Exclusive interview : what is Robert Keane's vision about online printing in 2020 (Cimpress)

Robert Keane, founder of Vistaprint and CEO of Cimpress

As a new year is starting, I open a series of interviews of key leaders in online printing. I'm very glad to start with Robert Keane, Vistaprint founder and CEO of Cimpress, where I worked a couple of years ago. I had the opportunity to interview Robert to share his insights about where the online printing market is going in the next twelve months.
  • Ludovic Martin : Hi Robert, thanks for accepting this interview. I'm really happy to talk with you about the trends in the web-to-print business. In 2019, major online print groups like Cimpress or Cewe saw a slowdown in their growth, while smaller companies were growing faster and raising funds. Do you think this trend will change in 2020 ?
  • Robert Keane : “in fact, Cimpress’ European “upload and print” businesses had very nice growth in unit volume in 2019 even though our revenues grew slower in the past due to our price reductions. We expect to see a continuation of that trend in 2020. It isn’t pleasant to give up margin for volume, but we are committed to continue invest to grow our long-term market share, measured in unit volume terms. Also, it is important to keep the relative size of the competitors in perspective. Every 1% that Cimpress grows is worth more than €25 million in increased Cimpress revenue from one year to the next. None of the startup companies are achieving even that amount of growth, and Cimpress is growing much more than 1% per year.”

  • Ludovic : the webtoprint landscape is changing in Europe with the raise of marketplaces and price comparators. Do you believe Marketplaces like Amazon or Ali Baba will change the game in printing like they did in other industries ? 
  • Robert : “I am not sure that Amazon or Alibaba specifically be the companies who will do this. For instance, I would also add Google to any list of players that increase the ease with which customers can compare prices. But whoever drives the trend, I do agree that market will continue to move towards more price transparency. Easy online price comparison is becoming normal in almost every market, from automobiles to travel to restaurants to groceries to shoes. People would be naïve to think that printing is going to be an exception to that economy-wide trend. ”
“Easy online price comparison is becoming normal in almost every market (…). People would be naïve to think that printing is going to be an exception to that economy-wide trend”

  • Ludovic : in that context, do you plan to reactivate Cimpress Open for third-party fulfillers, or do you prefer focusing on the internalization of Fulfilment ? 
  • Robert : “we continue to grow with many third-party fulfillment partners. It is true that we are outsourcing some things and we are bringing other items in-house but, when you look at the total we are continuing with a similar mix to last year. As to your specific mention of “Cimpress Open”, we do not plan to reactivate that project which was a centralized Cimpress-wide effort. Instead, we have decentralized outsourcing decisions to our frontline leaders across the various Cimpress-owned businesses. They are best placed to work closely with our highly valued print fulfillment partners.”

  • Ludovic : for 2020, do you believe that the need of sustainable printed goods will incite customers to shift to shorter Fulfilment circuits ? if so, what do you plan at Cimpress to improve sustainability of your products ?
  • Robert : sustainability is very important to today’s customers, as it should be, and Cimpress is very committed to sustainability. Almost all of our paper is certified to be sustainably sourced, we have significantly reduced our carbon emissions over the past five years and will continue to invest millions of dollars every year to reduce them further. As to shorter fulfillment circuits, Cimpress produces in Spain, France, the UK, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany and Italy. And when you include our third-party fulfillment partners, we have well over 100 production locations spread across Europe, in even more countries. Any acceleration of a locally sourced trend should not only help the planet, it should be helpful to Cimpress. 

  • Ludovic : many online printers are focusing again on the resellers market with the launching of closed portal. What’s your position on this trend ? Do you believe that in the next years there will still be a need for graphic art professionals ?
  • Robert : absolutely, graphic art professionals will be needed forever. Designing a beautiful printed communication requires expertise, both aesthetic and technical. Many of the best end-customers are not willing to risk their brand image with “do it yourself” approach any more than they want to stop using their “expert comptable”. But, frankly, I think the specific distinction between open versus closed is a bit of fake news. I say that because “reseller-only” online printers sell to open portal competitors, including the startup W2P companies who, in turn, are some of the most aggressive open portal competitors. And most closed portal specialists have other W2P brands which sell direct to end customers. So, my position on the trend is that what really matters to win the business of resellers is for online printers to serve their needs really well. Cimpress remains by far the biggest supplier to resellers in the market because our businesses, like Exaprint for example, provide resellers with fast delivery, great quality, beautiful white label catalogues and samples, a wide and deep assortment of products and finishing options, and low prices.
“Many of the best end-customers are not willing to risk their brand image with a do-it-yourself approach…”
  • Ludovic : the Brexit, the raise of nationalisms, the tensions between the USA and Europe or China... do you think that the global context may have an impact in 2020 on the online printing industry ? 
  • Robert : “unfortunately, the answer is probably that yes, there will be an impact. This will likely be felt across all parts of the economy, not just for online printing.”

  • Ludovic : as a conclusion, what can I wish you and your teams for this new year ?
  • Robert : “that Cimpress gets faster and hungrier in service of our customers.”

  • Ludovic : Thank you Robert !