The Path to Survival
It was late 2011, and the United States Postal Service (USPS) was in trouble. Operating costs were rising almost as rapidly as mail volume was declining, and the organization was hemorrhaging money. So, in a bid to stay relevant and stave off impending bankruptcy, the USPS ran a TV commercial:
A refrigerator has never been hacked. An online virus has never attacked a corkboard. Give your customers the added feeling of security a printed statement or receipt provides—with mail. […]
The USPS had survived 236 years of snow, rain and gloom of night—but in technology it had met its match.
It's the same struggle faced by the continuous and multipart forms industry. "This market continues to be contracted by technology both on the single and multipart side," said Tim Urness, vice president of Royal Business Forms & Printing, Brooklyn Park, Minn. "The orders that are left are oftentimes repeated with less parts than the previous run, which also erodes the overall market."
That kind of erosion—the market has shrunk 10 percent each year on average since the peak in 1997, said Urness—has taken its toll on the forms business. And while much of it is directly related to the rise of the laser printer and the shift to digital alternatives, technology has only been part of the problem.
According to Jeff Russell, president of Major Business Systems, Inc., Hillsborough, N.C., the technological revolution and the recessed economy have contributed to overcapacity in the forms market. "The resulting net effect is depressed pricing versus rising cost, creating extreme demands on manufacturers to create cost efficiencies internally," he explained.
Even in the markets where forms have remained strong, recent developments have threatened to hinder sales. Russell pointed to government legislation and funding aimed at accelerating the conversion to electronic forms, noting its impact on the healthcare and manufacturing markets in particular. "Traditionally, manufacturing industries have been significant users of multipart products," he said. "[But] unless there is a change in the government's position toward business, this market faces continual decline as well."