Reputedly the world’s first ever printing trade show, opening its doors for the first time in 1880, on an international scale Ipex was second only to Drupa in its heyday, often attracting tens of thousands of printers from across the globe. Traditionally held every four years, the event would routinely take over most of the 20 huge halls at Birmingham’s NEC.
But the most recent edition of the show, held late last year in part of one hall at the NEC, attracted around 7,000 visitors – a sharp drop on the 23,000 visitors to the 2014 event, which was itself way down on the figure of 50,000 in 2010.
Exhibitor numbers were also continually falling. Informa, which acquired the show from Picon in 2006, claimed that circa-150 brands exhibited in 2017. 400 had turned out for the 2014 event while 2010 boasted 1,000 exhibitors.
Something had to give and, following an industry consultation, Informa ultimately decided to retire the event.
“We have concluded that the requirements of the industry no longer match our own in terms of the cycle, scale and what is required to help us further support and fully invest in the brand,” says Ipex event director Rob Fisher.
Many observers have partly attributed the show’s decline to its move, in 2014, from Birmingham to London’s Excel.
“Excel has fantastic facilities and a brilliant infrastructure, but it’s not the easiest place to get to,” says Pat Holloway, Kodak UK’s former marketing manager, who played a key role in organising Kodak’s show presence before he retired in 2012.
But former Ipex event director Trevor Crawford, who was made redundant following the 2014 event, defends the move.
“At the time, Informa and I were absolutely meticulous about our consultation into the marketplace, which wanted the London move. We delivered that and actually we delivered a really good show,” he says.
“In the four cycles that I worked on, from 2000 to 2014, I probably had more positive feedback in 2014 than I can ever remember receiving about much bigger shows.”
Crawford attributes the show’s troubles to wider industry changes. “There’s been a move towards digital and a lot of the big litho guys who have moved into digital themselves have decided that, actually, shows are not the place to start bringing great big presses to.”
He alludes to a “perfect storm” taking place around 2012 that led to a number of the major manufacturers deciding to withdraw from the 2014 event.
“The economy was falling and Drupa was playing around with unprecedented changes in its frequency, which created a dilemma for a lot of companies.”
Crawford says, that with some of the major manufacturers under pressure to choose between exhibiting at either Ipex or Drupa, and plumping for the latter, this triggered further withdrawals.
“An enormous number of companies thought ‘if it’s okay for them to cancel then we’ll do the same’ because they were all up against budgetary restraints and their revenues were falling.”
The trade show landscape has changed and Picon chief executive Bettine Pellant says manufacturers are now looking at different ways of showing their products.
“There is less of a need to be able to see everything in a single, large exhibition now than there was 20 years ago. Now, machines can be previewed online in videos and reviews.”
Accordingly, many manufacturers now use shows to highlight applications and maximise networking opportunities.
Open houses are also becoming increasingly popular. While it can be a costly exercise to sometimes fly existing and potential customers hundreds of miles to existing demo centres, the host manufacturer’s kit is given the customer’s full attention and the return on investment versus taking a fleet of equipment to a show can often prove favourable.
Educational content and workshop sessions are also playing a bigger part, both at large trade shows and smaller, more focused events.
“People don’t generally go along to shows just to see exhibitors, they go to learn and network and understand what the solutions are that can actually help them in their business,” says Crawford.
“And if you do want to show a large press, in whatever format that is, you could do that in some sort of augmented reality way.”
While Ipex may be gone, its glory days are fondly remembered by those that attended, exhibited at, or were otherwise associated with the event.
“The best times were during the times of innovation when digital print, automated workflows and automated bookbinding first came out,” says Holloway.
“When there were big changes, people were being drawn in from all over the world to see new launches.”
Des King oversaw marketing for four Ipex events between 1980 and 1993 through his then role at Industrial and Trade Fairs, which at the time jointly owned Ipex with the British Printing Machinery Association (now Picon).
He recalls the show had been in trouble after its 1980 outing, the first year it was held at the NEC, after it attracted around 63,000 visitors against a target of around 250,000.
“The show very nearly died on its feet in 1980 but we soldiered on and the industry picked up. The show then recovered and got very good support and it built its attendance up to just under 100,000. 1984, 1988 and 1993 were wonderful.”
