There are a few core tech-related takeaways from the coronavirus pandemic of 2020. A lot more people can work from home than was previously thought, video conferencing can be extremely useful and, likewise, a lot of people have come to rely on print as a cheap and effective way to keep track of information and move it around.
Those are the observations of Patrick Kickham, director with ICT solutions specialist Datapac, who believes that rumours of the death of print are much exaggerated.
“It’s hard to use the word ‘positive’ about anything to do with a pandemic, but in times of difficulty you quickly find out what’s a luxury and what’s a necessity. When you need to cheaply and easily give someone information, print always wins,” he said.
“The concept of print is not fading. As one example, a lot of homes found themselves in need of print in a way that they haven’t before during the pandemic. For years people have talked about the death of print and that data was moving online, but actually what we’ve seen in this difficult period is that there will always be a place for print.”
What the pandemic has driven home for Kickham is that there is a natural partnership between print and data. Most data is best stored, queried and interrogated on hard disks, but there will always be a place for print to help interface between data and the real world.
“When you get your shopping delivered, for example, you get a print out of what you ordered and what was or wasn’t available. The at-a-glance value of that on paper is enormous; you don’t want an email for that. So what we’re seeing at the moment is the crystallisation of the relationship between data and print. The value of print and paper has been enhanced,” he said.
Kickham also offered the example of his own home, where like many others he has been supervising his children as they undertake school work while the schools are closed.
“I have twins at home, a son and daughter aged 11, and during the pandemic they’ve discovered the usefulness and power of paper in their schoolwork. They’re a different generation to me and, for them, paper wasn’t something that they particularly valued before. They weren’t interested in it, but now they are using it as a way to get work done,” he said.
Kickham conceded that the print industry is going to take some time to recover from the impact of the pandemic. In particular, it will take the world of work returning to normal to restore equilibrium to the market.
“A lot of printing has been going on during this period of time but certainly it’s been impacted badly by the pandemic. When the office comes back fully for most people, and it might take nine months or a year until there is a treatment or even a vaccine for coronavirus, it will endure,” he said.
“In terms of business, 2020 has already lost a huge amount of momentum. There’s no question that we’re going to see three months or more of the year written off. But when this is over there will be a new normality for the rest of 2020, and print will be part of that.”
One aspect of print that has seen growth happen during the lockdown is that of small office and home office devices, as demand for office-replication technology for the home spiked in March and early April.
“The print market has seen a huge spike in small and home office devices, mainly single and multifunction A4 devices at a low price point. People have gone from working in an office environment to working from home,” said Simon Martin of Oki.
“But obviously some of the larger projects and rollouts in the market have ground to a halt and have been delayed until things change. The pandemic will probably have a long-lasting impact on how things are done.”
Martin said that there will also be a long-term impact of the wholesale switchover to remote working that has taken place.
“There’s no doubt that we’re now firmly in a world where data and the data-driven work model has been proven. How that will affect the print market in the long term, I’m not sure. I think probably the way that print devices are used will evolve and I think that we’re well positioned for that,” he said.
Oki Europe’s offering at the moment is around its specialist print devices. Martin said that, in particular, A3 multifunction devices have grown enormously in popularity.
“Part of our strategy is supporting end users that are looking to print something a little more bespoke than their day-to-day office A4 print needs. In the last 12 months we produced a new model, the C800 series printer, that prints up to A3. As well as doing high volume and high quality office printing, it can also do other things,” said Martin.
“It can print banners of A4 and A3 width and up to a length of 1.2 metres. It means, for example, that a retail outlet can print its own in-house banners without needing to send the job out to a print shop or design house.”
Oki also sells what it calls ‘totems’, frames made of wood or metal that can be reused that allow for banners printed on their devices to be mounted for display.
“To have the ability to do daily in-house display advertisements or to change displays quickly is really powerful. We’re also looking at offering a content manager template system with a partner company to make it easier for customers to come up with their own designs,” he said.
“The same system can be used to print 1.2 metre long floor stickers too, and that’s something that you’ll see more and more of.”