Last week Printing Industries of America was honored to once again host a delegation of Japanese printing executives to our headquarters building.  During our visit, we exchanged information on our respective economies, outlooks for our industries and hopes for the future.  We naturally began our visit by expressing our deepest sympathies and concerns over the recent tragedy inJapan, extending our best wishes for a return to normalcy and health for all citizens of the country.

Our Japanese friends painted a bleak picture of their industry which in many ways mirrored the conditions we have experienced during the recent recession.  They note that their industry peaked in 1997 due to a larger population, rapid economic growth and an increase in information circulation whereas it is now faltering because of an aging society and diversified media. In 2008 there noted a paradigm shift in their industry that they attribute to three things: the fall of Lehman Brothers; an initiative by their Prime Minister, Yukio Hatoyama, which aims to cut down 25% of CO2 emissions; and the revolution of electronic devices like the iPad. Ink, paper, and printing industry shipments reached their lowest point in 2009, but they are bouncing back despite the low demand for print.

By 2020 the Japanese hope to emerge a leaner industry. This will mean fewer overall printers doing more printing. While commercial and publication printing is wavering, packaging, specialized, and label printing will maintain a viable option for businesses going forward while software service will see growth.   The parallels to the American industry in this regard are startling.

Like many printers in America are becoming “marketing service providers,” Japanese printers have taken notice and are shifting to becoming “solution providers” themselves although it is important to note that culturally the way goods are marketed in Japan are somewhat different than here in the U.S.  The view solution providers are printers who solve the problems clients and society have by using technology and knowledge.  Printers that adapt to new technology, offer a wide array of services, and diversify themselves will be the ones leading the industry in the future.  The same of course can be said here in theUnited States.

Needless to say it was a fascinating exchange and we are grateful and honored to have hosted Kenichi Soma, Atsuyoshi Kimura, Masato Usuda, Hiroyuki Shimamura, and Chie Ohlsson to Pittsburgh. Our thoughts and prayers go out with them as they continue to deal with the tsunami aftermath.

If you have any questions for our visitors, please leave a comment on this post. Once we have a few we’ll post another blog with a Q&A with a member of the All Japan Federation of Printing Industry Associations.