Is Printing Having a Midlife Crisis?

As I contemplate my own midlife crisis, I was wondering if the printing industry was having the same problem. A midlife crisis is usually experienced between the ages of 40 and 60. Most people will experience some transition during that time of life. This transition may cause them to take stock of where they are in life. Most will come through the process without making major life changes. For others, this crisis is more complicated. The key is knowing how to handle the transition.

If I do the math, at 55, the chances of living till I am 110 are very remote. Using 80 as a more reasonable goal, my crisis should have ended some 10 to 15 years ago, leaving me 25 years to make the best of it. A crisis, though, is complicated––consider some of the feelings one could experience:

● Unhappiness with the lifestyle that has provided happiness for many years
● Confusion about who you are and where you are going
● Being unable to make decisions about where you want to go
● Questioning the choices and the decisions you have made
● A desire for a new passion

When I consider the current state of the printing industry, it seems to be experiencing many of the same issues cited above. Many printers have seen their share of the industry slip through their fingers by not staying up with new technology. Families of second- and third-generation printers are advising future generations to get out of the business. Many who have not embraced the technology changes that have come along are unable to decide where to go next. Those who did not upgrade equipment cannot compete with the new machinery in the marketplace that is built to save time, resources, and money––the big three. Two of the giant member-driven print organizations, NAPL (the National Association for Printing Leadership) and PIA (Printing Industries of America), are even considering merging.

Back to the blackboard––let us do some math together:
 I contend that the printing industry is having trouble with this definition:

“Printing is a process for reproducing text and images, typically with ink on paper using a printing press. It is often carried out as a large-scale industrial process, and is an essential part of publishing and transaction printing.” – Wikipedia

Yes, this is a big part of what the printing industry does, but it does not define what it is. Printing has always been about communication, be it the Bible, newspapers, wanted posters, billboards, or dollar-off coupons. It has been a means to get the message out to the masses, and it is international. The means of production was the printing press, which itself has morphed light years away from Gutenberg’s press. Printers need to realize they are in the communication industry. In the United States, this industry in 1999 contributed more that $457 billion to the US economy, according to the US History Encyclopedia.

Printing as a part of the communication industry has 572 years of experience––aeons more than that “snot-nosed” little eight-year-old Facebook. Eight years is hardly long enough to embrace the users that print has developed worldwide over close to six centuries. A midlife crisis, maybe, but it’s also an exciting time to be in communications. The “printing press” is morphing again.

As a former owner of a “printing” company with “printing presses,” I now work for a communication company. I left my shop behind fifteen years ago and never looked back. I still consider myself a printer, but now I can deliver the message to the masses in a wide variety of mediums, including ink on paper. The challenges that have been created by new technologies have also opened the door to many new and exciting opportunities. “Printing” now not only includes ink on paper but embraces the web, email, video, audio, mobile devices, and social media. No “printer” can ever own the amount of equipment necessary to properly compete with the communication industry as a whole.

Maybe one part of the communication industry is having a midlife crisis, but what a crisis to have. The print industry is going through a major life change, and the crisis is complicated. This transition is not the first the industry has seen, and it will not be the last, I am sure. The key is for printers to handle the transition and not ignore it. For printers like me, we should look at this as the dawn of an early spring; a time to grow new ideas and plant the seeds that have worked in the past and to nurture those seeds with the new tools that are available. I say, with a potential life expectancy of 1,144 years, at 572 years young, printing can be considered the “snot-nosed kid” of the communication industry.

Author: Tom Caska


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