Is drupa anything like cricket?

Search, discovery, survival and growth strategies


drupa has changed over the years and so has cricket which in my view is quite fortunate.
Is there any advantage for us Indians to look at drupa which is sometimes referred to as the Print Olympics, as a cricket match? Let’s explore some possibilities – is drupa a 5-day test match, a one-day match or simply a 20-20 match to be played within three hours including television commercial breaks accompanied by infotainment a la dancing girls at Landa?

All the same rules apply – reading the pitch, team selection or self-recognition of your talents and needs, fiendishly clever tactics on the field, and lastly, close to flawless execution. (Within reason – investment mistakes of up to Rs. 40 lakhs or US$ 700,000 are acceptable. And this can vary according to the level of the game you are playing.)

However, like in cricket, drupa cannot be all centuries, big partnerships, perfect fielding with incisive bowling for your side while the other team or in fact the exhibitors (who say they are also on yourteam) get nothing. The exhibitors must also get something so perhaps it has to be bit of a test match – a draw or a win win for both sides with oodles offuture commitment on both sides – not exactly a marriage but a good cricket match.

Three types of pitches

For cricket’s sake let’s say that there are three broad categories of exhibits – products that we already know a lot about, proven and that we are keen to buy. Here the drupa activity may only consist of finding out more, evaluating automation features and value versus price and attempting to create either a competitive situation or taking advantage of a relationship. The skills are in the fine print, negotiation, details and elegance of dress. The pitch here is predictable and playable for your team.

The second type of pitch could consist of the category of relatively new products that have just been made available to selected markets or globally – and depending on local support, may require early adopter attributes, attitude and status to buy. These could be products that have been previously shown at other exhibitions or have recently entered beta sites but have not yet come into serial production.

This category could also include products that have been around but have few customers in the local market because they are highly specialized or niche products such as high value software; or do not have established local distribution or technical support. Here a confident and skilful team in good shape is needed, extremely fit but modest in demeanour – in fact you do not want your six packs and strong arms to be too visible. The pitch here could change fast and so could the weather.

The third pitch category is future, future, future – future vaporware, future promising, future perfect. This is the category where we need to investigate, learn and evaluate the trajectory and possible value – where new paradigms, slogans and hype abound. These are the perfect solutions for problems that do not have a market yet but where you can exercise your imagination. Think of how you can adapt a technology that may or may not work to create a unique solution in your own niche market.

One problem in this category is that the exhibitor will say sorry, “We are not yet ready for the Indian market – North America, Europe and Australia will be first.” This is a pitch where you really don’t have to worry, since no Indian team is likely to buy the first products manufactured and you are more likely to be a knowledgeable observer than a player.

You can cheer loudly for whatever you are not likely to buy (unless its meant for photo books or digital enhancement). This is also the pitch you dream about where the exhibitors will do all the hard work of creating a personalized solution for your team and your market – where you will hit a captain’s double century someday.

drupa as a 3, 4 or 5-day test match

The pitches will vary but the drupa visitor has to decide on what is the type of match that he or she wants to play. The test match is recommended by many aficionados as the best or perhaps the original format – lengthy, weather and pitch dependent, heavy on strategy and tactics but one that can with great effort result in a draw – a non-result which feels like a victory. The so far quadrennial event (the next drupa is after three years in 2019) had a kind of Olympian cycle that hopefully synchronized with exhibitor’s innovation cycles and printers’ business cycles and buying plans.

The test match strategy is not a bad one for drupa, given the expense of going all the way to Europe in the hope of learning or finding something or even solving a problem and the hard work needed to actually achieve this. This is the least stressful of the cricketing analogies for a drupa visitor. No immediate result could be a good result. Follow it up with a vacation in Switzerland at least until the monsoon arrives back home.

The one-day match at drupa

This strategy actually requires several days of activity at the fair since a result is expected. It means that you have narrowed down your objectives and expect to shop around for a good deal but within a set time frame and budget with a set plan and appointments already made.

You are ready to be influenced by new developments, features and even hype if it is accompanied by a hefty discount. It means that your team is there with you to learn, find out, discuss, evaluate, negotiate and even make a decision but will continue to negotiate and come back from the fair to actually sign the deal. It may lead to a visit to a user site to see the technology in action. This is good for the exhibitors also since they can plan to visit you in India to close the deal while also following up some other leads.

The 20/20 approach

The 20/20 approach does not really work too well at drupa unless you are stopping over on the way a family holiday in Switzerland or Scotland or may be Barcelona. The French Open in Paris starts on 22 May with the finals on 5 June and drupa is just a short train ride away. It may or may not be a good idea to spend the weekend in Paris. drupa can be played like a 20/20 match by quickly visiting your known and keen potential suppliers, a quick visit to the Landa stand which might be spectacular but busy (you will probably have to make a reservation a couple of days in advance) and then some serious time at the Altstadt. In this quick but result oriented approach, it is helpful to bring your chequebook and bank references in case something catches your eye or a refundable deposit is required for you to crowd fund a future product.

20/20 players are superbly athletic all-rounders and they go to great lengths to win. This strategy could work for drupa visitors who are easily bored by machines and technology or who already know a lot about what is being shown and talked about.

Some 20/20 type of players may also think that visiting the fair is not worth the time spent unless they learn something that solves a long-standing business problem or they actually make a serious investment. 20/20 players are in a hurry but not impetuous, they merely think that printing could also be made into an interesting and profitable business in their own lifetime and not just when their grandson grows up.

Way past my deadline, I am in a 20/20 situation right now and I think that maybe drupa cannot be played like a cricket match. Maybe it’s a different kind of game.

Packaging South Asia is the cooperating media partner for drupa 2016 which is scheduled to be held from 31 May to 10 June at Dusseldorf, Germany.

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Editor of Indian Printer and Publisher since 1979 and Packaging South Asia since 2007. Trained as an offset printer and IBM 360 computer programmer. Active in the movement to implement Indian scripts for computer-aided typesetting. Worked as a consultant and trainer to the Indian print and newspaper industry. Visiting faculty of IDC at IIT Powai in the 1990s. Also founder of IPP Services, Training and Research and has worked as its principal industry researcher since 1999. Author of book: Miracle of Indian Democracy. Elected vice-president of the International Packaging Press Organization in May 2023.