Industry Outlook from Australia · Janet Maitland & Stephanie Gaddin · Image Publishing Group

For the INKISH NON-EVENT ’22, we asked Pat McGrew to talk to editors from around the world to get their perspective on the future of print. You’ll hear Janet Maitland & Stephanie Gaddin from Image Publishing in Australia – great insights and perfect questions from Pat McGrew.

Pat: Hi, I’m Pat McGrew with McGrew Group, and for this edition of talks with publications, the journalists who serve them, and the editors who work with them. Today we are going to Australia, so we will meet with Janet and Steph and talk a little bit about how they see the universe.

So Janet, Can you tell me a little about you, your title, and all those lovely publications that are part of the umbrella you live in?

Janet: Sure. Thanks, Pat, and thanks for having us. My name’s Janet Maitland. I’m the publisher of Image Publications. We are the leading magazines in Australia and New Zealand for wide-format sign display and textile business owners.

And our magazines include Digital Image Magazine, textile Image Magazine and Image Magazine, New Zealand.

Pat: Wow. And with us today also is my friend Stephanie. So Steph, you are relatively new to this publication group. What are you handling?

Stephanie: So I’m new, and I’ve taken the role of editor specifically for Digital Image Magazine under the umbrella group.

Pat: Wow. Okay. Big job. I think so. You are the perfect two people to talk to about the future. I’m not going to ask you to be a mind reader, tarot reader, or any of that. I’m curious about what you think the big stories will be in the near term across the industries you serve.

Because we just saw a successful pack print in Melbourne. So we saw people come to a trade show. So we know that’s interesting. But are people buying things? If they’re buying something, what are they buying? What’s new and exciting in the near?

Janet: Yeah, I think that’s an excellent question.

And yes, pack Print was the first event we had in over two years, which was fantastic. It was well received. People were excited to be out and to connect and reconnect. From the equipment perspective, we’re not too different from the trends you see. Overseas. I think the biggest story in our industry at the moment is really about skilled labor.

We’ve got an unemployment rate of 3.4%, that’s the lowest in 50 years. And, we historically have had a perfect skilled Labor market coming from overseas, but that was cut off during the lockdown. And so our most significant issue in Australia at the moment, from an industry perspective, is about skilled labor, getting the right people in the right spots, and recruiting young people into the industry and training and developing them.

Pat: So Janet, is that true across all the printing segments your publications serve? Or is there a worse problem in one area than another?

Janet: No, it’s across the board. And it’s not just our industry. Every industry in Australia is in the same boat, competing for a minimal talent pool.

Pat: So if we can solve the labor problem magically, I don’t know what that magic looks like. What’s the next biggest problem after labor? Or the next biggest opportunity after labor? Cause that’s fair too.

Janet: The next fantastic opportunity, which is excellent, is local onshore manufacturing continues to be very strong. And that’s China’s one of our major trading partners. And over the last couple of years, the amount of manufacturing that’s come back on shore, you’ve got retailers looking for and, and consumers of print looking for know, lower stock levels, quicker turnaround times, more various designs, less stock holding. So that’s benefited the local industry. Our distance from the rest of the world has benefited manufacturing locally and is very strong.

Pat: So we’ve heard in other geographies that the book industry is onshoring a lot but also packaging everything from pallet printing to post-print, corrugated, folding cartons. Do you see some of the same things?

Janet: Packaging definitely. And also other areas that you might not think of. Apparel, for example, is a vast segment that’s onshoring. But just in general because, as I said, most of our offshore production has been done in China, bringing it back onshore.

But yeah, packaging and apparel are some of our key areas.

Pat: Great. So in the near term, do you think the industry will go through another consolidation cycle, or do you think we’ll see net new startups coming into our industry?

Janet: I definitely think we’re in a period of consolidation. On the supply side, we see a lot of consolidation and mergers in the supply space. There are very few independent players left in Australia. On the printing side, we see a lot of acquisitions. Some of the larger publicly listed companies are vertically integrating.

And also, you’ve then got small to midsize companies where we’ve got an aging population of business owners looking to exit. And I go back to their skill shortage. Companies are buying other companies to purchase skills, revenue, and capacity. So all of those things feed into the consolidation.

But absolutely consolidation in Australia is very much alive.

