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What I learned at Graph Expo 2016

Whenever I attend a conference I like to make a list of things I learned. Sometimes it’s to remind myself of what the value was of the time spent there; other times there’s stuff I want to share with colleagues, and here in my posts.

Two weeks ago I attended Graph Expo 2016 in Orlando. While I was there I received, on behalf of our staff and client, the coveted Benny Award from the U.S. PIA (Print Industry Association) for a project I like to call the coolest variable data print project in the world. The best part is that the trophy is an actual bronze statue of Ben Franklin, an early print and mail innovator.

In addition to picking up some new hardware, I was able to meet and network with industry leaders from around the world (over 2,700 entries and awards given to people from China, Australia, Mexico, US and Canada) and share best practices with peers in a friendly and collegial atmosphere. Maybe some of that Disney magic was in the air!

This was the first time the event was held outside of Chicago and it attracted around 13,000 attendees. That’s a lot of folks with an interest in print technology. And it reflects the continued strength of the industry in the digital age.

Here are some of the takeaways and insights that I’d like to share:

  • Print is considered part of the manufacturing category in American business. Print revenue grew by 1.5% while the rest of manufacturing declined by 1.5%.
  • Direct Mail is still a big part of print in America. One company alone mails one billion pieces of mail per year. (There are a total of 9 billion pieces of mail in Canada Post each year.)
  • Print is a technology business. This year fewer big pieces of offset print equipment were on display (actually only one) and more tech-based solutions were highlighted. Automated print workflows, web-to-print, 3D printing, print file optimization programs (to save ink and toner) and multi-channel variable data printing solutions were prominently featured by the biggest vendors — Xerox and Ricoh — both print technology players and not traditional offset ink print companies.
  • Printers are becoming MSP’s or Marketing Service Providers. To survive, companies have to expand their offerings to include more than just ink on paper.  Today printers are increasingly taking on the role of marketing advisors,  with graphic designers, web designers and multi-channel services all rolled into a single unified service. Indeed the category of “Printer” is getting harder to define.

The reassuring news is that these trends align with the direction we’re already moving in. I’ve said it for years: we’re not a printer — we’re a tech company that prints. Going to events like Graph Expo simply reaffirms that we are on the right track and our clients can continue to benefit from our position as industry leaders within the North American marketplace.

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