Printers of a certain age will remember a TV ad of the 1980s. It showed the descent of a youth from engaged youngster to a ragged state through addiction to heroin. At all stages of the journey he was shown declaring 'I can stop any time' and 'I can take it'. Of course he couldn’t. Addiction won.
Substitute that youth for today’s printer, the heroin for suicidal prices and the glove fits. What was once a one off way to fill capacity became a bad habit and is now very dangerous indeed. Many printers are addicted to printing at prices that must eventually kill them. These are prices that they know will kill them. Many feel they have no choice but to join in and are reliant on a strategy of surviving longer than the addict next door. Investment is not to add, or better reduce, capacity, but for productivity gains so that they can cope with low prices for a while longer. One extra large hit, one overdose or a job where the client doesn’t pay or delays payment, and the addict is just as dead as the lad using drugs.
Most traditional print markets are in decline, making the issue worse. For a return to health, printers need to escape the habit of filling a press at any price. That can come through seeking a sideways move into sectors where margins remain healthy. And at the NEC last week there were traditional litho printers looking at how large format inkjet technology can help break their price addiction to commoditised commercial print. They know that in the long run, they must break free from the drug.