As SalesChain celebrates our 20th year in business, we are spending a lot of time thinking about how we got here. Like many businesses, we do a lot of planning, and in order to address the question, “How will the print industry evolve in the near future?”, it is helpful to first take a historic look back and track technological developments. We feel that a clear picture of how the industry successfully met the needs of an ever-advancing global culture in the past can help us shape the way we will address modern challenges and changes.
Print has been an essential part of our everyday life for millennia. In many ways, the development of print media has mirrored first the mechanization and then industrialization of commerce, and finally the advent of the digital age. In the last 20 years, print has evolved into a hybrid model of analog copies and digital documents. With this modern shift came an increase in revenue for the industry and consolidation, both in terms of acquisitions by larger providers and a resulting reduction in the number of jobs.
Printing is Part of Our History (Ancient times to the early 90’s)
Mankind’s desire to communicate in written form has driven the development of print technology since the first records, which have been dated to around 3000 BC. One of the first documented printing methods was woodblock printing, developed in ancient China and widely used until Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 15h century. The introduction of a dry photocopying technique in the 1940’s was quickly followed in the early 1950’s by the first inkjet printer, which recreated a digital image by propelling droplets of ink onto materials.
Many baby boomers will have fond memories of the unique solvent smell of fresh mimeographed copies, used widely to make inexpensive and quick copies of worksheets for school children. These machines are now worthy of the Smithsonian! By the 1970’s, major copy machine manufacturers were selling inkjet printers capable of reproducing digital computer images. In 1990, the Xerox DocuTech production publishing system launched. It allowed paper documents to be scanned, electronically edited, and then printed on demand.
The Last 20 Years (and Current Technologies)
Since the turn of the 21st century, the printing industry has taken a quantum leap forward. Digital printing technology matured in the early 2000s and gradually started to replace other printing techniques. Scanning was an important part of this digital revolution, making it possible to electronically store information for future editing and printing. There was an important transition from the traditional Xerox machine of the ’90s and early 2000s to an emphasis on IT services and digital documents today. One of the necessary intermediate steps moving into this hybrid solution was the technology that allows access to digitally managed documents and on-demand services. Other current technologies include 3D printing systems and systems that utilize artificial intelligence.
Monetarily speaking, the industry has seen consolidation while also experiencing a rise in profits. During the first quarter of 2018, the printing industry witnessed a growth rate of 2.3%. Even though most consumers consult online sources for goods and services, cross-media and multi-channel marketing, which utilize print resources, are an important way to connect consumers with online company websites. “Around 64% of manufacturing firms believe that printers will play an effective role in their operations till 2025.”
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SalesChain Over 20 Years
Here at SalesChain, we have evolved along with the print technology industry that we serve. The company was founded in 2002 to deliver a lease portfolio management tool to help dealers track leased assets. We’ve expanded our value proposition to include support for the entire office equipment enterprise including proposal pricing, documentation, order fulfillment workflow, service pricing, commissions, delivery workflow automation, and document management. Along with our expanded functionality, we’ve developed integrations with some of the industry’s most respected software providers.
Will there ever be a transition from a machine that is managing and printing digital documents into fully digital documents? It’s hard to give a definitive answer, but it won’t be any time soon. There are lots of needs for print that are not going away, such as direct marketing campaigns, product packaging, and printed mailing labels and receipts. However, the continued link to digital documents (the aforementioned hybrid environment) is going to be essential.
In an article by Radixweb.com, the authors predict that companies will branch out and provide value-added services, such as variable options for data collection, electronic order processing, production printing in large e-Commerce centers, and diversification into products and service offerings beyond the traditional print company realm. Printing will continue to have an essential role in commerce, but it will evolve along with future technology, as it has done in the past.