The conference, titled Unfolding the Future - The Changing Market for Print and Paper, brought out some provocative thoughts such as Philippa Charlton’s direct statement: "The traditional merchant model is broken."
She said that those in the industry had not been "honest with ourselves" about how steep the decline in paper demand had been over the past few years.
The crescendo of the event was the results of the BPIF’s Paper Procurement Survey 2012 and PrintYorkshire chief executive and BPIF non-executive director Robert McClements’ best practice guide for merchants and printers: Optimising paper supply chain management.
The results of the survey, which included thoughts from 90 BPIF members, mainly "general printers", led McClements to highlight "logistics, information technology, education and training, and finance and credit" as the four biggest problem areas of the industry.
McClements found that the problems in the UK industry were replicated across the world, but said "crisis creates change".
Northend Creative Print Solutions managing director Nigel Stubley, who also gave a speech at the conference, said: "We need more transparency in paper pricing so that printers can decide what level of service they are willing to pay for."
The results showed that 37.2% of respondents never used electronic invoicing, which prompted McClements to drive forward the benefits of management information systems (MIS). Additionally, 47.6% had never used historical data to forecast purchasing and enable bulk buying.
McClements suggested that printers used MIS to store this type of data, and encouraged merchants to put incentives in place to agree reduced costs for better planning in purchasing.
Shockingly, 29.1% of printers had never given staff purchasing training, and only 26.7% had given "comprehensive" paper specification training.
McClements said that the consolidation of the paper merchant industry in the UK had inevitably led to reduced quality and a decreasing range of options as more merchants abandon selling a wider range of paper in favour of mid-range products which printers can treat themselves.
Charlton said: "The days of being just a paper merchant have gone. This is in many ways a sunset industry but the future can be bright if printers and merchants work more closely together to drive supply chain efficiencies for mutual benefits."
However, Elliott Baxter managing director Tim Elliott said: "We must look at the positives and not be so downbeat."
He added that prices of paper had remained "relatively stable" in his 30 years in the industry if inflation was taken into consideration.
BPIF managing director Kathy Woodward said that she was impressed with the success of the day and would definitely consider further similar conferences, although hoped that more members of the print side of the industry would be in attendance in future.
Tesco head of group marketing procurement for print, paper and post, Katleen Pelsmakers said: "It was a great event, with excellent and though provoking content. Though not as well attended by printers as I had hoped for, it had a real call to action to drive change proactively into our industry, which has to be a good thing."
NAPM director Tim Bowler added: "I was thrilled with the way the day went – there were some great presentations which were so relevant to the problems facing the print and paper industry."