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From the Editor: Prophesies for 2016

New problems, players, possibilities are just around the corner.

My friend John works as a hypnotist (full-time and profitably) in New York City. Hypnotism, it turns out, isn’t what most people think. John’s clients want to lose weight, quit smoking, or control embarrassing habits; he rarely reaches into their subconscious and pulls out anything they can’t recognize. Think of it as guided imagery, rather than the theatrical magic that movies depict.

Nevertheless, I sometimes wish life could be a bit more magical. You know, poof, the roof stops leaking, the car stops rattling, and the bills disappear? So, I asked John whether change might be on the horizon with a rare lunar eclipse and fall equinox settling next to each other on this year’s calendar.

His answer was disappointing: Yes, perhaps, but only because we believe it’s true.

In that spirit, I’ve changed my opinion on 3D. The markets for 3D printing outputs are still undefined, it’s true, but if you want a slice of that pie, you need to start building the skills now. It’s like younger journalists learning to code, or early-career surgeons studying remote robotic techniques; it’s not yet the standard industry requirement, but it will be.

Along with that change, I predict some other shifts for 2016:

• Software will become streamlined as crossover between multifunction products increases and as demands for real-time monitoring and job ganging grow.
• Young people will continue to represent an enormous opportunity, as well as a threat, to established businesses as the threshold to enter digital printing drops and the demand for new blood in expanding family-owned shops remains high.
• In-house design skills will begin to differentiate print service providers from higher-paid branding and marketing consultants who produce printed materials.
• Customers will demand the ability to track a job not only as it enters and exits your facility, but throughout the process, with an eye to more last-minute changes and frequent progress updates to accommodate their own demanding clients.
• Print shops will increasingly deploy web-based services to support branded signage, décor, promotional materials, and the like, whether through in-house tech employees or by outsourcing these services.
• Sales reps will begin to collaborate with prepress operators to set competitive prices for services based on the skill and equipment (not just time) required to produce them.
• Women will continue to grow as a percentage of small business leaders as older generations retire.
• We’ll see a growth in older printers used in shops as PSPs broaden the types of jobs they accept – part of the early steps of diversification as clients come to understand the scope of potential print output (think printing paisley on vinyl as a décor item rather than simply printing a logo on an adhesive media).
• Print shops will develop relationships with interior design firms in order to service the exploding retail and hospitality markets.
• Digital printers’ ink drop size and speed will become less important than features – like improved feeding systems, printhead durability, maintenance ease (particularly remote maintenance), and media handling – designed to facilitate short-run and/or variable data printing.
• Print shops will continue to have a presence, but make few waves, on social media, as they rush to improve their own websites to attract both today’s customers and tomorrow’s employees.

Email with your own predictions – I sense that this is a very changeable time of year.

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