Will Gen-X and Gen-Y kill the printing industry … or save it?

Over the past couple months, I’ve been following several discussions on LinkedIn concerning the fate of the printing industry.  The talk is all about convergence.  The consensus is that printers, specifically digital printers,  have to embrace electronic delivery systems, including social media, in order to survive.

Now all this is fine.  We all know the industry is in a period of change that is unprecedented – and something has to be done.  We know the what.  The big question though … is the how.

Will this survive?

How do digital printers start becoming full-scale communication firms … or as I contend, communication delivery firms?  I firmly believe the industry is missing the point, however.  And this point will become even more evident in the coming years.

This point is age.  There is a generation gap in the printing industry.  And it’s occurring on two fronts:

  • First:  Who’s going to transition the printing firm into this convergent marketplace.  The majority of the people running the firms are Baby Boomers, age 50 plus.  I’m one of them so I can talk about this.  Is your average print company owner or general manager going to spearhead an effort into social media.  I don’t think so.  Most don’t use Facebook or Twitter, let alone use it effectively.  This transition involves talent … and the talent is in their twenties and thirties.  How many printing firms not only have key people in this age group in positions of authority, but also let them make strategic decisions involving the future of their companies?
  • And second:  Let’s look at the demographics of the people doing the print or communications buying.  Most of the old print buyers have long since retired.  They have been replaced by either Gen-Xers (age 30 to 50) or the younger Gen-Yers.  How many of these people even check their mail on a daily basis.  If they’re anything like my daughter, not many.  Their primary mode of communication and media exposure is electronic and with the younger ones – social media;  Facebook and Twitter.  And on top of that, even if you do recognize this demographics shift – who’s selling to them.  If you have traditional “suit and tie” printing reps driving around delivering proofs … neither your reps nor you will be employed much longer.

All is not doom and gloom however.  We’re in a recession, or at least the end of one.  With recessions as with any economic change – come opportunities.

Business in the communications industry, all sectors of it, is not good.  This includes the companies that are doing the content.  Now I’m talking about social media, web design, back-end programming and all of the other neat stuff that most us know absolutely nothing about.  And guess what, the people owning and operating these firms are same Gen-Xers and Gen-Yers that I spoke of above.  I’m willing to bet that a lot of them would be more than willing to join forces and collaborate with an established printing firm – if not outright sell and stay on as a consultant.

In this scenario, you not only have an inroad from a technological standpoint – you would also have a conduit to the generation of buyers that will determine your future.  You could go out and hire a staff.  But why?  Who’s to say you’re qualified enough to put together the right mix technically and socially.

I wrote a post last year in the middle of the recession and reposted again this year called the Alliance.  The message is still appropriate.

The Sioux and Cheyenne realized it and formed an alliance.  How did that work out for Custer?


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