Printing is far from alone in being disrupted

The past few years has witnessed the most pressing changes in the printing industry for many decades. A downturn does have positive outcomes: companies that can hang on during tight times are able to prosper when the economy returns because they have learned to refine their business and trim excesses. But the recent economic period has been particularly bad for print because it has been accompanied by huge technological changes.

Other industries are also finding life a great deal tougher. The rise of the internet was always going to be a major threat to the retail sector. The internet has become the ultimate global shopfront. Choice, price and the bare minimum service has transformed the way people buy stuff. How do retailers compete when they cannot compete on price? One trend is consolidation into larger shop fronts and a big, broad range of stock on hand. If a consumer walks into a shop, the product they want to buy has to be there – now. If they have to wait for delivery, they might as well buy online.

Shop owners are being forced to carry an ever larger inventory and investing to make the shopping experience more “entertaining” for the customer. Book­shops with cafes is clear example of this. It can be good to look at how other industries are adapting to changes in the business environment to see if there are ideas that can apply to printing.

It is easy to take an isolationist view of business and look only at the industry in which we work. But just about every industry has faced massive changes over the past decade. The GFC was only one small part of a bigger picture. Technology changes are driving business changes, dissolving and creating opportunities simultaneously.

The next big wave for Australia will be the National Broadband Network, where the speed of the internet will allow an even more dynamic shopping and entertainment experience.

Phillip Lawrence is a PhD scholar, consultant and speaker who specialises in print and the environment

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