Another Chapter Opens in the Evolution of the Printing Industry

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Sep 11, 2012

Reaching and communicating with consumers used to be easy, or at least simpler. At one time, 80% of the U.S. population could be reached through three major network television channels. Today, it would take more than 200 television channels to reach that same audience. The prevalence of the Internet and rapid technological advancements (e.g., imaging, mobile, bandwidth, processing speeds) have dramatically changed the communications landscape over the past decade.

The printing industry is in the midst of a rapid evolution. Technology is expanding the number of offline and online media channels that consumers are prompted to engage with. Consumers are changing their behaviors in terms of media and communication, and their preferences are forcing businesses across all industries to make adjustments in how they interact with customers and prospects. Because print is now just one of many media channels that consumers are accessing, the value and role of print is changing.

No longer a static standalone media channel, print now works across channels like web, mobile, and social. Printed QR codes are driving users to mobile-optimized landing pages, videos, and more. Printed signage is being used to encourage users to join social media sites or opt-in to SMS text marketing relationships. When blended with digital technologies, print becomes a powerful multi-channel marketing and communications tool. Online web-to-print portals are being deployed to help optimize the marketing supply chain. InfoTrends’ research has found that while analog (offset) print shipments have remained flat, e-enabled digital print shipments and digital advertising have been increasing.

Figure 1: e-Enabled shipments are out pacing print shipments
by wide margins


The evolution of the printing industry doesn’t come without its challenges. New technologies, business models, workflows, products, and services present significant hurdles for many printing companies. Many colleges and institutions are retooling their schools and curriculums to prepare students for the evolving print industry.

In August 2012, The School of Print Media at RIT celebrated its 75th anniversary and announced that it will now be called the School of Media Sciences. This school has historically kept up with advancing technologies, economic shifts, and cultural changes; RIT is the alma mater for many at InfoTrends. In light of this milestone anniversary and recent news of the school’s new name and focus, we thought it would be interesting to explore how RIT has adapted to changes and trends in the printing industry, and how the school will continue to evolve in its educational focus to meet the ever-changing needs of the communications industry.

  • 1937: The Empire School of Printing was acquired by RIT through the efforts of Frank Gannett. This acquisition established the Department of Publishing and Printing at RIT.
  • 1946: The Department of Publishing and Printing flourishes and moves into the new George H. Clark Building in downtown Rochester, NY
  • 1960: The Department of Publishing and Printing becomes The School of Printing
  • 1968: RIT moves its campus from downtown to its current location in Henrietta
  • 1970s: Phototypesetting is introduced to the curriculum. A dedicated flexography lab is added.
  • 1980s: Labs are created to enable electronic color separation and electronic dot generated halftones. Newspaper publishing and web-offset print lab is established.
  • 1990: The School of Printing becomes the School of Printing Management and Sciences and is divided into printing, printing systems, newspaper operations management, and printing and applied computer science.
  • 1990s: Desktop publishing enters the curriculum. The first digital prepress lab is created. Newspaper lab converts to all digital newsroom Curriculum begins focus on conversion from analog to digital workflows. Digital Publishing Center is created. A cross-disciplinary degree program, New Media Publishing, is added to address changes in industry.
  • 1997: An accelerated BS/MBA degree is offered in printing management
  • 2000s: Curriculum reflects full conversion to all digital workflows. Retooled core curriculum encompasses full range of new media and print and publishing production. Sloan-supported Print Industry Center is established. The cross-disciplinary Open Publishing Lab is established.
  • 2002: School of Printing Management & Sciences name changed to the School of Print Media

Today, RIT’s commitment to cross-media production workflows, materials science, and innovation continues with hands-on lab facilities optimized for immersive study. In support of the school’s print and materials science initiatives, current renovations are underway to provide a marking technology lab that includes:

  • A 6-color flexo press
  • A multi-color sheetfed offset litho press
  • A 6-station screen press
  • Custom ink mixing
  • Materials analysis

Beyond the classroom, current renovations will also foster the establishment of a Cross-Media Innovation Lab to enable in-depth research in all aspects of premedia production.

The recent name change from The School of Print Media to The School of Media Sciences, also brings some new additions to the curriculum, including courses related to key media trends. In an article written by Kevin Fuller for the University News, Chris Bondy, Chair of the School of Media Sciences stated, “Expanding our charter around a full range of media channels including, print, Web, mobile, and social media will enable our students to be the ‘media architects’ in the growing field of media communication sciences. We are working to include content that has a much greater practical application, with an emphasis on the present and leading-edge media and communication sciences material.”

Over the years, RIT has remained committed to providing its students with an education that meets the evolving needs of the printing and communications industry. As technological advancements and new media channels are introduced, students not only need to learn the traditional print business, but also how to leverage that base of knowledge for leadership in all media channels, including web, tablet computing, mobile, and social media.

According to Fuller’s article, RIT is revamping its Printing Industry Center to create a Cross-Media Innovation Center that is designed to provide a more extensive platform for collaboration between RIT and industry partners. “We are committed to a more immersive-style of teaching, which will include more hands-on lab time across all courses.” Bondy explains. “Making room in our labs for the next generation of imaging technologies will allow RIT to be positioned to serve the demands of our students and industry, making graphic communications more effective, efficient, and sustainable in the third millennium.”

As print evolves and becomes integrated with digital media channels, the industry as a whole will require individuals to have a holistic understanding of all media types and they the roles that they play in supporting one another. The next 10 years of the printing industry won’t be like the previous decade. Educating students on technologies and trends that will shape the printing industry in the years to come ensures that today’s students will be prepared to become tomorrow’s leaders.


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