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McIlroy--Publisher's Newsletter Pays Tribute to Printer

March 1999
I was planning to write another highfalutin' column about the Web this month.

But then, today, I received the January newsletter from Friesens, a printer in the Canadian Midwest. I was so impressed by it that I decided to write, instead, about a really good printing company and the really good work it's doing.

I've known Friesens for 20 years. In my former life, I was a book publisher in Toronto, Canada, and Friesens was one of the companies I used to print my books.

I knew the company as a good, professional supplier, but I didn't know the organization well. I dealt with Bob Hamilton, the (recently retired) Toronto branch manager, while the head office and plant was about 1,000 miles away in Altona. Eventually, I met David Friesen, the second-generation head of the company, but only briefly.

In 1984, I briefly met David again, and we had lots of stories to share about the travails of publishing in Canada. By 1987, I no longer owned my own company, but I was still in the publishing business, and David, who was organizing his annual Toronto book manufacturing seminar, asked me to speak about the new developments in desktop publishing. That was the event that launched me in the seminar business.

After moving to the United States in 1988, I lost touch with David and lost sight of his company. We didn't meet again until five years ago at an NAPL seminar. At that time, he put me on the mailing list for his occasional Publishers' Newsletter, and I've used it to track his progress since.

The Publishers' Newsletter is an informal piece, printed two-sided on 81⁄2x11˝ sheets. David always writes it, and it bears his warm and informal voice. I'm always struck by its frank tone. If things are going poorly, David explains why. If things are going well, he's not shy about owning up to a banner year for sales (as most of his years appear to be).

Let me devote the rest of this column to quoting from the January 1999 edition of the Publishers' Newsletter and adding a few comments along the way.

On page 2 (of 11), David points out that "1998 saw continued change in our electronic prepress area, though not the fundamental change we had seen in previous years. Both our customers and ourselves appear to be much more comfortable with the use of computers for prepress and, while the inevitable glitches appeared, things did go relatively smoothly."

Well, that certainly confirms my impression of what's happening for most printers. Electronic prepress is really settling down. He goes on to say: "1998 was the year we finally threw out our last camera. Yes, the once 'can't do without' OPTICOPY was finally made redundant and removed from our plant." I think 1998 was a year when a lot of printers sent their last cameras packing.

But wait. "Interestingly," he continues, "it was bought by another printer." Well, I guess the industry is not yet 100 percent digital! At Friesens, David writes, "We do still receive some camera-ready material, but it is now scanned and turned into digital data."

Honest, Informal Update
In the "Electronic Prepress Update" section, David points out that "in the press area, we can buy a new piece of equipment and expect it to perform well for 10 years. In electronic prepress, after 24 or 36 months, whatever we have is outdated."

I think most printers can identify with that, although I'd offer an observation that printers are starting to stretch the life of their imagesetters and scanners. At Friesens, they're gearing up for computer-to-plate, which is expected to take place later in the year.

Another section of the newsletter deals with "Acceptable File Types." Apparently Friesens, like most printers, is getting a lot more Microsoft Windows files, although, as David explains, "Macintosh has been the leader in the graphic arts field, and many, including ourselves, still think they are."

The Windows files are causing problems. Friesens advises that, while color files produced from the Windows versions of QuarkXPress (version 3 only) and PageMaker (version 6 only) output without problems, just about every other Windows application (including Ventura Publisher, Frame-Maker and Corel Draw) are rated either "X," meaning that "jobs tend to be very problem-prone," or "C/R," meaning that camera-ready lasers are the only certain output. This corresponds with what I'm still hearing altogether too often.

I've impressed by Friesen's Publishers' Newsletter. It's a great example of a simple, informative, personal newsletter that helps to bring really good customers closer to a really good printer.

Many printers could take lessons from its format and content.

—Thad McIlroy

About the Author
Thad McIlroy is a San Francisco-based electronic publishing consultant and author, and serves as program director of Seybold Seminars. He welcomes comments at

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