From The New York Times:
At a media conference a few years ago, the editor of The Guardian newspaper, contemplating the future of print, recalled his paper’s installation of its newest presses in 2005.
“I had a feeling in my bones that they might be the last,” said the editor, Alan Rusbridger.
The efforts of traditional print media executives to grope their way into the digital future have been well chronicled. But what about the executives even more tightly bound to the presses — the people who run big printing companies?
Ask Roy Kingston, the 55-year-old chief operating officer of Wyndeham, a privately held company that is one of Britain’s biggest printers and whose portfolio includes the British circulation of The Economist and Men’s Health magazine. A player in the printing game for three decades, he has felt the digital onslaught. And so far, he has survived to tell the tale, even if not everyone in his industry has been so fortunate.
“This boardroom is about the only thing that hasn’t changed around here,” he told a visitor, sitting at an antique conference table in the heart of Wyndeham’s printing plant here. “Everything else in this plant is different. All the equipment has been changed, and so have the people.”
. . . .
In many ways, printing itself has gone digital. Industrial-strength laser printers enable big printing plants to make quick and cost-effective small-batch runs on demand. Even Wyndeham’s big offset machines — which print from lithographic plates created from digital files — are so highly automated that a crew of just a dozen or so can put them through their paces.
“This is almost a peopleless business now,” Mr. Kingston said as he walked through the huge but mostly deserted printing hall. “At one point we had 350 people in this plant. Now we have 114. But the amount of work has more than doubled.”
Back in the 1990s, Mr. Kingston said, the plant had three presses that could turn out about 20,000 copies of a 32-page publication in an hour. Now there are two machines that are capable of producing triple that amount.
. . . .
Britain’s printing industry, though large, is not the biggest worldwide. It is ranked fifth by revenue behind the United States, China, Japan and Germany. Yet its challenges and opportunities are emblematic.
. . . .
The global printing industry, with estimated revenue of $880 billion last year, will continue to grow by about 2 percent a year until 2018, driven mainly by emerging market countries, in the view of Smithers Pira, another research company. China will probably overtake the United States as the world’s biggest print market this year, Smithers Pira said, while India will slip ahead of Britain into the No. 5 spot by 2018.
. . . .
Book publishers, who are not under the same time constraints as newspapers or magazines, are looking much farther east, with printing increasingly moving to Asia, where the labor costs are even lower.
Link to the rest at The New York Times