Printing Outlook 2022: Back to the Future or Groundhog Day?

Think of it perhaps as the Great Rebounding. 2021 was the exact opposite of 2020 (mercifully). I have often described our entering 2022 as being like the movie Groundhog Day, in that it’s our third attempt at starting the year 2020 after 2019’s Great Renaissance of print. It could also be seen a kind of Back to the Future, as we go back to 2019 and try to correct our business strategies. (Both analogies are pretty dodgy.)

Digging into the results of our Fall 2021 Business Outlook Survey for the our annual Printing Outlook 2022 report, they showed an industry that has largely recovered from 2020, but faces some new challenges and some older challenges now writ large. We’re not exactly back to normal, but we’re closer than we thought possible in a long time.

Business Conditions

Seventeen percent of print businesses surveyed said that 2021 revenues had increased more than 25% over 2020—almost offsetting the 28% who last year said revenues had decreased by more than 25% compared to 2019. We calculated an average change in revenues of +10.6% from 2020 to 2021. Thirteen percent of print businesses said that jobs/orders for 2021 had increased more than 25%., and we calculated an average change in jobs of +9.5% from 2020 to 2021. Profits in 2021 were also up over 2020: 18% reported that profits increased 25% or more, with the average change in profits being +9.4%.

The general expectation is that 2022 will be a reprise of 2021, with about the same level of growth in revenues, jobs, and profitability. Respondents were a little more conservative compared to past surveys, and compared to the actual growth they did experience.

Business Challenges

Ripped from the headlines! One formerly low-ranking item leaped to the top of the Challenges list: “consumables and supplies pricing,” selected by 56% of respondents, up from 14% last year. The supply chain disruptions have made many consumables and other materials (especially paper) very hard to come by and/or more expensive. This is not only making it harder to get jobs out the door, but has also led to the number two challenge: “pricing,” selected by 41% of respondents, up from 29%. Finding employees and increasing productivity are also top challenges this year.

New Business Opportunities

“Improving economic conditions” is again the top opportunity in this year’s survey, cited by 40% of respondents, down from 50% last year. At number two is a return to normalcy: “customers outsourcing more work to us,” 2019’s number one opportunity. “Adding digital printing equipment” is also at a higher-than-usual level in this survey.

Planned Investments

Nearly 23% of our respondents have no planned investments, but the top items are “finishing/bindery equipment for digital production” (19%, up a tick from last year) and “high-speed production inkjet printing equipment” selected by 11% of respondents, an all-time high. Lest we think inkjet rules the roost, “toner-based color digital press” is also at 11%. So shops were serious when they said they were expanding digital printing capabilities.

New Application Areas

Every other year, we gauge the extent to which print businesses have added various kinds of new products/services, and, if they haven’t, if they planned to—or if they were even on their radars at all. Generally, the only things that piqued our respondents’ interest this survey were production inkjet and, to a lesser extent, certain kinds of packaging (corrugated, especially). Textiles, 3D printing, and printed electronics were all pretty meh.

Hiring Plans

Seventy-one percent of print businesses are hiring staff in the next 12 months (up from 50% last year). Top positions sought are “postpress/bindery/finishing” staff (47%), “press operator” be it offset or digital (43%), and “outside sales representative” (42%). We also asked where they are looking for employees, and the majority are relying on “general online recruitment sites,” “word of mouth,” and “general job recruiters.” Few are reaching out to industry associations, and even fewer are reaching out to specific graphic arts programs like those at RIT or CalPoly.

Looking Forward

Yes, we are looking forward to 2022. 2020 had been a rough year, but 2021 largely recouped what we had lost. Virus concerns have taken a back seat to employee and consumables pricing and availability. It’s always something, right? But despite these challenges, we expect 2022 to continue along this same upward trajectory toward a full return to something akin to normality. 

Richard Romano – Managing Editor of WhatTheyThink

Speaker at Americas Print Show

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