Bloggers and multimedia journalists continue to sound the death knell of the print platform, and the most recent statistics are on their side.
Earlier this year, a Nielsen study showed that print's share in Philippine media spending shrunk to 3% in 2009. In the United States, the trend strikes a more painful blow as publishing giants like the New York Times lost about 27% in advertising revenue last year, a double-digit decline that also struck the Washington Post. In the same period, The Associated Press, a century-old foreign wire agency, experienced a 65% decrease in its net income.
Though television and radio still have the lion's share in local media, the Internet is winning out as the new star format elsewhere. It costs less, enables firms to easily monitor their market, lets consumers directly interact with each other and reaches a wider chunk of the target audience faster than ever before. This prompts firms whose bread and butter still comes from ink on paper to find new ways to stay afloat.
After 30 years in operation, LSA Printing Press, Inc. is caught in this current of change. General manager Jamie Bautista believes that the ebb of print media is not happening as fast and sharp in the Philippines as it is abroad, but he has still noted its effects on his core business.
Magazines and newspapers that once employed LSA’s services either struggle to put funds together or are now defunct. Other product categories have been supplanted by digital means. "Letterheads are being replaced by e-mail, calling cards [are now] in your cell phone; even books [are] being replaced by websites," Mr. Bautista said in an interview.
Even orders for election campaign materials, which once brought in enough revenue to offset brief lulls in the sector, have decreased as candidates turned to new communication tools such as text messaging and social networking. The printing of sample ballots likewise slowed due to the uncertainty brought on by automated voting and the new precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines.
On top of the electronic invasion, competition has gotten stiffer even as the printing industry shrinks. "We used to have one of the first computer-to-plate [printing systems]. Now there are at least 13 presses with CTP," Mr. Bautista said, citing one supplier.
According to him, there are at least 4,000 printing presses in the country, more than half of which are small-time shops that churn out mostly personal orders like flyers and calling cards. "It's hard for us to compete with them, because they're cheaper; they have smaller overhead," he said. On the other hand, bigger presses with better equipment are the ones that bag textbook contracts and nab deals with top magazines and newspapers. Medium-sized firms like LSA are now pressed to find a niche of their own.
LSA acquired its letterpress machines from the prominent Cojaungco clan, which had little use for them after the 1978 elections. Mr. Batista’s father purchased the equipment in 1980, the year he set up the firm. The young Mr. Bautista, once a freelance designer, only came on board in 2004, when the company needed help transitioning into digital methods. He gradually grew into his current role as he took on more responsibilities, one of which is to steer LSA into the age of new media.
Though new technology continues to cause the industry alarm, the benefits of Web-based formats did manage to trickle down to the same traditional ventures it might someday replace. For instance, electronic communication has allowed old-school printers to reach a previously untapped client base, and digital equipment have sped up operations while lowering costs. Most of LSA's machines, however, are still mechanical.
The retreat of the old publishing platform has also vamped up its value, and it is this edge that Mr. Bautista wants to cash in on. He envisions a market for printing in which customization—a book's layout, for instance, the kind of paper it uses, and the way that it is bound—trumps digital technology’s output-driven prowess. "I could see that down the road, printing is going to shrink, but design is not going to go away," he said. Mr. Bautista’s confidence in the idea is most evident in his new in-house design studio for LSA, Toolbox D.
The studio currently functions as a layout limb for print clients and Web projects, but Mr. Bautista would like Toolbox D to produce other types of design, such as video production. Eventually, it should become the core of the entire business. "Right now, we're a printing press with a design studio. I want us eventually to be a design studio that has a press," he said.
Design is a difficult thing to sell, however, to clients who may think only about the bottom line. "[Customers] always see design as ‘wrapping’, to make something look nice, but the core is still the product or service," Mr. Bautista said. "We have to show that design is more than just wrapping; we [designers] actually have a hand in shaping a bit of what the product or service is."
Toolbox D is in the process of stratifying its services into different categories to meet different client requirements. Clients who are simply after hitting a deadline or staying within budget can avail of the Discount Delivery package, which relies on ready design templates.
The second type of service, Dividends Driven, involves custom-crafting a design solution that focuses less on the output—such as a flyer or a brochure—and more on the intention that drives it. “[These are the ones who aren’t] really after a flyer; they're after increasing their sales, changing their brand perception, or doing damage control. Maybe we can think of another item that can do these better."
The third, Distinct Design, revolves around the elusive idea of ‘personal taste’. This service subgroup includes customized coffee-table books, wedding invitations and comics. The latter would come from LSA's more recognized brand, Nautilus Comics. A publishing arm called Nautilus Paper is also in the works for reports and literary works.
As if to justify its own existence, Toolbox D ends a project by presenting a client with points of contrast, a before-and-after scenario that allows him to appreciate the differentiating effect of mere "wrapping."
Mr. Bautista says there are still skills that the staff need to master before the firm can achieve its grand ambition. But so far, things seem to be moving in Toolbox D's favor. Printing services continue to bring in much of the company's income, but these also account for the bulk of its costs. Despite its smaller revenues, the studio has already proven itself more profitable in proportion to its size. If this performance is any indication, then LSA's transformation is well underway.
Raul L. Locsin Building I
95 Balete Drive Extension,
New Manila, Quezon City,
Extensions: 706, 709-711
Direct Line: (632)535-9923
Fax No.: (632)535-9925
Email: New Media Group