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Maryland Comp A Survival Story --Waldman

June 2003
Luigi called me the other day, and it was good to hear from him since we haven't spoken in quite some time. He calls himself Luigi as do almost all of his friends. But he is not a guy that just arrived from Naples. He was born in Philadelphia, in the good old U.S.A., and his real name is Louis. He is of Italian descent and relishes in it to the extent that, well, he's Luigi.

It's just that persona which gives him a unique character that makes him likable, very popular and the good salesperson who worked with me for years. After all, you have to admit so many of us are Italian at heart. The food, the wine, the culture, the cars, Giorgio Armani suits—are compelling reasons to make me an Italian wanna-be.

But perhaps we should move on from dreams of driving a Ferrari through spectacular mountain roads along the Mediterranean sea to a little bistro on the Amalfi coast where the best linguine with clam sauce you've ever tasted is waiting to be savored.

When Luigi told me he works for Maryland Composition I was surprised, to say the least, that the company was still in business. Maryland Comp is a company that I knew back in the heyday of the book composition business. Frankly, I didn't think that this business could survive. Luigi told me that not only is Maryland Comp still around, but some of its contemporaries also survived. Of course, this peaked my curiosity and I had to ask Luigi to explain how they did it.

But first, understand that when I talk about book composition I am not talking about the typesetting of novels. Rather, I'm referring to what was the complex task of typesetting, making up and producing film for math, chemistry, biology and medical books with hundreds of images. Computer composition systems like Penta and Miles that helped automate the task, coupled with a highly organized production staff, contributed to a flourishing business during the '80s.

Skills Needed

Although automation at that time is not what we think of today, it required highly skilled mark-up and make-up people. Even as desktop publishing was obsolescing traditional advertising typographers, the book typographer who had systems and personnel skilled in doing specialized titles still prospered—simply because of the complexity of the task. But progress and time caught up to even this niche and, by the mid-'90s, failures were becoming everyday events.
 

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