When Messe Düsseldorf first floated the idea of switching Drupa's four-year cycle to a three-year cycle in 2012, vendors, with one notable exception, were falling over themselves to explain why it was a bad idea.
Their reasons were simple: all of the other major shows were on a four-year cycle, their major product development cycles were largely quadrennial too, and finally, their marketing budgets just wouldn’t be able to cope.
So what’s changed? On the face of it, very little. Except this time around 80% of the 23-strong Drupa committee, which represents exhibitors and visitors, approved the change at a meeting earlier this month.
Equally the reason why Messe Düsseldorf wanted to change the cycle is also largely the same: it synchronises Drupa with two of the venue’s other key shows Interpack and K.
However, this time around Messe also rolled out its big guns, its customers’ customers: the visitors.
Drupa presented its committee with research from visitors at Drupa 2012, which highlighted that visitors felt that an “innovation cycle” of two to three years (2.3, to be precise) was the norm in the print industry, indicating that expectations of visitors varied from the preconceptions of exhibitors.
“The [speed] of progress in the printing industry and the changes of innovation cycles has been one of the drivers [of the change]. Especially in the digital world, where a cycle of four years is no longer meeting the needs of printers,” says Drupa director Sabine Geldermann.
HP, which looks set to be Drupa 2016’s largest exhibitor, was one of the key objectors to the change in 2012, and while its core view hasn’t altered, Francois Martin, Worldwide HP Graphic Solutions Business marketing director, says it reluctantly supports the change.
“We’re not so happy because it’s going to be more complicated for us, but we will adjust; it’s certainly easier for us than the analogue players. The only thing I like is that the decision gives a clear signal the printing industry has changed and that digital is driving customers’ requirements. It’s a new chapter for the printing industry,” he added.
Logic suggests that the 20% of board members who didn’t approve the switch to three years probably represented those most closely allied to the world of litho.
But Geldermann says this wasn’t the case: “It wasn’t split by technologies; it was more a personal decision by those members based on their interpretation of the visitors’ needs.”
Heidelberg, which is not a member of the Drupa committee, but is represented by the VDMA trade association, was strongly against the switch in 2012.
However in 2015 all it would say is: “Heidelberg takes note of the decision, but at the moment it is too early to talk about any effects.”
Reading between the lines, it sounds like the big H might be less than happy about the switch.
Unsurprisingly, one of the few advocates for the change in 2012, Landa Digital Printing, seems over the moon and significantly less ambiguous.
“In an ever-more digital industry, it is inevitable that technological change will be much more rapidly than in the past, requiring more frequent opportunities for customers to be introduced to the latest thing,” says founder Benny Landa.
“It was inevitable that Drupa, which has emerged as the only truly global trade show in our industry, would adopt a three-year cycle. I’ll bet that three or four Drupas from now, they will announce that it is going to a two-year cycle.”
And what of the impact on our own global show, Ipex?
After last year’s event was blighted by too many exhibitor no-shows and a corresponding fall in visitor numbers, not to mention the disbanding of its sales and marketing team, will Drupa’s decision be the final nail in its coffin?
Landa thinks it will be, but Ipex organiser Informa apparently disagrees.
“Although this is significant news, I am not personally surprised as Drupa has made this decision once before. The knowledge of this cycle change will help us during the Ipex planning phase so that we can minimise any inconvenience for our exhibitors,” says Peter Hall, managing director of Informa Exhibitions.
Regardless though, the Drupa committee can’t be held accountable for its decision’s impact on other shows. However, it can be for any negative impact on its own event.
With a more frequent cycle, it’s inevitable that there will be an element of waxing and waning in terms of the footprints of larger exhibitors.
“It will be challenging for vendors to bring major innovations to Drupa every three years, and there will be a trade-off,” says HP’s Martin.
This is something Geldermann is prepared for; in fact she thinks if could be a positive change for visitors and exhibitors if the largest exhibitors change from show to show.
“Look at Interpack and K, the three-year cycle is very successful and the challenges for exhibitors are the same,” she says.
“Drupa 2016 will be very successful, with a lot of innovations, and looking forward to 2019 there’s no reason to suspect it will have any fewer innovations especially when you consider that we would like to broaden the technologies on display.”
And as Ipex’s woes proved, in the event world unless you’re active in a growing geography or vertical market then it’s a case of evolve or die – and Drupa’s clearly planning to do the former.