Thermal Paper: Changing with the Times

After 15 years in the Direct Thermal Paper Market, and another 6 in the Printing industry, I have seen many new trends. I remember the days when the World Wide Web was going to replace Commercial Printing. The truth is it did make a negative impact for about a year, but I personally witnessed many Advertising Agencies move quickly to re-hire the “Graphic Designers” that were so easily replaced by “Web Developers”. The Commercial print that took a dive, quickly headed right back to almost normal highs, and all in less than 16 months! Granted this was in the Late 1990’s but this story is repeating itself again, or at least I hope so!

The Direct Thermal Market Today is one that is hard to explain in a few simple words, but I’ll give it a try: Rapidly Changing, Growing, Shrinking, Shortages, Price Increases, and New Technologies.

Rapidly Changing has several meanings to me. First, it means that daily new technology is being introduced that can and does use some sort of direct thermal ticket, tag, or receipt. This includes the introduction of new KIOSK machines across all markets as well as the deployment of Mobile Printers. This is leading to a Sub-Culture of Growth and Expansion in the Direct Thermal Paper usage.

To the contrary, the rapidly rising material costs, global thermal paper shortages, and the development of new technologies is causing some catastrophic, long-term effects. Detailed information is available at: . Cutting to the chase, the effects could be a strong movement to eliminate the use of direct thermal paper, especially in the Point of Sale Markets. It also means that new technology is working to find alternative means of providing written communication.

Is the end of the “Purchase Receipt” upon us? Since I make my living printing and converting Thermal Paper, it is a thought that crosses my mind daily. Especially when I turn on my computer to see the rapid roll out of new technology, in the Point of Sale/Retail Markets. This is just one example:

In this example, Meijer is a Regional Supermarket Chain with approximately 240 locations. They are being faced with an increase in cost of Point of Sale Paper, almost monthly. These increases have been so quickly applied and compounded that it would not be un-realistic to believe that a comparison of year over year spend would increase by upwards of 40%. When you look at the Total volumes of POS paper used by a company like Meijer, you could easily conclude that the overall expenditures are up over $100,000-$300,000 on a very conservative basis. This is for the exact same POS paper they have purchased for years with the only change in pricing being Downward. This means that anyone with a financial responsibility at a company like Meijer, is taking notice of this increase and is investigating alternatives. The above Article Link is a great illustration of this.

Is this trend, just like “The Web is going to End Commercial Print forever”? I don’t think so. The difference is that major investments are being made in technology, by the End Users. These Investments need Pay Back and quickly. Therefore, it will be very hard to move from one extreme to the other.

Additionally, the US is very age segmented. As a father of a 13 year old, I see how he is using technology daily. Although I try to embrace technology, his level of comfort is almost too natural. Being in my mid- 40’s, I can remember using a word processer in College. There was an “Internet” but I didn’t hang around in my mom’s basement playing around with it or with computers… Once I graduated, I remember the discovery of This was an online phone book. “Who needs a Phone Book anymore?” It changed the way I conducted my personal sales, as well as the other sales reps working for me. If we had an appointment at 101 Main Street, I could send the Reps with a list of 100-110 Main Street, to stir up new business. As a younger Rep, I can remember many conversation from Senior Reps asking “How did you get this information?”

How about On-Line Banking? Personally, I try to never write an actual check or enter a bank branch. My mother is the exact opposite. She enjoys the conversations with the tellers and has great comfort in physically writing a check.

I don’t want to draw lines between generations, but as a general rule, we do have to acknowledge distinct differences.

This leads me back to previous statements about describing the Thermal Paper Markets. Changing seems to be a great choice. Change is Certain. Change is Current. Change is Real. We have already seen great consolidation of Thermal Paper Printers and Converters in the past few months. This further illustrates the disruption in Thermal Paper Demand, especially in the Point of Sale Markets. As in every industry, there is always room for Growth and Development. It is simply taking the effort to identify a direction, develop the plan, and initiate the plan that makes certain companies successful. On my desk I have a stone. Engraved on the stone is the following “Some people make things happen, Some people watch things happen, While others wonder what has happened”

How do you view changes in Technology?

Brandon Kent

Vice President, Telemark Diversified Graphics TDG