He concludes: “It’s a shame to see something that had real potency reach the end of its days. But I think the sensible thing, if you can, is to either completely restructure something or withdraw it before it becomes an embarrassment.”
Gary Middleton, managing director, GM Finishing
“I’ve been going to Ipex since the 1970s and bought Renz kit at last year’s show. The event is a shadow of its former self, but there is a need for trade shows – maybe they need to be more targeted and local. Whatever form it takes, I hope we can find another platform to demonstrate new equipment. Like print colleges, new equipment is the lifeblood of our industry. But like colleges, there are fewer and fewer of them that are fit for purpose.”
Jacky Sidebottom-Every, sales director, Glossop Cartons
“I’m sad but not surprised. It was great in its heyday in the 1980s. But in recent years machine manufacturers have cut back on exhibitions. The move to London was good for foreign visitors but perhaps not so good for people in the UK outside the South East. But there’s still a place for big trade shows. Drupa is still very successful and there’s a need for one big venue where people can see several machines in quick time to weigh them all up while they are fresh in the mind.”
David Prior, managing director, Newprint
“In its prime, Ipex was great and took up many halls. Everyone flocked to the Heidelberg stand and as soon as all those beautiful images of the natural world and fast cars came off the kit we were grabbing them. But when I went last year and bought a Morgana laminator it was just the one hall. It isn’t what it used to be, and I’m not surprised it has closed. Manufacturers can no longer afford to take kit and set it up. Morgana does more local events with local suppliers of copiers and digital presses and maybe that’s the formula for trade shows.”
Gerard Heanue, managing director, Heidelberg UK
“It’s obviously sad but it was inevitable. The market had changed since 2007 with the collapse of Lehmans and a number of customers worldwide had gone down. And customers had become a lot more industrialised, so going along to a print show like Ipex and just showing equipment was no longer the best way to sell it. Equipment sales had become more technical, customers like to run their jobs and test the machine beforehand, they don’t just come along to a show and buy – those days finished in the 1990s.”
Bryan Godwyn, managing director, Intelligent Finishing Systems
“I’m saddened and it’s a great shame, but I did see it coming, it’s a sign of the times. I don’t think it was influenced by the move to London, it was purely influenced by the change of the market, which has been so fast and so sudden. The costs involved for the big manufacturers to move heavy metal are absolutely huge and no longer viable for a short window show. The market has shrunk so much that suppliers tend to know their customers now, so we tend to focus far more on specific events for them.”
Andy Benson, managing director, Duplo UK
“Last year’s show was extremely disappointing and poorly attended. They failed to ignite brands to want to support it because it was a bit same old, same as, so they didn’t really create any excitement or interest. For me it’s disappointing when there’s any opportunity to reduce the landscape to excite commercial printers about what they can do differently and show them what’s new in the industry. Ipex was one of those opportunities so I find its closure sad. Something had to change but closing it and giving up isn’t necessarily the change we welcomed.”
Ipex: A brief history
- 1880, ’81, ’83 and ’91 The world’s first ever printing trade show is an immediate success and is quickly repeated
- 1902, ’04 and ’06 The start of the 20th century marks the passing of craft printing and the birth of mechanical processes
- 1910, ’14 Offset printing is the show-stealer of the pre-war years
- 1921, ’25, ’29 and ’36 Speed with quality dominates the inter-war shows and highlights include the first Roland machine, capable of running at 4,000iph, and Hoe’s newspaper press, running at 30,000iph
- 1955, ’63 and ’71 While offset is again the major talking point, the show floor is also brimming with photo-composing machines, automatic engravers and vast photogravure presses
- 1980, ’84 and ’88 Technology opens up new prospects for printing with new materials, inks and finishing techniques. Electronic composition is the fastest-changing area in 1984
- 1993 and ’98 Digital colour printing is a hot topic. Benny Landa uses the 1993 show to present the first Indigo press while 1998 sees Xaar signal its intentions for four-colour inkjet printing
- 2002 and ’06 Digital continues to impress and in 2006 Xerox books a 5,128m2 stand – the biggest at the show – which it populates with 70 machines. The era of vendor collaboration also kicks into gear
- 2010, ’14 and ’17 The show makes a controversial move from its long-term Birmingham NEC home to London’s Excel in 2014 and is plagued by high-profile withdrawals. A move back to the NEC in 2017 fills only part of one hall and proves the event’s final outing