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The Simple Life? Not for Printers! --Waldman

April 2003
Robert comfortably sat in 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 whether I visit him at his oceanside house on the Jersey shore or his oceanside 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. He got rich 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 could solve the complex problem of choosing the right parents. But I will lift one glass in envy—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 an astonishingly dismal 3 percent of printers responding to a fall 2002 print market survey.

Since the economy historically goes through 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 to the simple life. Business is back, pricing is great. Have a few more glasses and, in your mind, you can envision that you're on Robert's ocean-side porch with no worries, nothing complex.

Complex Issues

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 makeup were simplified by desktop publishing, ending a whole subset of the printing industry—typographers. Need I go on about color separators, stripping departments, the lost printing of flyers due to the ease, cost efficiency and speed of broadcast e-mail, 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 too far under that porch to realize that digital cameras have taken over. According to TrendWatch, 82 percent of all U.S. commercial photographers use a digital camera, as do 75 percent 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 nonetheless.

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 sharpening tool, Unsharp Mask, probably has found it as difficult to use as the old stripper's technique it was named after. As a result, some printers and service bureaus have been able to maintain at least a small portion of that revenue by providing this service. Unfortunately, once again that will soon start to dissipate because new technology has dramatically simplified sharpening.

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; 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, yeah, I know you can go out and buy nik sharpener 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.

Remember Typography

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 client into better ideas and methods that produce revenues 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 percent of respondents to Vince's survey are really thinking about it.

That scares me; 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—to the good life—lots of worries, very complex, but I made it work.

—Harry Waldman

About the Author

Harry Waldman is a consultant and has been in the printing industry for 30 years. As a former company owner, he was well-known for implementing cutting-edge technologies. Waldman is also an author. His book, Computer Color Graphics, published by GATF Press, enables readers to learn today's graphic software quickly by teaching the essential concepts. He can be reached by e-mail at harry@harrywaldman.com.
 

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