Future in doubt as DRUPA cancels 2021, focuses on virtual

DRUPA 2021 has been cancelled, a four-day virtual show to take its place while the 2024 date still stands.

But it's not the inevitable announcement - made a couple of minutes after midday yesterday - that draws attention, so much as the focus it places on the future of the print industry's greatest trade show, and trade shows in general.

DRUPA was to have been held from April 20-28... or June this year... or in 2019, after the idea of a three-year cycle was floated but rejected.

Given that April is too early for any sort of COVID-19 vaccination programme to have had any impact - or even started in most countries - a further postponement was necessary but unthinkable.

DRUPA organisers have turned the focus on a four-day digital event titled 'virtual.drupa' from April 20-23 - during the time-frame of the intended show - and on the 2024 event, May 28 to June 7.

But if 2020 has taught us anything, it's that nothing is any longer set in stone, and the industry in any case will have changed enormously by then, as it has since DRUPA 2016, and most of its biggest exhibitors had already dropped out of 2021.

The response in individual countries will vary: Australia's Pacprint - which was moved in May to September 28-October 1, 2021 to regain its "DRUPA gap" - looks reasonably secure, and live events have already been held in Asian markets such as China.

Britain's IPEX suffered a slow death with its move back to London, and in the newsmedia sector, WAN-Ifra's IfraExpo had already been impacted by a changed industry and a smaller pool of potential exhibitors following mergers and business closures.

The Global Financial Crisis had already showed heavy metal press and postpress makers they didn't need to build massive exhibits - "networking areas" would suffice - and that software could be shown on a laptop anywhere, any time. Virtual events have also become slicker and more effective during this COVID year.

The official announcement has Messe chief operating officer Erhard Wienkamp blaming the uncertainty caused by the pandemic, exacerbated by "travel restrictions and budget constraints" in the printing industry. Project director Sabine Geldermann justifies the virtual event as part of its "primary goal" of supporting the industry.

With a lot of skin in the game as chairman of Koenig & Bauer, DRUPA president Claus Bolza-Schünemann supports the virtual event - previewed last October - as "exactly the right format in the current time".

VDMA's Markus Heering says trade fairs are still in demand to drive business forward. "In the long run, it is important for all of us to maintain DRUPA as an international platform in Europe, as it displays the diversity of our industry."

Note the domestic emphasis there.

Whither 2024? I'd say it's way too far ahead to speculate, but I wouldn't want to be paying the rent on Messe Düsseldorf.

Peter Coleman

Pictured: DRUPA 2016 attracted a large contingent of international visitors

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