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The printing industry: One industry or many?
By James Cryer of JDA Print Recruit

Life used to be simple, there was ONE printing industry and that was offset! These days it comprises numerous specialist sectors especially within packaging and signage all vying for attention but perhaps feeling somewhat overshadowed by the larger traditional offset or “commercial” printing sector.

James Cryer argues the case that it's a sign of a maturing, evolving industry when it recognises that what may have been small, specialist sectors can grow into sizable entities in their own right, and we should no longer use the term "the printing industry" to mean only the commercial offset sector.

James Cryer

He makes the case for an umbrella group to reflect these needs of some of these niche players and to give them a seat at the table, so to speak, in addressing some of the bigger issues we’re all facing.
This topic one industry or many has all the potential to induce drowsiness, but there is a serious side.
How should an industry arrange its various "trade associations" to best reflect its priorities and aspirations (not to mention their limited resources)?
The first problem is that many of these associations grew off the back of an era which pitted boss against employee and were really powerblocs to advance the cause of companies, as distinct from showering benefits upon the actual slaves who did all the work!
I think we've moved beyond those times ... but have we? Even the revered PIAA is only open to companies not individuals. Although I think the mood has shifted away from the old "them and us" mentality, where what was good for the bosses, was, by definition, bad for the workers.
Nowadays, I'd at least like to think we're all in the same bucket.
But the PIAA, which I think is doing a great deal to adapt, still has its roots in the traditional sheetfed offset sector, and arguably, should really be rebranded as the "Commercial Printed Media Association".
And so, associations like the PIAA are faced with that invidious decision to expand their frontiers and become more "all embracing" and thereby become too diffuse as they stray too far away from their core of "true believers" and risk becoming marginalised as trying to please everybody.
Or, do they "stick to their knitting" and stay true to their original constituents who can gain comfort and camaraderie from mixing with their "own kind".
I have been wrestling with this issue for ages (you'll be pleased to know) and for a long time I was in favour of the "allembracing" approach. But we are birds of a feather and try as we might to convince our brethren from diverse and farflung sectors such as the label sector, or smallformat digital or wideformat (signage) they themselves find succour in clinging to their own familiar brothers and sisters (mainly brothers).
I don't think we're going to change people's DNA after 3 billion years however annoying that may be: we are tribal and we do tend to favour mixing with our own. It's almost as if we've got to have someone to hold up as an imagined enemy: letterpress fought against offset; offset fought against digital; printing companies fight against print managers. Maybe "protest against" would be a better term than fight, but you get the picture.
But there's no reason (sometimes) why one can't have one's cake and eat it, too. There's no reason why there still couldn't be an overarching organisation, made up of all the separate tribal associations, which would meet only as required to tackle "global" problems/opportunities affecting the broad printing industry. Its president would be rotated among each of the various participating sector associations.
Which brings me back to my opening ambit is there one such thing as THE "printing industry"?
My feeling is that the industry is maturing into a range of fragments, all of which have their own gravitational orbits and which are no longer satellites (or poor cousins) of what we used to call the "printing industry", ie, commercial or offset printing.
For what it's worth, I view the print industry through the following prism
Certainly "commercial print" still dominates in terms of numerical scale representing approximately 65% by turnover or total employment. However, having undertaken my own survey of "jobs in print", this sector is only responsible for about 30% of all new job requests in print, and declining. (And that consists of both traditional offset AND smallformat digital, so the proportion going into pure "sheetfed offset", the PIAA's traditional base, is actually quite small.)
Signage, on the other hand, may only represent approximately 10% by size, but punches well above its weight by generating about a quarter of all new jobs in print. That is (of course) if we regard Signage which includes such things as installers, vehiclewrappers,  etc, as part of the (socalled) print industry.
You can see the problem when the PIAA spekas on behalf of the printing industry, numerically it only represents a very small proportion of actual new jobs being generated.
Yet, it has the name to die for, as its name suggests... it must speak for the entire industry, as it's called the "Printing Industries (plural) Association of Australia" suggesting some grand allembracing mandate.
So what’s my preferred option, to better reflect the modern printing industry(ies) of tomorrow?
Retain the PIAA but rebrand it more in tune with its traditional DNA the "Commercial Printed Media Association of Australia" (CPMAA or CPM for short).
Then create a superassociation that would be formed only from the heads of all the existing/participating print associations (across commercial, packaging, signage, print management and supplier spheres). In so doing you'd create a body of such scale and importantly unambiguous representation of the entire print spectrum, that Canberra would have to sit up and take notice whenever it spoke. Note, this is NOT creating a new "bureaucracy" like many "virtual associations" these days, it doesn't need a new building or paid staff or other "bricks and mortar" overheads.
And what would this new umbrella entity be called why,
the "Printing Industries Association of Australia", of course! Or maybe the “Printing, Packaging & Signage Associations of Australia”(the PPSAA)? And among its first duties would be to create an engaging, new interactive website
portraying all the exciting job opportunities which exist in print across all the sectors from magazines to labels, to signage to direct mail to augmented reality ... and maybe even (if we're really smart) to 3D printing!
That is what the future of the industry (or is it industries?) deserves: a restructuring of its associations to better reflect the growing importance (particularly in employment terms) of some of the newly emerging sectors. And it needs an umbrellagroup to give a coordinated "voice" to the entire printing industry, particularly when we have to compete with other industries in the race to attract new entrants.
Print has a wonderful message to sell if only all the tribes (packaging, signage, mailing, POS, etc), could occasionally get together and discover our similarities outweigh our differences.


James Cryer is CEO of JDA Print Recruit and is a regular feature writer to Print 21.
JDA Print Recruit have offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane