Perspectives in Online Printing

The gold rush mood, which was experienced at the Online Print Symposium in Munich/Germany for many years, seems to be gone.

By Andreas Weber

The gold rush mood has gone? What’s happened... — Do not worry: Online Printing is not going downhill. On the contrary. 

Online printing, like digital printing, is not a genre or even an industry, but a more or less useful auxiliary term for characterizing digital process paths in the production of printed matter. It started with web-to-print, leading to automated, standardized and scalable processes with the World Wide Web as a showcase. So one could win on the one hand customers who could order to date no printed matter; on the other hand, price advantages were used, as the optimized procedures allowed more favorable costs. As a result, huge print volumes shifted from the classic commercial market to the ‘online printers’. So money has been redistributed. 

The actual new business areas remained marginal. Growth was thus achieved by repression, with a naturally not limitless effect. To push this we got some Blue Chips, like CIMPRESS as global leader or Onlineprinters leading in Germany and Europe. All of them are holdings covering a lot of business fields. 

This has advantages (i. e. better cost structure) and disadvantages if the the company is not dealing with homogeneous competitive structures, but romps in many areas and skirmishes with many “opponents”. 

Ultimately, such opponents are all those who have built digital literacy as part of the reform of their core business, from commercial printing to packaging, large format, etc. And thus able to offer technically savvy, highly efficient, cost-optimized and highly specialized. And with the support of their suppliers, which drive digital transformation in all directions. 

I am sure, Heidelberg’s CEO Rainer Hündsdörfer will talk about this during his keynote at #OPS2020 early in March 2020. Maybe he will also talk about the difficulties to switch innovation power into commercial success and growth. 

Deceptive calm before the storm 

Still, even in the #drupa2020 year it will be difficult for everyone. The more digital the business, the more demanding it is to design customer relationships and promote customer loyalty. There is no loyalty in the e-commerce driven online print business. It is always about the best price and the highest ‘convenience’. 

To provide differentiation features becomes Herculean task. From my point of view, the following central questions arise: 

  1. Beyond Online Printing — How to make your own corporate culture so human that it attracts attention in the market and excites both internally and externally? 
  2. Beyond Technocracy — How to reduce the overly focussed technology focus to better market insights through customer orientation to adapt to changing needs extremely quickly and effectively? 
  3. Beyond Silo-Mentality — How to develop a new openness in mind and agility in doing, to identify differentiation traits and to develop a distinctive entrepreneurial personality? 

I am curious how seriously and openly the #ops2020 attendees will talk about the neuralgic points. And when the closed-conspired online print community repositions itself and finally opens to customers and prospects. Then there would certainly be other participants who could benefit from the online printing expertise as an orderer.