Pat: So we are an industry that likes our trade shows. We just mentioned that pack print was a great success. I enjoyed it. We’ve got drupa coming up in 2024 after a hiatus. Are shows like that still relevant? Is that something people from Australia would travel to see, 30 halls of printing-related equipment and software?

Or do you think they will be more interested in staying closer to home and seeing local shows?

Janet: I think Australians love to travel, so there’s always a cohort of people who love to get on a plane and reconnect. I believe trade shows have a significant role. As much as during covid, suppliers found other ways to connect and communicate with their customers and potential customers, I think shows still play a significant role because people sell to people and love people. I believe that Australians love to go on a plane. Australians definitely love to travel. Our audience is probably more targeted towards FESPA, than giving the diversity of its nature and all the particular segments that our audience plays.

And we get a solid contingent of Australians and New Zealanders traveling to FESPA each year, mainly to find out what’s next and what’s coming because seasonally, we are last and later down the chain regarding new products. So for those print service providers looking to get ahead of the curve, those trade shows play a really important role.

Pat: Thank you for mentioning FESPA because I should have said them in the same breath. More drupa for the graphic arts kind of people in FESPA for this huge array of sign and package and label and textile printing. That’s a lot of what we look at in the FESPA form, which brings me to the logical question about sustainability.

It has been a big topic in Europe for many years. It’s been a topic when I’ve talked to folks in Australia and New Zealand for years. Do you think that sustainability as a topic will impact what people decide to buy and how they continue to conduct their printing businesses going forward?

Janet: Yeah, I think it’s clear that the big brands are demanding sustainable initiatives from their supply chain. They are demanding sustainable initiatives. And I believe that the public appetite for sustainable products is increasing.

I think the opportunity is for business owners to create and take tangible steps. Not only is the material selection but also the production processes, the manufacturing processes, and the recycling side of it collecting and providing a complete end-to-end solution for their customers.

Pat: Do you see the government mandating sustainability in the supply chain soon?

Janet: Yeah. It’s interesting because paper and glass recycling have legislation around them. The next largest opportunity is plastic. And that doesn’t have plastic and textile, sorry. We are second behind the US in the amount of textile waste we put into landfills, unfortunately.

And So I think that those are the two areas that will be next cab off the ramp. They are not currently mandated or legislated, but I believe that we will have to come up with solutions as we can no longer send our waste offshore. We have to deal with it locally, and I think the government will need to provide funding and incentives to encourage people to go into those spaces.

There are some local pockets of activity, but a national solution, particularly in science, is what’s needed. And that’ll be the next sort of frontier I think of sustainability in terms of actually, not just the product and the production side, but the collection and the recycling aspect.

Pat: What should we be watching? Whether I am in the graphic art space, the textile space, the sign and display space, or the packaging space, there’s a lot of new equipment coming to market. There are changes in the technologies and changes in marking technologies.

What do you think the next big innovation might be in our markets?

Janet: I think it’s actually about linking all those things together. I think it’s not about one piece of equipment or technology. I think it’s actually about automation. And again, in that backdrop of a tight labor market, cost pressures are increasing, and you’ve got a supply chain.

We have to be faster, cheaper, quicker, and more automated not only in the production process but even in our web presence, web interface, managing files, and manipulating files. Through production, through dispatch. I mean, that whole automation piece and linking those pieces together is very much, I think that the next thing that business owners need to be watching for.

Pat: Do you think we’ll see a rise in using automated guided vehicles and different types of robotics in print in your market?

Janet: Yes. I do. I think that it depends on the size of the plant. But if you look at some of the trends overseas regarding material handling and movement around factories, yes, regarding loading and unloading equipment. Yes. So I think that is definitely the case, but it depends on the business size. Obviously, that’s much more important for larger operators. But keep in mind we also have many small to medium businesses.

Pat: Absolutely true. Janet, thank you. Stephanie, did we miss anything?

Stephanie: Not that I can see, and fabulous. Thanks, Janet. I learned a lot.

Pat: I think this is brilliant. It’s going to fit right in. I love that in your market, you’re interestingly on the cutting edge in specific spaces, and you are right in league with the trends, and only the US tends to fall behind South America’s a little tricky.

There are some challenges there but thank you so much for your time.

Janet: You’re welcome.