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Trade show transitions

Nov 1, 2010 12:00 AM

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Even five years ago it was obvious that Graph Expo was evolving beyond its old iron roots. But I know I wasn't alone in wondering about the show's prospects this year. Would people come? More importantly, would they be qualified attendees? The answer is yes. People did come. It was a vibrant, encouraging event.

Hats off to GASC. The lousy economy, coupled with the nonparticipation of some top press vendors, could easily have turned McCormick Place into Tumbleweed Central. Previous shows have surely been bigger, but Graph Expo 2010 drew respectable attendance and the show organizers deserve some credit. Associations and vendor user groups were encouraged to hold their events in conjunction with the show. A newspaper technology area joined other special interest sections on wide-format, mailing & fulfillment and packaging. In addition to print promotions, GASC made extensive use of social media tools.

The show company joined other trade show organizers in successfully lobbying for lifting certain venue restrictions. Exhibitors were allowed to do more setup work on their own, straight time was extended (vs. time and a half) and booth holders also could bring in their own refreshments, if desired.

A new competition

Digital presses dominated the exhibit hall. I always enjoy pundit Bill Lamparter's “Must See ‘ems” competition. As veteran attendees know, Lamparter and his 19-member committee annually separate the Graph Expo wheat from the chaff. Approximately 50 winners were singled out from 2,000 eligible products.

But this year, I conducted my own informal awards program: the “Can You Find ‘ems.” The competition, which is restricted to offset press technology, recognizes those exhibitors who actually showed offset presses. The winners: Presstek (75DI), Baum (BaumPrint18) and Hans Gronhi (GH664D).

Hans Gronhi is not that Danish guy from the Danny Kaye movie. This Hans specializes in small format presses made in China. Hans Gronhi had a larger booth than three of the biggest players in offset presses and twice as much equipment as the six leading offset press vendors. That's because three offset vendors withdrew from the show and the majority who did come left their press iron at home.

In the spirit of the Must See ‘em honorable mention (“Worth-a-look”) designation, I have created the “Nice to See Yous.” These accolades belong to KBA, manroland, xpedx/Ryobi and Akiyama/Goss. (Heidelberg and Komori have indicated they will return for Graph Expo 2011.)

I can't blame the exhibitors for tightening their purse strings. Even with GASC's ongoing drayage incentives and hard fought labor concessions, installing just one full-size offset press on a show floor carries a steep price tag — upwards of $500,000. In this economy, few vendors could justify that expenditure.

But it would be a mistake to interpret Graph Expo 2010 as a harbinger that digital printing is overtaking the offset variety. As RIT's Frank Romano reminded us, “Offset is not going away. It's only some vendors that are making it look that way.”

Indeed, according to a recent PRIMIR report, changing habits and pages migrating to electronic displays/readers represent the true challenge to offset pages. The report does acknowledge one inconvenient truth: Analog production page volume is shrinking independently of digital page production. In essence, digital pages account for a much smaller overall volume than offset, but the value of those pages is considerably higher vs. analog.

If I were a printer trying to deal with fewer overall offset pages while trying to boost the value of my digital output, I'd definitely need help — from experts and users in both areas. That assistance was readily available at the show.

See you September 11-14, 2011

Pundits and exhibitors have long debated the show frequency question: Should the event transition to every other year? GASC's Ralph Nappi stressed that the decision “shouldn't be played out in blogs” but emerge from strategic planning discussions currently under way with GASC/NPES membership in the months to come.

Speaking only for myself, I would like to see the show continue on a yearly basis. I want to be part of a strong industry that can support an annual event. I want to see what's new and what's ahead. I want the enthusiasm I saw and felt at this year's show to continue. Stay tuned.

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