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Digital media has had the most impact

Recession doesn’t stop presses from rolling

As the recession rolls on, so does the American printing press, an institution that’s been on the scene since the days of Benjamin Franklin and his 1773 “Poor Richard’s Almanack.”

Technology has been redrawing the playing field for commercial printing since the commercialization of the World Wide Web in the mid-1990’s. Today, the Internet and its millions of volumes of information can be accessed by millions in just a few keystrokes from a host of digital electronic devices.

For a look at how much of an impact digital media has had on the printing industry just ask any of the 37 million owners of Apple’s iPod touch or the 21 million owners of RIM’s BlackBerry, two very successful WiFi connected devices that have gone from PDA to status symbol in just a few short years. Amazon’s new Kindle 2 “e-reader” is also poised to be a “book killer,” allowing readers to upload text from their favorite magazines, newspapers and novels all in seconds.

The advent of digital media coupled with the recent decline of the U.S. economy has left newspapers from San Francisco to Boston dangling over a financial precipice. This February, Denver’s legendary Rocky Mountain News stopped its presses for a final time just weeks before its 150th birthday.

Doug Hederman, president and chief operating officer of Hederman Brothers Printing in Ridgeland, says that while the newsprint industry is taking a hit, there is still a lot of other work to be done. “We don’t do newsprint,” he says, “The majority of our work is in direct mail, promotional offers and publications.”

Hederman says January and February were softer this year than expected, but the numbers for March and April were much better on average. “We were expecting a real drop off, but are still seeing our same monthly or annual customers. They all have the same page count and quantity it seems,” he says. “Our variable data and direct mail business has been consistent and very predictable… direct mail has grown at least 10 percent over last year. It’s probably a really good time to advertise your business and capture that market share, and right now people are looking for low-cost ways like these to take advantage of that.”

Hederman says that the second half of 2009 should be stronger as usual. “State agencies and colleges are given more money to spend,” he says, “Public schools will be back in session and colleges will do a lot more work like yearbooks, athletic programs and admissions literature. November and December are also good for us because of the increased retail.”

“Revenue numbers in our average member company are down 15-20 percent,” says Ed Chalifoux, president of the Nashville, Tenn. based Printing Industry Association of the South. Chalifoux says those numbers are down as much as 25-30 percent nationwide. “People are afraid of printing and they aren’t buying advertising,” he says.

Chalifoux adds that technology has been both a blessing and curse for commercial printing. “Our manufacturing equipment has become more efficient and faster, but the Internet still has an adverse effect on other parts of the industry… I’d say the disadvantages to advantages ratio is 60-40.” Chalifoux admits that the economic conditions are more uncertain than they were a quarter-century ago. “In the 1980s, you could see the end… we don’t see the end now,” he says.

“The biggest change I have seen is that the time frame that we’re allowed to produce a job is much shorter,” Chalifoux says, “Customers give the printer a job and they want it yesterday. It’s also extremely price competitive.” He adds that new arrivals to the printing job market will have to work harder than ever to make sure every order is met. “The last three or four months, we’ve gotten more resumes than ever,” he says.

Mike Coppedge, plant manager for Signature Offset’s facility in Olive Branch says that customer retention has been good but that he has seen an overall page count reduction from many newsprint customers. “There are less advertisements from department stores,” he says, “More and more publishers who have their own presses are looking to outsource their printing because of the rising cost of operating and maintaining a facility.”

Coppedge says Signature Offset is three years into a popular method of management developed by Toyota called “lean manufacturing.” He says that the “lean and mean” work ethic encourages facilities to streamline operations without resorting to job cuts.

Doug Hederman agrees with the philosophy. “We challenge ourselves to be more efficient in our productivity, to do more with less,” he says. “It’s nothing new to us, but others are being forced to do it now… to refocus and rebrand. Times like these make us a better and sharper company.”

Contact MBJ staff writer Stephen McDill at stephen.mcdill@msbusiness.com.

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