In 1982, Frank Spiteri decided to found Gutenberg Press with an investment of just €420. From a small garage, the company grew in strength year by year and moved to a purpose built facility in Tarxien in 1996. The new production hub allowed Gutenberg to expand into an international market. Within a few years, the company had established itself as a printer to the UK publishing market. As well as competing in the mainland European market, supplying books to a number of clients from different countries, Gutenberg was and still is serving the local market.
In recent years, Gutenberg has significantly expanded its international operations. What would you highlight as the main milestones during this period?
The past few years have seen us focusing on strengthening our export markets. In 2004, we established a sales office in the UK, and today we are considered to be one of the top 15 UK medium enterprises in the printing industry. By 2008, the company was also competing in mainland Europe, supplying books to German, Belgian, Dutch and Swiss clients amongst others. The foreign market has been very successful for Gutenberg, with 60% of the company’s turnover being generated by exports, with the UK as our main export market.
What kind of production do you specialise in?
In general, we are a print company which produces books, magazines, reports, brochures, and carton packaging. However, our forte has always been high-quality printing, and we have invested heavily in very sophisticated machinery to be able to produce the high-quality publications that our clients are after. In 2013, Gutenberg established a new division, fully dedicated to the printing of carton packaging. In the future, the plan is to grow even further in the packaging sector.
What major developments have influenced the printing industry recently, and how would you describe the current situation that the industry is facing?
Over the last five years, the printing landscape has changed tremendously. The printing industry has been influenced by new technologies and devices such as e-books, but studies reveal that certain people still prefer to have an actual hard copy in hand. Since e-books have been introduced, we have to admit that there has been a downfall in the production and demand for books. However, the print industry is now seeing a rise again, and studies show that printed matter will not phase out as quickly as one was expecting it would. Moreover, there are certain types of publications that can never be replaced by an e-version.
What challenges are you facing as an organisation, and how do you tackle them?
In terms of export, one of the challenges that we are facing is that clients are now demanding more and in a shorter turnaround time. In addition, we have to provide just-in-time supply chains to minimise inventory obsolescence. We have to be flexible in order to adapt quickly to the customer needs and requirements. In terms of the local market, I think that one of the main issues is that the supply by far outweighs the demand of the market. Most of the time, given that supply is so high, it becomes a price war between the suppliers.
In terms of publishing and printing, what are the latest trends that are influencing your sector at the moment?
The focus now is for publishing companies to meet consumer demands with shorter print runs in order to reduce distribution costs. Today our clients order fewer copies than before. To minimise storage costs, clients may prefer to split, what used to be one order, into two if not three different orders in order to have less copies in stock. Another big trend at the moment is digital printing, through which an image is printed using digital files such as PDF, eliminating certain costs present in offset printing, such as the cost of aluminium plates. As regards to 3D printing, some may think that it is related or a direct competitor to offset or digital printing. However, 3D printing is something totally different from what Gutenberg produces.
From 2014 onwards, the Government has reduced the energy tariffs. Nevertheless, there is currently a call for a further reduction of tariffs. How does the costs of electricity affect your business?
The reduction in electricity tariffs has helped small and medium companies (SMEs) like ours, who are high consumers of electricity. We have seen a decrease in the costs, despite the increase of production over the last year. However, the bills are still considered quite high, although the reduction has definitely helped to minimise the burden.
What steps is your company taking in order to nurture talent with the relevant skills?
We get the impression that nowadays people are less interested in working in the printing industry than they were before. This is something that not only we are experiencing but it seems to be common throughout the country. In fact up until a few years ago MCAST used to have a course specifically for those interested in the printing industry. However, we have been informed that this had to be stopped mainly due to lack of interest from applicants. For this reason it has become even more difficult to find and employ skilled and specialised workers
How do you see the industry developing in the next 5-10 years?
When it comes to the publishing and commercial industry, although small changes are taking place all the time, up until now it seems that the industry will remain stable for the next 5 years. However, we are keeping a close eye and studying the market and industry all the time in order to try and adapt immediately to changes required by the market. On the other hand studies are showing that packaging will keep on increasing in years to come.
Blodwen Vella Spiteri graduated from the University of Malta with a Bachelor of Commerce Honours in Public Policy. After graduating, she started working with Gutenberg as a sales account executive. Today, she heads the sales team at Gutenberg Press, and as well as being one of the directors, she is Chief Commercial Officer.