Can Ipex reinvent itself?

Ipex2010_cutouts

It’s exactly a week now until this year’s Ipex show starts. I remember the first Ipex that I went to, quite a few years ago now, which more or less filled the NEC and lasted for two weeks. At its best, Ipex is more than just a chance to look at new kit and to meet old friends. It’s also a celebration of the British print industry and confirmation that print really does matter.

But this year’s show is a very different proposition, with most of the biggest vendors that dominate the industry having pulled out. Most of these have mentioned that they weren’t happy with the charges around the show, though in fairness to the Ipex organiser much of this may be down to the way that the NEC charges for its facilities.

Nonetheless, the larger vendors normally spend an average of £2 million to exhibit at a show such as Ipex, and given that these companies have ongoing sales and marketing activities they may have simply concluded that exhibiting at Ipex wouldn’t deliver any additional sales. Timing may also have had something to do with this since many of the newer digital presses aren’t quite ready yet and many vendors privately say that it will be another two years before technologies such as inkjet really have the speed and quality to challenge for a bigger slice of the market. We’re unlikely to see much that’s genuinely new, though there should be some useful updates from the likes of Konica Minolta on its KM1 B2 inkjet and Xeikon on its Trillium liquid toner press

Informa, the show’s organiser, has done its best to put a brave face on this in trying to reinvent the show around a lively conference program, including the Cross Media Production event. This deals as much with the place that printing holds in the modern marketing and communication mix, as it does with the actual printing. Of course, for this to work the show will have to appeal to marketers and print buyers as well as its traditional audience of printers.

Then again, all the vendors are trying to court the emerging markets, such as China, Brazil and India, and part of the reason for moving to London was to please these overseas visitors. Yet it’s hard to see that there’s much they can learn from listening to conferences, in English, about marketing practices in western countries.

There are also a number of zones, for areas such as wide format, 3D printing and functional printing, though in reality these things are turning up fairly regularly at most shows nowadays. Even last month’s Packaging Innovations, which does not generally have much in the way of printing kit, managed to find space for a number of 3D printers.

It certainly seems as if Ipex has lost its focus. It doesn’t feel like a commercial print show, given that many vendors are simply showing machines that they launched last year at Fespa or Label Expo. It doesn’t have the weight that Drupa does, nor the focus of a show like InPrint, which targets industrial printing applications, or the likely return on investment of an event like the Hunkeler Innovation Days.

The other question is whether or not there can be another Ipex event? The chances are that in 2018 most vendors will have new inkjet presses to sell and might look to Ipex as a good platform. But many of those vendors have lost their deposits on this year’s show and it’s difficult to see any of them being willing to pay any money upfront for a future show.

Then again, if this year’s show proves successful then it would pave the way for Ipex to transform itself into a very different kind of show, one that’s as much about how to make money out of printing kit, as it is about showcasing the latest kit. Such a show might be smaller, and less of an international event, but could still attract enough visitors to justify its place as the premier UK print event.

 Picture above: Remember the cardboard cutouts dotted around the last Ipex show?

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