What does 2024 have in store for us?

By Eef de Ridder, Vice President, Graphic Communications Group, Ricoh Europe

Ricoh Europe, London, December 15, 2023 – As we end 2023 and look forward to 2024 – the first drupa year following an extended pandemic driven hiatus – there are a number of global, local, and industry influences that will shape challenges and opportunities over the next 12 months.

It’s an uncertain time but I can predict some turbulence ahead with a large measure of confidence. Agile, forward thinking, and resourceful Print Service Providers (PSPs) will though find ways to navigate a way forward, exploiting the opportunities that emerge.

And there is no shortage of them. For example, we expect to see consolidation of printers in certain markets and tougher laws impacting export/import printed products. The latter could favour online print selling – in fact, it is expected, according to various consultants, that by 2024 more than 50% of all print will be sold online.

Potentially boosting print, particularly for official communications, are sociocultural considerations such as the demographics of an ageing population plus higher immigration levels, and the higher number of active monthly users on social media. Such trends are all likely to generate greater demand for printed communications eg central or local government documents.

Technological advances will see inkjet become the dominant print technology in many applications. Greater automation will fuel further productivity gains, quality already is practically indistinguishable from offset and the cost equation with offset will tip further in its favour. So, inkjet is reaching a tipping point, while the use of AI and robots could also drive new print business, again particularly online by facilitating more efficient ordering and production processes.

The trend towards personalised, customised, and targeted communications is relentless, continuing to gather steam. Print on demand is an unstoppable force, and only digital can efficiently match up to its requirements.

Sustainability will become a major factor in purchasing decisions for everyone, including the printing industry. There are a number of drivers for this, including extreme weather requiring supply chains to be more flexible, customer activism forcing companies to surpass legal standards, the effect of the Paris Climate Agreement, and plastic bans favouring paper solutions, especially in packaging, labels, and card applications.

PSPs that enable printing as close as possible to their clients will benefit as will those that can produce micro runs and print only the quantities that are needed with zero waste and no need for storage and transportation. The flexibility to offer different applications, media type, and finishing, based on the client’s needs, will also be business winning.

Set against a host of opportunities, unfortunately, the impact of war will persist. There is unlikely to be a quick cessation of hostilities between Russia and Ukraine while the conflict in Gaza may cause ripples well beyond its boundaries.

Rising energy prices will continue to affect economies and place greater focus on efficiency – operational costs for Print Service Providers (PSPs) will be impacted by reductions in paper manufacturing capacity and the resultant higher prices. Those PSPs who succeed in driving down waste will be a t a strong advantage in these conditions. Higher interest rates will influence national debts and access to capital resulting in trade barriers with some countries. There will be downward pressure on consumer spending even though inflation is expected to stabilise. Several retail and financial companies have moved 100% to digital communication to cut costs.

PSPs will also have to manage more complex environmental laws, stricter health and safety requests, and stringent data protection laws (GDPR/cloud aspects/hosting of customer data) as well as changes in employment laws. The commitment at COP28 to keep global warming to under 1.5-2°C will drive governments in Europe to issue stricter rules and new taxes that will affect both the consumer and industry. These will impact trade volumes, leading indirectly to reduced spending in printed communication, especially in retail and photo merchandise.  There are of courses opportunities among the challenges. For example, adopting sustainable practices and production techniques can bring rewards that outweigh the burdens.

Design and marketing students receive less exposure to print as a communication medium making them less likely to use it, while the industry is struggling to attract younger people too, creating a shortage in skilled workers exacerbated by an ageing retiring workforce. This can be foreseen to lead to a loss of experience and skills. Automation and handsfree production will gain more ground therefore and become increasingly the norm in successful PSPs.

While clear challenges remain, 2024 is set to present a host of exciting opportunities. I am particularly interested to see the impact of the far reaching technological leaps the industry has made and how AI and machine learning will take production to exciting new levels. More personally, it will be great to be back together at drupa again to explore these and other defining developments. But before then, to discover more about the many ways your operation can evolve now, and in the year ahead, talk to your Ricoh representative.

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