LONDON, Sept. 23, 2010 (RISI) -I was recently invited to a splendid event held on a small vessel on the River Thames sailing up and down the City of London waterfront. The event was organised in celebration of people and companies in the printing industry in the UK. I say splendid event - it was until the gathered printers realised that the editor of Pulp & Paper International was on board. It wasn't long after taking my first couple of sips of something sparkling before I was given a "right flea in the ear", a good old English expression meaning I was verbally held to task for someone else's woes.
Basically it seems that paper prices to UK printers and paper buyers have gone up by as much as 50% over the last year, and that is if they can get it. Some were complaining that obtaining certain grades was almost impossible, unless they were willing to pay really crazy prices. I was asked in my capacity as editor of PPI if I could have some influence on this situation; what, little old me?
I told the assembled audience that had gathered around to harangue me that actually printers have had it good in the UK for some time now, in fact these large price rises are something relatively new, and that it wasn't long ago that prices were rock bottom and had been for as long as a decade. As you can imagine, that statement went down like a lead balloon.
Print is now a commodity too
However, talking to one printer later on that day, one cannot help but empathize with these business owners and the predicament they are in. Philip Dodd, managing director of Healeys Print Group is one who has not seen price rises like it. He says "We are experiencing rises of 30% plus, and there is no sign that this is the end of them. We are trying to pass the costs on, but when you think that paper is our largest expense apart from labor, our customers are just not wearing it."
The real problem is that along with paper, printing has also become a commodity. In the UK at one point not long ago, every Tom, Dick and Harry with the smallest printing knowledge was setting up in business to "make their fortune". However, all this has succeeded in doing is to sending prices for printing plummeting. Dodd emphasised this by saying that there are some printers who are not passing on the paper price increases, therefore creating a market that is economically "totally unsustainable". Of course the end result is that printers here are now going to the wall in their droves.
But the real result of this is that the ones who are left, are setting themselves apart from the ones who concentrate on commodity type business. The event on the Thames culminated in an award being presented to the outstanding printing company of the year, The Digital Studio. This is a small, young enterprise with an incredibly low average age of 25. The judges said of it "This is a pioneering company, not content to just buy off the shelf products, it is currently developing web to print, e-commerce sites... its 100% green and introducing more environmental initiatives.... and most of all it is not frightened of the new media, in fact offering much more than just print, also offering a multi media mix to go with marketing collateral... it is in fact a great example of print and what the future of print will be."
A spring in my step
I actually disembarked the vessel on the Thames with a spring in my step, despite my verbal bashing by the printers. The fact is prices do have to rise, it is not only paper, it is everything, food, construction materials, energy, all the basics are on the rise, and we all have to live with it. But what we all have to do when raising our own prices, is to be excellent communicators, telling our customers and clients why, and then adding that little bit extra in return, a better product, or a better service. Horrible tasting medicine always goes down more smoothly with a spoonful of sugar.
Another reason for a spring in my step lately is the fantastic response global pulp and paper industry has displayed to the PPI Awards 2010. As you can see from the list offinalists, the industry is at last shining its light from beyond the bushel it was once hiding under and really beginning to communicate its worth in innovation, environmental sustainability, and simply pure good business sense.
I look forward to meeting the winners and finalists in Brussels in November!