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 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 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.
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.
When judging applications being in demand during and just after the Covid crisis, antibacterial print is certainly high on the growth list. Even beyond the current crisis there will be usage for antimicrobial print and paper to fight germs as consumers become more health conscious. Applications are found everywhere where print products change hands frequently: from paper money, restaurant menus, key cards, safety documents, playing cards and packaging.
Paper itself is a pretty low risk material. Erwin Busselot from Ricoh already laid out some arguments on paper and board reducing transmission risks. He states that tests have found that the Coronovirus survives the shortest on board, when compared to other surfaces. According to the WHO the likelihood of spreading the virus on packaging is low. Also, the paper manufacturing and printing processes do reduce the number of viable particles required to infect someone. Paper packaging or wrapping can also be used reduce transmission risks. Even paper towels are efficient in reducing germs, while hot air driers spread them around.
Coating to fight germs
Paper and print can even go beyond just having a low risk potential of spreading viruses to become a material to fight germs. Antimicrobial paper has been in use for years. There are solutions available adding copper or silver compounds to the paper, to the paper coating or to apply as print. Both are relatively expensive materials however and I am not sure whether they interfere with existing paper recycling processes. But there is more.
While the Covid crisis is far from over and health concerns are to remain high on consumers’ agenda also facemasks are here to stay. It is reckoned that 8 to 12 billion masks will be needed every year in Germany alone. With its ubiquity, the face mask is entering popular culture. Despite all current shortages consumers are turning facemasks into a fashion statement and forward-looking companies start to offer printed facemasks. Printers are naturally in a good position to join the trend and exploit the opportunity for printed facemasks.
On-line printers offering facemasks
The latest additions to the market for printed facemasks are Onlineprinters and Print4reseller, both located in Germany. Onlineprinters offers washable and reusable textile masks. Masks can be personalized with a range of templates or custom designs. 10 facemasks printed with a custom design will set you back €67,19 (+VAT), for 500 this drops to €4,20 per mask (again plus VAT). The masks from Print4reseller are more basic and are paper-based. They might be a bit less comfortable to wear, but can be easily disposed of as a paper product. Prices are lower as well, starting at €749 for 1,000 masks, dropping to €3,213 for 10,000 pieces. They can be customized on the outside and do have printed instructions on the inside.