2023: A Year of Highs, Lows, and Costly In-Betweens for the Print Industry

abstract of 2023 in blue background

Since 2014 I have shared an annual Manifesto in January to set the mission of print for the year, and a recap post in December to measure print industry success and reflect upon what we have learned along the way.

The 2023 CMYK Manifesto focused on utilizing the power of print to safely and securely establish a connection to the digital world, being authentic and accountable, and ‘doing better’ with customers and customer communication. The post ends with this: “I describe myself as a realist. Adding some reality-based optimism that signs point to this year being the start of many good years to come is not a stretch.”

It’s 12 months later, and my perspective in January was more of a stretch than I had predicted.

In speaking with printers, print customers, vendors, analysts, organizations, events, marketers, and more in 2023, there is one thing everyone had in common – this year was a twisting, turning road of uncertainty, and everyone responded accordingly.

The Highs

The print businesses that invested (and continue to invest) in their workflow and online presence had the best 2023. Their margins were mighty, and they were able to remain flexible and competitive with fluctuating prices in the supply chain. They were able to take on more work with fewer people, say yes more than no, and continue to make investments in equipment, goods, and services.

The Lows

The 2023 print industry news was filled with obituaries, business closings, revenue losses, and great concern over a recession that never came. Plans were put on back-burners. Risk/Reward considerations were overtaken by keeping with the status quo, getting through the year with the least amount of damage, and hoping things would get better.

The In-Betweens

Many print businesses were acquired or changed hands in 2023. Some were shut down for client lists and equipment, some were merged into the purchasing business, and some were kept as is and/or treated as additional locations of the purchasing business. This group had a lot of movement combined with big decisions that will impact most of their decisions in 2024.

The Bottom Line

Print volumes are shrinking, and they will continue to do so. That doesn’t mean print is not an effective medium for communication, sales, and marketing. It means fewer people on this planet look to print first, and more companies will reinvest their dedicated print dollars in a multi and omni-channel approach.

That isn’t breaking news.

As you reflect upon 2023 and plan for 2024 think strategically about getting yourself into the best position for the future.

• If you own the company focus on gathering or acquiring partners who can help you deliver on multi and omni-channel marketing.

• If you work at a company that isn’t making those investments, find one that is or is already established and jump ship.

• If you can’t change jobs, invest in yourself and learn everything you can about print + digital marketing and print + Artificial Intelligence. Use that knowledge to help your company and customers the best you can, for as long as you can.

The road ahead for the printing industry is not paved with gold. It won’t be navigatable by those who aren’t ready, willing, and able to put in the hard work to transform and evolve with the digital media landscape in the most effective and efficient ways.

From my realist perch, I see great reward for those who risk leaving their comfort zone and plan their future by looking at the world through rose-colored, metaverse glasses. The destiny of print is there.

Print Long and Prosper!

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DeborahCorn-PrintMediaCentr

Deborah Corn is the Intergalactic Ambassador to the Printerverse at Print Media Centr, a Print Buyerologist, international industry speaker and blogger, and the cultivator of Print Production Professionals, the #1 print group on LinkedIn. She provides printspiration and resources to print and marketing professionals through education, events, Podcasts From The Printerverse, ProjectPeacock.TV, and an array of community-lifting initiatives including Girls Who Print, Elevate Print, International Print Day, and Print Across America.

Deborah also helps companies create more meaningful and profitable customer relationships by utilizing more than 25 years of experience as an agency, brand, and corporate print buyer who has assessed, hired and worked with a plethora of printers and service providers.

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2 Responses

  1. Many valuable and insightful observations. I want to expand on two:
    1. Print is declining.
    While valid, we must open the aperture and see print in labels, packaging, and similar. Also, the trend is towards top quality, which is high value, especially as it is part of an individualized customer experience (which also leads to insight into multichannel). Even in packaging, its not just what is printed on the outside, it is also about the opening experience and what kind of attractive and engaging leaflets or postcards are part of the experience. So, I feel that with a broader aperture, we can see growth in printing.

    2. The need to play in a multi-channel / omnichannel context.
    It is so fundamentally true also because the clients of print — the marketing or communications executives in the brands — are digital natives. They would prefer a provider of print that speaks their language and knows how to work with data and scripting the way the digital world does that. Not to mention the requirement to deliver creative personalization or massive customization the way it is done in the digital media world.

  2. Hi Jacob and thanks for sharing your thoughts. I do agree that printers must look for new ways to find and seize opportunities to support customers with print. But I dont see that as growth – overall – for the industry. The print spend pie is just being divided up differently, it isn’t getting bigger. Packaging is up, publishing is down. Direct Mail is up, bills and statements are down. Putting cards in packages wont move the needle for the industry to claim growth, but it certainly matters to the Print Business whose sales may go up because they have that work.

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