Ipex finally dies

Global trade show Ipex is officially finished, with the owners saying the iconic show which regularly attracted a thousand or more Aussie printers to the UK every four years will be no more. Ipex claimed to be the world’s first print trade show, opening its doors way back in 1880 as part of the Great Exhibition.

In its heyday during the latter half of the last century Ipex was the world’s second biggest and second most important international trade print show and a must-visit for any decent-sized Aussie print business. It alternated with drupa on a four year cycle, based initially in Earls Court London, then in its most successful period at the NEC in Birmingham.

It attracted tens of thousands of printers from all over the globe – with the notable exception of those from the USA – and was the launchpad for many print technology innovations, most spectacularly in 1993 when unknown companies Indigo and Xeikon burst onto an unsuspecting crowd and launched what they called digital printing to the world.

Shows in the 1980s and 1990s attracted 100,000 visitors. The 2010 show had 1000 exhibitors but was down to 50,000 printers in attendance, as the GFC was biting hard around the world. Then a combination of factors in 2014 led to Ipex that year being a shadow of its former self, and a 2017 attempt to revive it failed. It will be no more.

Its demise came partly through its relatively new owners IIR – who paid $20m for the expo in 2007 ­–  attempting to significantly increase its visitor numbers through an ill-fated strategy of moving the 2014 show from the NEC to east London, and partly from the changing economics of the industry.

In contrast to the easy access and relatively cheap accommodation of the NEC event the location of the London show was problematic for overseas visitors – it took two hours of tortuous train journeys to get there from Heathrow, compared with a five minute walk from Birmingham airport, and it was similarly inaccessible by car, whereas the NEC was surrounded by motorways, and had its own intercity railway station – and London hotel costs are sky high.

[Related: Francois Martin speaker for Ipex]

In addition east London is not the most salubrious part of the world, and for many printers its attractions would pale in comparison with the delights of a sitting with the after-show pint of beer in the warm evening light of a Shakespeare country pub garden that was part of the NEC experience.

Just as importantly the 2014 show came at a time when the ongoing consequences of the GFC and the arrival of the internet were causing huge struggles for everyone on the print industry. The new CEO of Heidelberg shocked the industry when he decided the company – the world’s biggest equipment supplier and biggest Ipex exhibitor – would not be at the show, however almost every other major exhibitor then breathed a huge sigh of relief and joined what became a stampede for the exit door.

Rival drupa then aimed to kill off what remained of the show when it saw what happened in 2014, by announcing its show would now run on a three year cycle, allowing no space for Ipex. Ipex did decide to get in step with the three year drupa, by aiming to run at the half way 18 month point, which is why there was a show last September, but it failed to attract any international exhibitors or visitors.

Drupa’s three year plan ended up being thwarted, by its exhibitors – it went back to a four year cycle on the second day of its 2016 show when the top ten exhibitors went to the organiser and said a three year show was great, but none of them would be there in 2019, they would only go once every four years. Drupa hastily reverted to four yearly, with the new dates – July 2020 – announced the next day. That failed to help Ipex though.

For Australian printers used to going to Europe once every two years on a tax free trip there are no shortage of other opportunities in addition to drupa, with specialist shows Fespa, Labelexpo and Hunkeler InnovationDays taking place virtually every year, and various specialist and company focused events running too. Ipex though is now just a memory.

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