“We still have many chapters to write,” was how Robert Keane, founder and CEO of Cimpress, summed up his keynote. The spirit of optimism described by Robert Keane could be felt everywhere at the tenth Online Print Symposium: the anniversary edition of the leading event of the online print industry set valuable impulses for the successful future of the online print industry with a mix of topics ranging from current trends, sustainability, mass customisation vs. mass production and the metaverse to artificial intelligence. A special highlight of OPS 2023 was also the award of the “First Pioneer of Global Online Print”, where Robert Keane and Thorsten Fischer (founder of Flyeralarm), two pioneers of online print, actually stood together on stage.

What are the lessons learned from almost 40 years of online print?

Ordering printed goods via the Internet: What is taken for granted today was a utopia more than 30 years ago. And yet there was someone who recognised the possibilities of technological developments early on and thought ahead. Robert Keane, founder of Cimpress, today the world’s leading online printer, took the 300 or so participants of the OPS anniversary on a personal journey through the history of online printing, from the first points of contact with print, the breakthrough of desktop publishing to the dotcom bubble and the current revolution through AI.

His learnings were particularly valuable and he was happy to share them: he emphasised the great importance of family, friends and colleagues in building a successful business, the unrelenting goal of wanting to serve customers better and better, and digital, highly automated production and mass customisation. More topical than ever was his fourth insight, which describes a formula for success in the future: “The groundbreaking innovations that have brought so much success to online printers over the decades are far from over, quite the contrary. There are still enormous opportunities ahead. I believe that as obvious and simple as these lessons may sound; they are applicable to anyone who wants to build a great online printing business”.

An award for the online print pioneer

Robert Keane was able to add another chapter to his success story directly on stage. On the occasion of the anniversary edition of the Online Print Symposium, he was presented with the “First Pioneer of Global Online Print” award. The laudation was held by none other than Thorsten Fischer, who as founder and CEO of Flyeralarm is also considered a pioneer and trailblazer of online print in Germany and Europe.

Why customer dialogue is particularly important

Bernd Zipper, founder and CEO of zipcon consulting, also touched on the promising opportunities that online printing will offer in the future in his eagerly awaited presentation. Because despite the challenges posed by the pandemic and the consequences of the war in the Ukraine, there is no reason to panic, he said. At least not for those companies that consistently transform themselves digitally and use current developments to their advantage – and by that he meant not only the topic of AI, but also the way potential customers are reached:  Social commerce instead of social selling – and above all conversational commerce are the trends of the hour. Zipper emphasised that in the future it will be particularly important to enter into a real dialogue with customers, and to do so on all channels. This is how online printers can position themselves successfully and competitively for the future.

Operational excellence and sustainability in online print

Mark Young, Managing Director Print of the Bluetree Group from the UK, then used his own example to show how printing companies can operate successfully in the market. His presentation focussed on “operational excellence” and used various questions and corporate values to underline how continuous improvement of the company’s own performance and corporate culture can be promoted.

The presentation by Dr Ralph Dittmann, Managing Director of the WKS Group, met with particular interest. With an impressive and fact-based presentation he showed how sustainable print products are. He made it clear that many of the widespread prejudices about the printing industry’s supposedly poor environmental and climate balance are unfounded. As one of the largest supplement printers in Europe, he gave current insights into the usage behaviour of print and digital brochures and drew a realistic picture of the CO2 footprint of print products, thus correctly classifying the current discussion about the advertising brochure. And he advocated the approach “Innovation instead of prohibition!”, as this promotes ecological and economic action.

In the subsequent panel discussion entitled “Mass Customisation vs. Mass Production” , in which Dr Ralph Dittmann and Dr Michael Fries (Vista) were joined by moderators Bernd Zipper and Jens Meyer, it became clear that both high-volume and personalised print products have a successful future ahead of them.

This year, the OPS stage also provided the setting for the topic of artificial intelligence. With Dominik Haacke and Tobias Kaase from mediaprint solutions GmbH, two experts gave insight into the implementation of their own AI project. The AI they have developed allows to plan and optimise orders in a prior stage. This makes it possible to control processes and production in advance and save time and resources.

Insight Pitches are once again a complete success

Speaking of innovation: This was also present in concentrated form in the Insight Pitches. This year, six exciting start-ups presented their business ideas. Among them at the Online Print Symposium 2023 were:

  • Martin Ridder from Ayke on “Unique pieces for everyone! – Mass Customisation with Generative Art”
  • Axel Lilienblum from grow.photos on “”Growing” photo books in a subscription model”
  • Andrei Andreescu from twoworlds on “Create and sell your own personalised books with two worlds”
  • Phillip Bock from Prinnit on “Simple and direct! Thanks to AI, orders find manufacturers”
  • Leon Lemcke from Boxsys on “Boxsys, the only fully comprehensive Web2Pack and Web2POS shop solution developed from CAD packaging design”, as well as
  • Markus Morawe and Stephan Uder from Tessutura GmbH on “From manual to automated production processes”.

From the metaverse, online print marketplaces and artificial intelligence

The second day of the Online Print Symposium took the participants into the metaverse first. Björn Ognibeni, Strategic Director XRLab-MCM at the University of Münster, spoke about the extent to which the metaverse has become reality and where it is already being used. Peter Bottenberg, Managing Director of Moss GmbH, on the other hand, devoted himself to mass customisation in large format printing and what role the “human” factor plays in the change management process, while Patrik Knutsson, founder and platform architect of Print.Page, addressed the question of whether marketplaces and print brokers have a future.

Meta Digital Flyer or Printed Flyer? Not “or”, but “and”!

Kim Koszuszeck, Client Partner Retail at Meta, then spoke about the future in the form of “Offer Communication 3.0”. He spoke about Meta’s current experiences with digital brochures in retail and why this will not be the death knell for printed brochures. On the contrary, because he had results from five different GfK studies in his luggage, which show, among other things, that the front-runner in terms of net reach is still the physical advertising brochure (55% vs. 41.8%), even if in the 20 to 59 age group the digital flyer has a slim lead (53% vs. 48.1%).

Another exciting parameter was the potential for increasing sales, which was between 9 and 38 % for the physical flyer and between 5 % and 15 % for the Meta Digital Flyer. Despite the fact that Meta is naturally closer to the digital flyer and many retailers are currently jumping on the trend, Koszuszeck’s summary was that the greatest power lies in the combination of physical advertising brochures and digital offers and that therefore not the “or” but the “and” is the best strategy.

ChatGPT: The biggest revolution after Gutenberg’s printing press?

“At least!” was the answer given by Jörg Schieb, digital expert at ARD and specialist book author, in his closing keynote at the Online Print Symposium 2023. He helped to classify the current developments around ChatGPT-4, language models and image generators and explained what innovative power lies in these technologies and why they are of enormous importance for the future. Because one thing is quite certain: “Artificial intelligence has come to stay!”, Schieb is convinced of this.

“The atmosphere at the tenth Online Print Symposium was great – and topped all our expectations. Anyone who sees how intensively the topics are discussed here and new contacts are made will also understand why online print is the engine for the entire printing industry,” moderator and co-organiser Bernd Zipper summed up. And Jens Meyer adds: “The Who’s Who of online printing meets at the OPS. An international meeting place for everyone who is enthusiastic about online print. And the best success is when every participant says at the end: See you at the OPS 2024!

The countdown to OPS 2024 has started

The date for the next OPS has already been set: on 14 and 15 March 2024, the online print community will meet again at the Science Congress Center in Munich-Garching. Everyone should mark this date in their calendars now.

The latest information about the Online Print Symposium is available here: https://www.online-print-symposium.de/en/