital transformation initiatives that many businesses have. Digital transformation comes with its own challenges (digital security protocols, expansion of cloud computing, the disruption of artificial intelligence) and this can be an opportunity to market print services in a way that provides solutions.
The future of print is also tied to 3D printing. In the last few years, the 3D printing market has grown at a rate of 30 percent on a year on year basis and is predicted to be worth $21B by 2020. Consumers no longer view 3D printing as a novelty – this is a concept we are now pretty much used to – and the focus shifts to the usability of the actual products. This is arguably a good thing, allowing manufacturers to emphasise the product features and benefits. In this year’s CES, while no groundbreaking announcements were made, 3D printing was well represented with manufacturers showcasing the utility of their products in the medical, automotive, aerospace, and engineering industries. We also saw a number of more compact units priced for the consumer market