When the dot-com marketplace shrank just as quickly as it ballooned, graphic arts writers had the unenviable task of sizing up just what was happening. In the end, most, including this publication, settled on it being a “shakeout.” The real term for what happened, “the dot-com collapse,” was not as evident until later. Much of the marketing philosophy used to launch dot-com ventures fell in on itself. There are, of course, survivors, all with well-planned strategies for success and more tangible benefits for customers. Still, the excitement first generated about the dot-com model—an energy that led printers to consider paying a new fee out of every dollar of new business revenue—is gone.
Printcafe, which assured itself deep roots by acquiring software companies already popular in the industry, took an important step away from the collapsed market a year ago, changing its name to Printcafe Software as it joined the NASDAQ. It also built an alliance that is even closer to graphic arts prepress than ever before. Just recently Creo become a majority stockholder in the firm, and as of press time, Creo has become a bidder, along with Electronics For Imaging, for remaining shares.
While dot-com ideology that spawned Printcafe died, it left in its wake a chance for surviving firms to rebuild their products into systems that have real value without the hype. The word collapse might sound bad, but it also signifies an opportunity.
Printers, however, may be scaring off such a chance at rebuilding with their own words, viewing the market as “slow,” or part of an “economic slowdown,” as opposed to looking at it on more challenging terms. The length of printing revenue decline—with the bulk of the industry still in need of some sure-fire turnaround momentum—calls for a new terminology. Perhaps the pressure goes up a notch, from “economic slowdown,” to “shakeout.” For years, industry pundits have said we are the precipice of major change. A few years from now, when we look back, we could see that that change involved a shakeout as much as it did a technology evolution. As a supporter of the graphic arts, I cannot say I am happy about the prospect of a smaller industry, but shakeouts happen, whether I like them or not.
Changes will come not only in number of competitors out there, but in improved profitability among those who have implemented cost-saving technologies. Part of the new era of commercial printing comes in meeting market price for your work, and making a profit at it. New tools for plant-wide work flow, as examined in this month’s feature story, will be key to the industry’s thriving firms.
And, if we are indeed in a shakeout, let’s make it a productive one, with printers making the smartest decisions to ensure vitality, and profitability, for decades to come.