At first glance, the financial printing industry appears to be facing an uphill battle in surviving the digital age.
After all, the industry has received increasing warnings of the imminent demise of its traditional business: printing reams of government-mandated forms, brochures and securities prospectuses.
Since May, companies have been required to make electronic filings of initial public offerings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Moreover, the SEC announced in 1995 that companies could meet federal disclosure regulations in many cases by delivering financial information electronically. Investors can now find plenty of information on-line. And a site on the World Wide Web is becoming an increasingly important corporate brochure. So what is the financial printing industry to do? Why, embrace the very technologies that are threatening their core businesses, including the electronic SEC filing system known as on Edgar (for Electronic Data Gathering, Analysis and Retrieval System), Web publishing and CD-ROMs. As a result, financial printers are surviving, even flourishing. The three industry leaders, Bowne & Co. of New York; R.R.Donnelley Financial, part of R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. of Chicago, and the Merrill Corp. of St. Paul, Minn. had combined sales of exceeding $1.1 billion in their most recent year. Bowne alone reported sales of $501.4 million, an increase of 28 percent over the previous year. Because different printing jobs require various expensive presses, the industry is specialized. As well as offering competitive ink-on-paper printing rates, financial printers must know how to handle the many particulars involved in producing SEC-approved documents, including timing, paper and typeface sizes, and confidentiality requirements, as well as proofreading and other services. This expertise, printers say, includes electronic communications. Of the 63,064 filings made in the first four months after Edgar went on-line on May 1996, 12,138 of them were handled by Bowne, with the three industry leaders together filing 40 percent of all electronic submissions. In addition, there are numerous sites dealing with initial public offerings on the Web, calling for Internet publishing expertise that printing companies are eager to offer. "How do you think these IPOs get on the Web?" asked Tom Vos, marketing vice president for Bowne. "People come to us and say, `We still need those 100,000 paper copies to distribute to our clients, but we now need the electronic version,'" he said. "In the last year or so, those same clients are saying, `We still need those 100,000 paper copies, we still need the electronic distribution, and we now need a version suitable for the Web. …