With an annual turnover of US$ 800 million per annum, Saudi Arabia's printing industry is the largest but also the oldest in the Gulf region – but what makes it tick?
Saudi Arabia. The name normally conjures up visions of a country laden with oil with vast expanses of desert. In reality, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has the largest economy in the Middle East coupled with an excellent standard of living and a stable currency.
Being the economic powerhouse of the region, the Kingdom has an operating environment conducive for businesses ranking 26th out of 189 countries in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2014 report. Making the country the easiest place to do business in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Although enforcing contracts in Saudi Arabia can be complicated, requiring some 40 procedures.
The Kingdom is committed to economic openness, has flexible labour markets and low taxes with businesses in Saudi Arabia paying a tax rate of 14.5% of total profits, in addition to the 20.0% corporation tax. Saudi Arabia's membership of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a political and economic union removes all barriers to cross-country investment and services trade with the other five member states Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, and the UAE.
An expanding economy, a growing population, improvement in the levels of education, increased social and cultural activities and expansion in retail have all led to major growth in the Saudi printing sector. Creating a demand for printing services and equipment now standing at 8% per annum.
In recent years the government developed new communication infrastructures, transport routes and state-of-the-art industrial complexes throughout the country. Coupled with Saudi Arabia's strategic geographical location as a crossroads for the region, allows the print industry to offer services not only in the Kingdom but also other Gulf states and neighbouring north African countries such as Sudan, Egypt and Eritrea.
Recent fluctuations in the oil market are putting increasing pressures on the country to diversify its economy. As a direct result of the government's diversification initiatives away from the oil industry, the printing industry has seen an increased investment.
The Saudi print industry is a traditional one as is the way of life and values of the country. Modernisation is happening slowly, and the Kingdom is adapting to the latest technologies. Major industry manufacturers such as Canon, Agfa, Fujifilm, Kodak, HP and Mimaki have been focusing on introducing the latest technologies in digital printing in Saudi Arabia.
Digital printing, although the smallest market share is showing a robust growth taking 10% of the overall market. This sector has a high potential to expand as the demand for long runs is shrinking, and short runs and variable printing are becoming increasingly popular.
Packaging is the largest print sector followed by commercial printing, then large format printing, expected to be one of the key growth areas in the regional market. However, there hasn't been much focus on the digital textile printing market as it is still a developing market.
Saudi businesses sourcing machinery and technology tend to buy on a global basis not favouring European or Asian suppliers. “Quality of technology is a key factor in the Saudi market over price or energy efficiency given the fact resources are at a low premium in the oil-rich Kingdom”, explained Pratik Sardesai Marketing Manager at Eastman Kodak. "Quality being the key factor and despite attendance at worldwide trade shows the preference of Saudi businesses would be to prioritise local agents."
Dealerships such as market leaders Copatra Graphics have expanded their business by offering their customers the latest digital machinery such as Agfa's Jeti Titan range. Overseeing the Saudi markets requirement of advanced digital technology combining high-resolution quality and production speed.
However as Digital Sales supervisor for Copatra Graphics, Eyad Nazzal remarked, "The digital printing market in Saudi Arabia is still a virgin one. However, there is huge market potential but customers have to be informed of the advancements and strides in technology being made in digital printing a range such as the Agfa Titan offers."
"If we compare the Saudi market to neighbouring counties such as UAE or Qatar one can see a huge different in the difference in the printing technologies used, with Saudi Arabia lagging behind."
Although not a legal requirement in the Kingdom, environmental concerns in the print industry have begun to take shape. Independently, albeit in small clusters, the industry is addressing the need to meet demands from a growing number of environmentally conscious customers. Of particular concern in this desert kingdom with a rapidly rising population, is water scarcity and water conservation. Both are critical.
Caravan Industries, a leading wide format print house in the port city of Jeddah, has taken up the environmental challenge recently by acquiring four HP Latex 3000 Printers. Given the range's green credentials, this enables the company to meet heavy production requirements and give superior quality output produced via a process that is aligned to their environmental objectives.
Overall the print industry in Saudi Arabia as a market is open, dynamic, rapidly developing and adapting to the changes new print technology offers.