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Printing Impressions’ 50th Anniversary — Ages-old Concerns

June 2008 By Cheryl Adams
Managing Editor
SOME THINGS never change. Which can be both a blessing and a curse.

This is especially true when you consider that necessity is the mother of invention: The need to resolve problems is often the best catalyst for change. However, the transformation process can sometimes take a very long time, be filled with trials and tribulations, and, in the end, yield bittersweet results.

Such is the case in the printing industry, where some issues seemingly have been around as long as Gutenberg’s press. As long as printing involves ink and paper, consumables will always be an ongoing issue. As long as printing involves a press, there will always be questions involving technology, capabilities, efficiency and labor. As long as numerous printers dot the land-scape, there will always be overcapacity and price cutting. As long as printing is a business, there will always be concerns about operational costs, productivity and profitability.

In 1958, when Printing Impressions made its debut, many of the problems facing readers then are essentially the same ones facing their counterparts today. In the 50 years of PI’s publication, much of the printing process has become more digitized and automated. Still, some things remain the same. And, inherently, some probably always will.

Here are some of the major issues facing printers in 1958 and 1959, as reported in our very first volumes.

• Sales, Profits, Productivity

Long before “DeWese on Sales,” there was a popular monthly series titled, “Selling—Man to Man,” along with a sidebar, “Peddling vs. Selling.” Both were written by E.A. Terhune.

“Slash High Labor Turnover” was another popular monthly series. One feature headline read: “How’s Your Profit Picture?” The subhead: “The cow who got along without eating until it died is no different from the firm that operates without profit.” Another article is on “Keeping Workers Satisfied: Employee Relations Is the Difference Between Profit and Loss.”

An interesting piece, “Price Conference Results Jolt Printers, Rate Estimating Erratic,” describes a study in which 26 Philadelphia printers were asked to submit price estimates on a job, and estimates varied by 1,500 percent. According to another article, “Specialized Markets Grow 30 Percent Higher Sales” in one year due to niche products, in this case, printing records for instrumentation and automation.

Still another article, “Prosperity to Reach New High Peak,” claims that 1959 is likely to be “the best year in printing history” due to an improved financial/business picture and positive economic report.

Innovation is the focus of a light-hearted feature on “Bike Beauties,” who caused quite a stir in Buffalo, NY, when printer Harry Hoffman & Sons hired two young, attractive women to pick up and drop off customer proofs on three-wheeled motorcycles.

• Rising Prices, Operating Costs

Headline: “Rising Costs Force Sale of Two Large Dailies.” Story: Cincinnati Post buys Cincinnati Times Star (after six years of losses, including $1 million in 1957). In a later issue of PI, the names, phone numbers/addresses and past experience of the laid off Times Star workers are given nearly full-page coverage to assist them in finding jobs.

“Publishers Challenge Higher Costs” reads another headline. The story continues by quoting the publisher: “Spiraling inflation and wage rates have far outstripped what little increases we have been able to achieve in productivity.”

“For Sale: Printing Plants.” PI runs classified ads to help printers sell their shops. An industry-wide push for cost control methods and the use of accountants is the focus of another article.

• Tech Trends

“Obsolescence Is Important Factor in Depreciation of Equipment” rings a familiar-sounding storyline.

Major editorial coverage outlines the New York Litho Show and its keynote presentations on production and equipment, wherein a wide range of problems involving presses, paper, cameras and ink are discussed. Another headline reads “Do Printers Understand Communications?” The article continues by detailing the consequences of not understanding modern trends in communication; for example, competition with other media such as TV and radio.

A feature is published on the top priorities for 1959, which claims that “Business forecasts come and go, but the deciding profit factors in your plant are contained in stronger management, better salesmanship and the physical maintenance of specific quality control standards.”

According to one article, the International Association of Electrotypers and Stereotypers believes the industry must face three challenges: management improvement, better training of personnel and a greater stress on research.

• Consumable Costs

An article addresses “Exacting Paper Qualities, Efficiency and Economy.” “Waste Paper Now Under Study: Problems of Reclaiming Paper to Make New Paper” blares the headline of another story. And another extolls, “Paper: Expanding Markets Examined,” which cites a 1958 government study projecting that, by 1965, paper use will increase 31.7 percent.

Here’s an article about foreign competition: “Soviet Union Sends Chaos and Paper to U.S.” (via 20,000 tons of bleached sulphite pulp.)

Freak accidents also received editorial coverage, including one about a highway accident in Woronoco, MA, that sent a truck careening down a 250-foot embankment, after which, 12,000 bottles of Lestoil household cleaner poured into Potash Brook, then into Pitch Hill Reservoir, and finally into pipes and equipment at Strathmore Fine Papers’ Woronoco Mill—making machinery slip and impregnating paper with the scent of pine.

• Postal Rate Hikes

At least one postal rate increase was reported in PI between 1958 and 1959.

Regular editorial coverage was devoted to this ongoing topic, including articles that cited industry organizations urging legislators to reduce postal service costs.

