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Forging Ahead

RR Donnelly acquires Courier Corp, and what it means for the printing industry.

“Printing’s death has been greatly exaggerated,” Thomas Quinlan said at EFI’s Connect user conference in January. The RR Donnelley executive had plenty on his mind that day. Even as he was being peppered by questions about the behemoth’s mergers and acquisitions for 2015, Donnelley was brokering a deal, finalized in early February, to acquire Courier Corp., a publicly held book printer.

In the wide-format world, this wouldn’t be big news on a normal day, except that Donnelley’s top competitor, Quad/Graphics, had just announced the purchase of 25 web-to-print machines from HP. They were also in negotiations to purchase – you guessed it – Courier Corp. Clearly, this was supposed to be a two-part deal.

So, even as Quinlan described his workplace success as lucky and the product of outstanding mentorship and life circumstances, he was part of a mechanism to undo Quad/Graphics’ deal that was, well, anything but pure luck.

And when Quinlan says print isn’t dead, what does that mean? I’m tempted not to take his statement at face value. Too many in the wide-format world and related sectors believe that print not dying is equivalent to the current industry surviving more or less as it currently is.

Consider the relationship between horses and cars. Years ago, naysayers screamed that automobiles, highways, and gasoline were unsafe. Horses, the old stalwart, would never go away. And they never did, right? But not too many people are commuting in a saddle these days. Like candles, horses’ primary function was replaced; they now survive as a hobby and novelty item.

Journalists face the same questions, and many news outlets have now created their own (somewhat navel-gazing) news sections to address the media shift from print and paper to harder-to-monetize digital outlets, like apps, digital editions, and multimedia presentations.

For printers, it doesn’t matter if print is still technically alive if they can’t profitably shift their focus. While I applaud Quinlan’s message, particularly his emphasis on print’s ubiquity, I can’t see it as a comfort. All you need to do is look at Quinlan’s bold move to start a war on the forefront of web-to-print to sense his urgency.

Donnelley can’t survive on printing magazines and mailings alone. It’s ironic that the primary sign of their confidence in this point is the purchase of a book printer, yes, but their example is one to follow. It is possible to champion print in all its forms, even as you forge ahead.

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