Drupa or the pain of going virtual

I do feel that drupa is an important event for the printing industry, likely the most important one. Sadly, there have been many exhibitors pulling out of drupa 2021 – which is understandable in the face of rising Covid numbers all over Europe currently and increasing travel restrictions.  Still I – and many others – want to hear about the latest products and technologies.

With a great number of vendors resorting to virtual events in the meantime I believed it to be a smart move of the drupa organizers to have a virtual platform for news and announcements as well as recently posted. Drupa is still THE brand for exhibitions around print, gets worldwide attention and has immediately a large reach.

Today was supposed to be the day for the platform to go live with several panels and supplier presentations. I was prepared to cover it. Admittedly the registration process was lengthy, and I did not get any notification e-mails for sessions booked. I also missed any promotion on social media like LinkedIn to prep for the day. I must be in the wrong groups then and/or use the wrong hashtags – but if I missed it, I wonder who else missed it?

Trying to login today I have never seen so many forms for cookies and privacy notes to click through. I also failed to login into the live stream. More logins, more popups, more dead ends but no stream. Maybe it is just me. Maybe I have not been in enough webinars yet …

I spent some time to make it work. The site looks sleek, but I constantly got lost and for every action a new tab pops up. Since my income depends on covering printing industry events, I was prepared to make an effort. Compared to webinars I have listened or presented in previously, this was by a factor more complicated that rivals the Düsseldorf hotel price multipliers during drupa. I wonder what customers whose main line of business is to keep machines running or designing and producing these machines did.

On the website there is a replay of the opening session announced. I might be able to report eventually on drupa or the pain of going virtual.

Covid is proving: print is for kids

In times of generally declining magazine circulations, magazines for kids are doing well. This is according to a report in the Press Gazette. The Week Junior and First News in the UK have seen circulation increases and stable advertising revenues. First News has said order value is up 59% from its 62,000 a week circulation registered last year. For The Week Junior, a spin-off of the condensed news title for older audiences, circulation is up by more than a fifth to 85,000 copies a week. Especially during lock-down parents felt that kids needed to keep engaged and informed. Additionally, it served as an antidote against too much screen time. But it seems that this is not just a short-term effect. Surprisingly, customers are sticking with The Week Junior even though the publisher had anticipated a drop-off after a six-week trial period. This is proving that print is for kids not just in Covid times. Even advertising held up well. Ad spending reduced by companies closing or struggling during lockdown has been replaced by government funded educative ads.

During the pandemic up to now, children’s book sales have been booming as well. The Washington Post reports, that as Covid restrictions increased sales of books for kids boomed through March. Three of the top 12 categories for book sales were aimed at children, according to data from NPD Group, a market research company that tracks book-buying trends. From March through May, as the pandemic kept schools closed, that trend increased dramatically, with half of the 12 top-selling categories catering to kids, including three categories of juvenile non-fiction. Through mid-August, the category with the biggest growth was juvenile non-fiction, up 28 % from last year, while juvenile fiction rose more than 8 %.

Similar is observed in Europe. The German book publisher’s association states that July 2020 revenue from children and juvenile books increased by 7% over July 2019. Cumulative sales of children and juvenile books are 4.2% higher in 2020 than in 2019 despite the period of book shops closures – the only category of books scoring higher than in 2019.

Putting (some) Excitement into virtual events

Yes, we know drupa 2020 has been moved and Covid restrictions mean that there will be no trade shows for 2020 at least. Still vendors want to launch new products and since even open houses are out of question for now the last resort is virtual events. There have been a few in the last couple of months.

There are pundits that extol the virtue of virtual, but I find them somewhat unsatisfying – and I know that I am not alone. There are big differences in the quality of the virtual events as well, in terms of content, presentation and getting the attendants enthusiastic. But the main point is that marketing anything around print, which distinguishes itself as something multi-sensory and tactile, only virtually is a bit dicey.

Heidelberg to cancel drupa 2021

Heidelberg today announced that the company is to cancel its participation in drupa 2021. After Bobst and Xerox the third printing industry heavyweight dropped out now. Industry experts will feel a déjà vu with the last days of IPEX in 2014, with almost all major exhibitors dropping out before the show – one after another. This sealed the fate of IPEX, the second largest print trade show at its time.

Heidelberg to cancel drupa 2021 participation

Heidelberg justifies the decision of not exhibiting at drupa with the shortening innovation cycles and emerging digital business models. Heidelberg plans to customize its activities in regional markets and segments as well. Plans are to replace trade shows with events at their Print Media Centers (5 globally) and virtual events. Heidelberg pulled out of trade shows in developed countries many years ago, citing they know all customers already and rather invite them to the open house event. As the only exception drupa remained, as “the trade show you need to exhibit to be taken seriously in the graphic arts industry” and as the show that sets the mark for trends and technology developments.

Can virtual events replace trade shows? – The Bobst June 2020 press conference

Trade fairs have been under pressure in recent years. Cancelling most events in 2020 is making vendors considering their stance towards trade shows once more. So far drupa has been beyond discussion as the one trade show in which a vendor needs to exhibit to be taken seriously in the printing industry. Product and technology development plans have been timed for this show to maximise impact. Now drupa being moved to 2021 wreaks havoc to many plans and a good share of vendors decided to hold virtual launch events instead.

Two major vendors bailed out of drupa 2021 recently and opted for virtual events. Xerox cited insecurity around large events during a pandemic. Bobst announced that it was cancelling its participation at most trade shows, including Drupa, citing several reasons: A change in strategy to forego trade shows (except selected few in Far East) in favour of virtual events and experience centers, environmental reasons and that 2021 is already “full” for Bobst.

Virtual press conferences

As the first of the major vendors which cancelled their drupa participation for 2021 Bobst held an international press conference on the 9th of June. Several articles have been written on the launches presented, but I would like to focus on the underlaying question: how well does a virtual event as a substitute for a trade show participation.

First kudos to the event organisers. According to Bobst more than 100 journalists and analysts joined. The virtual press conference was well organized. The stream contained a mix of CEO Jean-Pascal Bobst talking, mixed with slides and him drawing on a flip chart (you still remember what this is?) to explain some workflow details. There was ample time for questions, also expertly moderated by Francois Martin.

Still – getting technology developments explained via a couple of slides always gives me the feel that I want to walk over and kick the tires of the new product at the booth or demo site. Given the wide range of listeners to a call it is impossible to give enough detail for the exports while not to overextend the ones that dabble in this field of expertise (or in the print industry as a whole). Crucially, as an analyst I want to learn about the important points that are not on polished vendor presentation slides, like pricing, availability, tech details, pros and cons and more. I find being able to stand in front of a piece of technology and talking to product managers, sales guys and technicians incredibly helpful. This is usually the opportunity to examine print samples as well. And you have a bit of time to let the first information settle and recall the points you want clarified.