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Print Businesses in Transition Need Content Partners; Freelance Practitioners May Hold the Key to New Services

By on March 21st, 2013

Since my TrendWatch days in the late 1990s, I have always found the trends in agencies and design businesses to have implications for the print business. Back then, the increase in quality of desktop publishing software, better desktop computing platforms, and some amazing new peripherals (like drawing tablets, digital photography, and others), allowed content creators to work on their own rather than in studios. Working as a sole practitioner was not common unless you had established yourself as a superior designer. Desktop publishing and imaging changed that; at one time “freelance” meant that you were between gigs. In the late 1990s, it meant that you had a skill sought by numerous potential clients. Then the Internet bubble burst, but the trend toward freelance workers has remained. The technology and the software only got better. The need for services changed to a more diverse range of media.

Below are our estimates of employment and freelance workers for advertising, public relations, and graphic design. (click image to enlarge)

emps & flance without table

The table below summarizes the workers and sole practitioners by category. (click to enlarge)

pct wkrs emps or freelance

These freelance workers often have made significant investments in computers, hardware, and software that allow them to handle routine desktop publishing, but also photo manipulation, animation, and video. They can also do their share of movie-like computer graphics for web applications.

Alliances with these practitioners can be a critical strategic step for print businesses seeking to transition their businesses to include other media. The nature of those alliances cannot be like they were in the past, where they were hired on an as-needed basis to complete a set of tasks. These content practitioners can become part of the business development process because they can provide different perspectives about client problems and a range of possible approaches using multiple media.

From a longer term view, alliances over time can lead to new business partners and co-investors as part of the adaptation a print business makes as it navigates current and future markets. Hiring for tasks is one thing; seeking a future business partner is something else. Perhaps it’s time to start those kinds of discussions. As you work with content partners over 18 or 24 months it will become clear with whom to align a new business strategy.

  1. 4 Responses to “Print Businesses in Transition Need Content Partners; Freelance Practitioners May Hold the Key to New Services”

  2. By Wayne Lynn on Mar 21, 2013 | Reply

    Good article Joe, points out one of the key aspects of the transition to a new age company in our industry. You don’t have to do it all in house…just like you don’t have to own all the gadgetry that vendors push on us. There is a strategic opportunity to become a little less asset intensive.

  3. By Aamir on Mar 21, 2013 | Reply

    Great work Dr Joe, i am your Big fan.

  4. By Paul Carroll on Mar 22, 2013 | Reply

    Joe, I really enjoyed your article. I totally agree with your findings. About a year ago we launched our own internal advertising agency – Navitus Marketing. We have seen a 25% growth in all aspects of business as result.
    We have produced videos, trade show graphics, copywriting, design services and full marketing campaigns.
    Our transition began with the investment in a marketing expert. We are no longer a printer but an Advertising Agency with a manufacturing division.

  5. By Bruce Colthart (@bccreative) on Apr 3, 2013 | Reply

    Thanks for this. As a veteran designer, I like the idea of a more defined and exclusive relationship with a great printer, to help with whatever their transition – and mine – will manifest itself as, over the next few years.