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Drupa Snooper-drupa every three years: can we take it?

Friday, 12 October 2012
By Andy McCourt
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Print21’s Drupa Snooper, Andy McCourt, takes a close look at how a three-year drupa cycle could wreak havoc with Europe’s crowded printing trade fair circuit.

As a card-carrying ‘Drupa Snooper’ it comes as no surprise to me that the quadrennial print media show looks set to become triennial. It has been one of the worst kept secrets in the global trade fair industry that Messe Düsseldorf wants to move to a three-year cycle.

In more genteel times, an organization called Eumaprint ensured that major international print trade fairs did not clash in the same year. All the major expos were signatories to this, mostly through the trade associations who owned or part-owned the exhibitions. Ipex (UK), Print (USA), drupa (Germany) and Italian, Spanish and French trade fairs would all plan their cycles so no two shows occurred in the same year. In the late 1990s there was even an attempt for Pacprint to join Eumaprint through GAMAA.

The synchronizing of trade fair cycles was primarily at the behest of exhibiting companies since staging such exhibits is both logistically and financially challenging. Evidence of this is clear with the withdrawal of Heidelberg from next May’s Pacprint, and Heidelberg, HP, Agfa and Kolbus from Ipex 2014.

Now, it seems all bets are off as drupa owners Messe Düsseldorf know full well that by moving drupa to 2015 and then 2018, Ipex, if it remains on a four-year cycle after 2014, will clash in 2018. As a sideline casualty, the Spanish Graphispag expo due in 2015 will undoubtedly suffer.

There is no way on God’s Earth that major printing equipment vendors can sustain exhibiting at two global trade fairs in the same year. For Australians and New Zealanders, there is little chance that both shows would be attended – it will be one or the other.

Bearing in mind that Messe Düsseldorf is also the organizer of All In Print China, Shanghai which is on a three-year cycle and occurs in November 2014; it would come as no surprise if battle lines for access to exhibitors’ budgets have been drawn between the British and German trade fair organizers.

The unholy mess that is the Eurozone at the moment has enabled Germany to rise to a position of economic dominance on continental Europe. Britain is seen as a pariah state by fervent Euro-centrics (“Britain uses Europe like a supermarket.” – French President), the five-decade long courtship of Britain becoming ‘truly European’ has progressed beyond niceties and dainty gifts of appeasement, and now seems like it will either become a shotgun wedding or return of the engagement ring; thrown somewhere into the middle of La Manche.

I believe this is the psychology behind drupa’s decision to tackle Ipex head-on. The rule book has been torn up, Eumaprint is now toothless and anyway, Ipex is privately owned by the Informa Group after acquiring it from Picon (formerly the British Federation of Printing Machinery Suppliers). Drupa still has strong ties to the VDMA – the German print and paper technology association. With China now accounting for the majority of non-digital equipment sales by German manufacturers, pressure on budgets even for giants such as HP and the situation in Europe, Messe Düsseldorf sees an opportunity to quite possibly monopolise the international graphic arts trade fair calendar; and to blazes with Ipex.

There is little question that drupa and for that matter K and Interpack, are very well organized and run. The town of Düsseldorf does a great job of embracing the influx of visitors at every level – from the free public transport to the smiles on the faces of barstaff and waiters delivering Pork Knuckles at Schweine Janes restaurant and other Aldstadt haunts. But Ipex has proved to be a terrific show also since it moved to the NEC, Birmingham and internationalized itself.

Ipex 2014 will be a test of the decision to move back to London but having seen the Excel Centre used for the London Olympics and the way the Brits in general organized the Games, there is no reason to doubt that Ipex 2014 will deliver a great event with a totally different ambience to drupa. Losing HP, Heidelberg and Agfa are certainly blows but my view is that it’s a two-edged sword.

The decision by a major digital and a major offset supplier not to exhibit at Ipex 2014 could also turn out to be major marketing disasters – the other edge of the sword. Already competitors are increasing their standspace – Konica Minolta has almost doubled its area, for example. For ANZ visitors in 2014, the familiarity with language and many family ties make the London stage convenient for extra-curricular activities.

It’s going to be a ding-dong battle and we are still in the ‘phoney war’ stage. Ipex and IIR/Informa are mustering support and have already fired a broadside with the £1 million ‘Hosted VIP visitor’ programme – like high rollers being paid to visit casinos; key print executives will be flown in, accommodated and presumably wined and dined during Ipex. There’s more to come, make no mistake.

Past chivalry between drupa and Ipex is just that – past. The game is afoot to see who will come out on top and, watching from our shores 16,000 kilometers away, it’s a gladiatorial spectacle but hey; we’ve got Pacprint combined with Visual Impact next May. After six Ipexes and seven drupas, that might just do me fine!

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