British printers struggle to cope with shift toward digital media

printingpressMy friend Michael Brotzman pointed out this story to me from the New York Times, about how the printing industry in Britain is coping with the decreased demand for its services. Even as high technology leads to printers that can print bigger runs, faster, more efficiently, and with fewer operators, demand is dwindling and so are employees. The British printing industry is down from an estimated 200,000 workers in 2001 to fewer than 125,000 now. And for the jobs that are left, the UK is more and more often having to compete with lower labor costs of printers in continental Europe.

If the industry’s woes could be mapped out on a physical surface, the ExCeL exhibition center in London might serve that purpose. This year’s Ipex, an international printing industry convention held at the ExCeL center in March, required only 30 percent of the exhibition space it needed in 2010, according to PrintWeek, an industry publication.

Mr. Kingston of Wyndeham, who has attended Ipex since the 1980s, was struck by the change. “An exhibition that even four years ago would have taken you a day to get around, you can now do in just an hour,” he said. “Your coffee wouldn’t even get cold.”

The print industry is trying to adapt by switching its efforts over to packaging and labeling—things that can’t be so easily replaced with digital editions. It’s also looking into ways to integrate mobile apps and Internet applications with its services, providing ways that customers can make print and online media work together.

1 Comment on British printers struggle to cope with shift toward digital media

  1. You forgot to mention one key thing.

    ““This is almost a peopleless business now,” Mr. Kingston said as he walked through the huge but mostly deserted printing hall. “At one point we had 350 people in this plant. Now we have 114. But the amount of work has more than doubled.””

    So while revenue is down and employees are down, it seems that the actual amount being printed has gone up. That’s called efficiency and is the same reason that fewer humans are starving and freezing in the 21th century compared with the 18th. From a consumer standpoint the question that matters is cost and availability. Lower cost with more availability is better even if 70,000 people were made redundant via technology.

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