Local benefits, a reliable supply chain, and geopolitical factors drive print buyers back to the U.S.
Print buyers are making the shift back to stateside commercial printers—with good reason. Geopolitical instability, rising international shipping prices, and unpredictable delivery times—especially for large projects— are driving companies to create new relationships with local printers to ensure a reliable supply chain.
Publishers, universities, and other businesses have been outsourcing commercial printing projects overseas for years because they have been able to achieve comparable quality at lower prices.
When the demand for books skyrocketed during the pandemic, domestic capacity was at an all-time low, and for the first time in years, demand exceeded capacity. This along with increased paper and pulp being funneled into the paperboard market for packaging, sent the U.S. commercial and book printing market into a game of catch-up. But as supply levels out, domestic printers are able to capture more jobs coming their way.
For several reasons, companies are starting to refocus their printing dollars stateside. According to a Dec. 2022 article in Publishers Weekly, “China has a sophisticated printing infrastructure, but much of its pricing edge is being eroded by constant Covid lockdowns, shipping rates that remain well above old levels, and more attempts at censorship.”
There are plenty of other reasons print buyers are moving to local and domestic printers:
- Sample and substitute availability. If you want to touch or see your paper options in person, it is much easier to do that with a local printer. Especially as stock capacity continues to shift, you’ll want to work closely with your printer to choose appropriate substrates and substitutes when necessary.
- Shipping proofs and projects. When you can stop by your local printer to check your proof and communicate changes on the spot, you save both time and shipping fees that can delay your project. Shipping (or picking up) and storing the final product locally can add up to huge savings.
- Security. Knowing your printer creates an atmosphere of trust. You know they aren’t going anywhere with your financial information, and paying them won’t result in exchange and transaction fees. You may be able to work out a payment schedule, and/or pay only when the job is done to your satisfaction.
- Supporting the local economy. Harder to quantify, yet no less important to many, is the satisfaction of supporting your local community, its workforce and economy.
U.S. printers are cautiously investing in growth
The 162 commercial printing companies that participated in the 2022-23 PRINTING United Alliance State of the Industry Survey spoke frankly about their cautious expectations for the coming year. “25.3% expect business conditions to be better than this year, 40.4% about the same, and 34.3% worse.”
However, a shift of print buyers back to the U.S. could be a bright spot for domestic commercial printers who have had to navigate material and labor shortages, cost inflation, and higher interest rates. Many are preparing for growth.
Over 60% of the companies surveyed said they planned to make capital investments as part of their plans to strengthen margins, with bindery/finishing systems (61.1%), commercial inkjet (39.6%), and mailing capabilities (27.1%) being the most desired capital investments, and increasing productivity (83.2%), increasing production speed (58.7%), and automation (51.7%) the most frequently cited investment objectives.
Presumably, these strong capital investments will increase domestic capacity overall, and move inventory, which is currently very high, drawing more buyers back from overseas.
Time to ‘focus on becoming more resilient and efficient’
Patrycja Wisniewski, Canon Solutions America Corporate Product Strategy Director pointed to instability in China and Russia as a driving factor for print buyers to consider. “Regulatory changes that are influenced by governments will shift the global supply chain,” including manufacturing strategies and environmental concerns, she told Printing Impressions. “Geopolitical instability and conflicts remain a top concern, risk to global economic shifts and inflation remain, and volatile energy prices have superseded supply chain disruptions,” Wisniewski adds. “It is important to emerge from disruptions and focus on becoming more resilient and efficient, and institutionalize the new normal.”