Written by Chris Bondy
Administrative Chair of the School of Media Sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology

Future of the Graphic Communications Industry

Coming from an institution of higher learning that last year changed its print-centric name to one that’s media inclusive, it’s probably no surprise that we believe our industry is undergoing a major transformation. We are now the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) School of Media Sciences, formerly the School of Print Media.

We believe that within 10 years, we’ll leave behind the notion that commercial printing is focused only on print and rather, embrace a market served by integrated cross-media production companies.

The stark advantages of integrated manufacturing—improved cycle time, quality and cost—will leave few or no opportunities for stand-alone print providers. Even packaging will become systemized, incorporating audio, video and other smart packaging components.

The Great Divide—Which Side Will You be On?

We see this transformation today in the divide between those who want to own the entire value chain for cross-media communications and those who want a small portion of it. My opinion—eventually those who own the whole value chain will own the market. The others will go out of business or get acquired.

This is a huge challenge for graphic communications providers—but also a huge opportunity. How big is it? We believe that graphic communications providers are the incumbents for delivering all media services—not just print, but the entire continuum related to cross-media communications. The reason: the process regimen—estimating, process control, manufacturing and customer service—is unique to graphic communications and not replicated in other industries.

Of course, the incumbent doesn’t always win. Competition will come from new entrants in adjacent industries that aren’t viewed as competitors today, such as content providers, data analytics firms and even automated manufacturers. As digital presses become more automated and less dependent upon skilled operators, they become just another production node in an integrated workflow.

Content management and data processing firms that already provide Web distribution may be able to add print more easily than a traditional printer can learn the upstream technology that delivers their production volume.

Two can play at that game, however, for graphic communications providers have opportunities in adjacent industries, as well. A prime example: 3D printing. At the RIT School of Media Sciences, we’re investing in 3D printing and other functional printing resources to prepare students for a future in which graphic communications providers may seek those skills.

Our industry’s transformation isn’t going to get easier any time soon, but graphic communications providers do have options.

The question to ask now is a variation on the tried-and-true job interview question: where do you see your company in 10 years?  

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Chris Bondy is the Gannett Distinguished Professor and Administrative Chair of the School of Media Sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology, cxbppr@rit.edu