Consolidation in the graphics industry has been a fact of life for many years now. It’s tempting to blame the losses on the onslaught of digital media and delivery, despite it’s heavy carbon footprint compared to print. Consolidation is tragic for its many victims and their families, but consolidation is not all bad for the industry. There are a couple of reasons for this. Most importantly, if brutally, consolidation takes inefficiency out of the market. And in times when cutting environmental impact is so important, efficiency enhances the survival chances of those printing and publishing companies who understand how to exploit technology and are in tune with the zeitgeist.
Technological advances in the last few decades have been nothing short of astonishing, so much of prepress can now be done by complete ninnies that there isn’t much room for value added. But there is also far less waste and far less energy required to produce print. Page layout, line art, typography, photo retouching, imaging, all of it has been subsumed into generic software and standardised systems. The commoditisation phenomenon is even hitting the online community, where almost-free tools make it possible for pretty much anyone to create a website. And the support for all of this is also almost-free because of the plethora of online chat groups, forums and so on.
There are dwindling numbers of printing companies around in commercial print and newspapers. But it’s not necessarily true that print volumes in all sectors are collapsing. Where publishers still have a solid relationship with loyal readers the numbers are looking much frothier. Packaging is exploding, not least because technology makes it possible to produce new packages in ever tighter cycles. Book publishers are seeing a resurgence in print at the cost of e-books, which isn’t surprising. In the UK in 2019 printed books sold 191.6 million units for £1.66 billion, the print market’s fifth year of growth running and the best since 2010, according to Nielsen. Volume grew by 0.5% and average selling prices are higher than ever.Just as we buy things we don’t need because of the packaging, we buy printed books for their look and feel and as decorative items. Though they might say otherwise, authors don’t care if you read their books, just that you buy them. Big brands don’t care if you use their products, just that you buy them. The problem remains that we continue to produce too much waste and that we do not have universal systems for managing it or recycling. This must change.