• Education, Labor

The Education Council of the Graphic Arts Industry sets up a scholarship/national school trust fund worth $500 per year for four years, but the amount will rise to $1,000 annually in 1959-60, according to one report. A new “Positions Wanted” page is published, where college and trade school graduates post their names and the types of graphic arts jobs they’re pursuing.

In an article about the New York School of Printing, a school official is quoted: “Graduates from the school hardly have time for the ink to dry on their diplomas before being absorbed by New York’s second largest industry: printing. The institution can’t meet the demands for New York printers.”

Multiple stories are published throughout the year about the critical need for manpower.

“Graphic Arts Education’s $20 Million Tab” headlines an article that reports at least 10,000 new people per year for the next eight years will be needed within the printing industry. In addition, the Education Council of the Graphic Arts Industry figures another 150,000 will be needed to meet demands of growth anticipated by 1965, which is expected to swell to 1 million workers.

Another announcement is made about RIT adding a two-year graduate program in graphic arts.

“We need skilled workers. Previous evaluations say 5,000 craftsmen are needed each year. However, a new report says 12,000 are needed per year,” states a PI editorial.

• R&D Efforts

A series on “How Research Pays Off” discusses everything from the mega R&D facilities that are emerging to testing color on newspapers to a profile on RIT’s printing research.

A news brief announces that the Printing Research Foundation was formed on January 19, 1959.

“Printing falls behind other U.S. industries in research,” cites one feature, noting, for example, that the chemical industry spends $250 million vs. only $6 million spent by printing/graphic arts.

• Regulations

Several articles detail various government issues; for example, “IRS Seizes Utica [NY] Plant” because local printer Jones-Stephenson Co. owed $10,205.

Another reports that Social Security raised taxes on workers in the graphic arts field $25 more on every $100 they earn. In an upbeat story, the author explains how a new federal tax break aids printers with their equipment purchases.

Other articles discuss how legislative developments affect the printing industry.

Fast forward 25 years (circa mid-’80s). Printing Impressions continues its editorial coverage on longstanding industry issues, many of which were the same problems printers encountered back in 1958.

Here is a sampling of that coverage in issues of the magazine during 1983 and 1984.

As the hunt for skilled labor labors on, help wanted and career opportunity announcements receive dedicated pages in the magazine for months on end. Various articles provide advice from industry experts on ways to retain employees, like profit sharing, bolstering morale and creating a better work environment.

Recession fears and growing concerns about profitability continue to command headlines, like “Bullish Over ’83 Sales, Printers Eyeing More in ’84” and “Uncertainty Ends 11-Month Rising Market.” Others depicted a changing tide: “Recession? No Way!” and “Print Outlook ’84. . .The Recession Stormclouds Have Cleared.”

Multiple features and regular series highlighted sales strategies and methods to increase productivity/efficiency. These included expansion into trade printing, profiting by establishing lifelong bonds with clients, delving into new and/or different markets such as “electro-tech publishing” (merging text and graphics), data gathering and database printing, plastic card printing, and niche printing for religious and nonprofit groups.

News of technology and trends fill page after page, issue after issue of PI, noting everything from the perils and pitfalls of new technology to marrying production systems (such as the coupling of web and bindery lines) to the controversy over web vs. gravure vs. flexo printing.

In the great continuous paper chase, many variables are reported, such as paper being in short demand, rising prices, and paper and pulp makers scoring considerable profit gains. Which makes the ongoing “war” between printers and paper mills all the more volatile, according to another article. Other stories ranged from concerns about web paper waste to the ROI of using metallized paper.

News on ink issues ran the gamut, including a major story on “Is One of the 4/Cs Cancer?” that revealed a “stray vat of yellow ink had been laced with a lethal dose of cancer-causing PCBs.” Additional coverage informed readers about new ink developments, ink and color issues, and “Keeping Ink Woes Canned.”

Government regulations, taxation and environmental legislation were still getting their share of attention, with stories that ranged from “Is It OSHA vs. Us?” about a $7 million damage suit against a printer for polluting, and “Alcohol, Oils and Feds,” which was about pollutants and volatility. Several articles were devoted to tax issues, such as “Printers’ Tax Clinic—Do You Really Want Uncle Sam as an Heir?”

And, of course, there are those dreaded postal rates and regulations, concerns about which were voiced in articles like “Face-Off: PIA & USPS” that details why the “two are at odds over the E-Com monopoly,” and “Postal Pointers,” which describes how “ratemakers are maneuvering, with pre-sorts up and Third-Class mail down.”

Now, let’s head back to the future. . . ’er, make that present day.

Many of these revolving, evolving issues are still with us in 2008. Just because it’s a new millennium doesn’t mean, as an industry, we’ve solved our age-old problems. The problem with problems is that some of them just won’t go away. Some concerns, whether we like it or not, are probably here to stay.

As a PI reader, just flip through past issues—from a decade, year or month ago—and you will see some of the most up-to-date information about those timeless troubles that are usually the catalyst of change. Often there is progress made, but often, too, the problems remain.

Because, after all, being a printer means there will always be concerns about technology, competition, costs, labor shortages, productivity and margins. Issues like these just come with the territory. PI
 

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