is a smpmcer
Printing Impressions-April 2003 Column
The Simple Life? Not for Printers
Robert comfortably sat on the easy chair on his porch looking out at the ocean, held up his drink, and gave his usual toast to the simple life. It is a vision ingrained in my mind because I have seen him do it throughout the years wither I visit him at his ocean side house on the Jersey shore or his ocean side house in Florida. The simple life that Robert likes is great but there’s one complex problem- it takes money and Robert is a millionaire many times over. And he got it the easy way-he inherited it. Unfortunately for most of us we are not going to toast the simple life that Robert enjoys unless we solved the complex problem of choosing the right parents. But I will lift one glass in envy- Ahh to the simple life-no worries, nothing complex.

In GATF’s technology forecast for 2003 Vince Naselli of TrendWatch Graphic Arts points out that the top challenge printers feel they face are economic conditions. What’s more, pricing has jumped from fifth to third on that same list. Replacing jobs lost to the Internet or non-print publishing commonly called electronic media is a challenge cited by only an astonishingly dismal 3% of printers. Thus since the economy historically goes thru up and down cycles when it cycles back the majority of printers think they will be able to once again lift their glass and toast - Ahh to the simple life- business is back, pricing is great. Have a few more glasses and in your mind you can envision you are on Robert’s ocean-side porch, no worries, nothing complex.

But business isn’t simple. It is very complex. If you have been reading my columns you know where I stand on this, as I strongly believe that meeting the challenges facing print are more complex than anytime in history. Ironically much of this came about because of simplicity. Our great craft has been simplified. The complexity of typesetting and page make-up was simplified by desktop publishing ending a whole subset of the print industry-typographers. Need I go on about color separators, stripping departments, lost printing of flyers due to the ease, cost efficiency, and speed of broadcast email, and so on.

Looking at Vince’s report and talking with printers in the field further convinced me that printers were burying themselves under Robert’s porch or more likely under their own. OK maybe you have been hammered by hearing the big picture, the challenge of electronic media, from too many industry pundits. You’re bored and perhaps I am getting too repetitive. So I thought I would give you the tiny picture.

Hopefully you are not to far under that porch to realize that digital cameras have taken over. According to TrendWatch 82% of all US commercial photographers use a digital camera as do 75% of all creative professionals. And it’s growing as digital cameras continue to get cheaper and better, which means millions of amateurs out there producing digital pictures. Obviously we have all felt the impact on scanning. Still many in our industry have Photoshop experts that color correct and sharpen for the customer, a small revenue stream but profitable none-the-less.


Unfortunately, newer tools and plug-ins in Photoshop have made color correction simpler for those working with non-critical color images. Thus many of these pros and some amateurs now edit their own images and have become fairly good. Of course, further eroding that small revenue stream. But anyone who has ever used Photoshop’s sharping tool, Unsharp Mask, probably has found it as difficult to use as the old strippers technique it was named after. Thus some printers and service bureaus have been able to maintain at least a smaller portion of that little bit of revenue by providing this service. Unfortunately, once again that will soon start to dissipate as new technology has dramatically simplified sharping.

Nik multimedia has just come out with a Photoshop plug-in called nik sharpener pro that address the difficulty in using Unsharp Mask. It’s so simple to use that almost anyone can get great results with an extraordinarily low learning curve. It easily handles the problem of producing images that are not over or under sharpened. It can handle flesh tones and the edge of a building appropriately. Most important it sharpens specifically for the output task. When you sharpen you are looking at a 72 DPI image and you don’t visually see the effect on a 300 DPI image. Nik multimedia asks for the intended use Internet, Laser Printer, Ink Jet Printer or Press and sharpens accordingly.

But let me stop, as I am not writing a review on nik sharpener pro. I just want to illustrate that little by little much of what we do is becoming simplified to the point where we are not needed. Ok yea, I know you can go out and buy nik sharpner pro and make some money. No question but that’s not the point. The point is that new technology is easy and available to our customers and it’s coming from many different directions as lots of little scenarios eating away at us- let alone the big picture of the challenge of electronic media.

When the craft was complex it meant the simple life for us as that very complexity protected our turf. The simplifying of our craft creates complexity for us in keeping a revenue stream going. Print is still viable and still very important. But to continue to do what you did before, even when the economy comes back-and it will, quite simply means you may be out of business. Think of the typographers.

Perhaps our customers can lift their glasses and toast the simple life but we can’t. For us the solutions are complex and require a great deal of research and new strategies. Ask yourself questions. Am I investigating solutions for making my workflow fast, efficient, automated, and utilizing the Internet for document submission? Can I use that as a start and go further with more products and services for my customer? Am I analyzing my customer’s needs, not just immediate but future? Can I lead my customer into better ideas and methods that are revenue producing for me? Am I looking past the familiar to new ideas and solutions when I look at the traditional companies that supply me? Am I going outside and looking at non-traditional sources?

Most of all am I constructing a plan to face the competition of electronic media and the simplification of our craft? OK you have heard this before but it seems that only 3% are really thinking about it. That scares me as even though I am no longer a printer this industry is still part of the fabric of my life and I want to see my fellow printers succeed and prosper. So please start thinking about building a plan and next year make the challenge of electronic media number one on Vince’s list.

Perhaps things are too complicated to toast the simple life but Robert had another toast- to the good life. Hopefully the future will see most of my fellow printers lifting their glasses - Ahh to the good life-lots of worries, very complex, but I made it work.

Harry Waldman

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