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McCourt’s ReVerb: 2016 wrap and 2017 crystal ball

Tuesday, 20 December 2016
By Andy McCourt

Andy McCourt

When the rooster crows at the break of dawn…“Look out your window, and I’ll be gone,” so goes the Bob Dylan lyric from Don’t think twice.

By the end of January 2017, it will be the Year of the Rooster in the Chinese lunar calendar, possibly a good time for us all to wake up anew and face brand new days.

The portent for the printing and allied industries must surely be this remarkable year that is drawing to a close; 2016 or the Year of the Monkey.

It began with a deep fracturing at our peak industry body, the Printing Industries Association as former CEO Jason Allen pursued a change agenda that was a madcap mix of a major staff restructuring, asset sales, ignoring core membership needs and what appeared to be an ingrained belief that the printing industry was finished and needed to be saved by his action plan. Except there was no action plan. One was never produced but the daily chaos continued until, outraged, almost the entire Queensland membership plus others, were prepared to resign en masse from the association.

A Members’ Action Group was formed and the unprecedented step of a call for an Special General Meeting to vote no confidence in the board and administration was met with postponements and behind-the-scenes talks:

By mid February, Allen had gone and so had former President David Leach. The board then entered a period of musical chairs with appointments and resignations . By March there were four vacant seats on a board of nine.

Cool heads prevail

Happily, cool heads, common sense and diligence entered the fray and the result is a marvelously re-engineered industry association with a stable new board and a more complete knowledge of our industry. Hats off to all those who made this happen.

Change, of course, is both inevitable and good but it has to be managed and managed proficiently. This applies to both business processes and technology. It’s like the old signal boxes on railways; pull the right levers and trains switch tracks in the right direction and at the right times. Pull the wrong one and you get a train wreck.

As 2016 progressed, there was more monkeying around with mergers, take-overs, creative deals, phoenixing of companies, liquidations and creditors not getting paid. It started to change just as the monkey was cavorting back to the jungle and the rooster was about to crow.

The tail-end of 2016 has seen two mergers that will re-shape our industry. Listed PMP will, subject to final ACCC okay, acquire IPMG, with the Hannan family scooping a tidy 37% of PMP shares; and listed IVE Group (Bluestar) will merge Franklin Web and AIW into its organization. This is change management that had to happen – we have over-capacity in web offset.

The two listed, expanded, print entities are also deeply involved in new media, e-marketing, direct mail, mobile communications and creative agency work. They are sure to find the right balance where print meshes with new media and finds its proper place.

Challenges for mid-size printers

The hard yards are in the middle ground, in between the top end of print-town and the SMEs that are lean, mean, digital and maneuverable. Mid-size printers still have high capital costs to contend with but operate in a tight margin environment where payback times are long and older equipment struggles to cope. The only ones I see doing well are the trade printers as they are able to operate high-capex equipment 24/7 and service a broader client base – mostly other printers and print managers.

Pockets of growth are there, with labels, packaging, wide format sign & display and photobooks still looking strong. Even book printing received a huge digital boost with the opening on PMP-Griffin’s stunning new HP and Kolbus-equipped plant in Salisbury, SA.

And so to the Year of the Rooster – and PacPrint. Given that most uninformed people think printing is dead – an annoying meme that refuses to accept evidence to the contrary – Australia’s largest industrial trade fair will amaze and educate them if they care to go along in May.

Who will be the buyers? My betting is that it will be a well-attended show by the SME workaholics who are right up with digital production on every level. Co-located with Visual Impact, we will see a huge surge in wide format visitors who may be tempted to venture into cut-sheet production. It’s already happening on the other side, with many offset printers ramping up their wide format departments with flatbed UVs, automated cutters, laminators and so on.

The big guys have gotten bigger already. It’s time for the smaller nifty operations to flex their muscle. 80 percent of PIAA membership has traditionally been SME family-run and partnership businesses. Nothing has really changed except that the previous regime was missing the boat in bringing in the newer breed of sign and display digital printers who don’t identify with the past glories of letterpress, hand etching, film combining etcetera. If they see a digital cut-sheet press and think their customers might buy the booklets, brochures and business cards it can produce; they will buy one and run it successfully. The only weasel to be fumigated is the click-charge which is something they are not used to.

A brand new PacPrint for 2017

PacPrint 2017 is the first such show to be co-located with Visual Impact and will attract a whole new audience of younger, creative types to whom printing is the natural expression of their ideas, along with Instagram, Facebook, websites et al. Take vehicle-wrapping for example; the skills required to design, produce and apply a full car wrap are every bit as complicated and demanding as the ‘old black-art skills’ of trade offset and letterpress and yet the offset business world has largely ignored this high-growth sector because ‘it’s just not us and it’s all too hard.’

The fusion of sign and display and even photography, with commercial & packaging offset and digital print is not a myth – PacPrint 2017 (and former PrintEx shows) is the evidence. Our industry should recognise as has our peak association; already fusing the Packaging Council into its organization and seeking more co-operations.

I have a good feeling about 2017 for print. Sectors of the ‘e-this and that’ world are already being seen as naked Emperors. The measurability that they once touted as the unique advantage over print is turning back on them in that the metrics may be there, but they often measure failure of campaigns. Why would Aldi, Coles, Woolies, Myer, David Jones stick with printed catalogues?? Because they work or because they fail? They work of course but make no mistake, e-commerce is a juggernaut that will roll on.

I personally know of three bright high-school mates who started an e-buying internet business in 2009 with a few borrowed thou and have just completed the sale of it to a US-global concern for $45 million. With the possible exception of Wellcom – who in the print world is thinking this way?

Roll on 2017 – I think the Rooster will wake a lot of us up and stir us to action. As the Nobel-prize winning Mr Dylan also sang: “The times they are a’changing.”

I leave you with the very best of warm wishes for a happy Christmas and prosperous New Year, and a picture of a Christmas tree made entirely of books. To all those who hang on to the great lie that ‘books kill trees’ – please take note.



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