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PrintAction - 1415
Media Agility
PRINTACTION ­ March 2004
knows that if you want to get the most up-to-the-
moment information, go online, not to the newsstand.
But that doesn't mean printing isn't a great com-
munications medium. There are so many wonderful
things about print, so many things we can remind the
public of, without trying to be IT-cool.
Packaging and labels are unquestion-
ably not going onto the Web. Stationery
and envelopes don't work there,
although email has greatly reduced vol-
umes in this category. And, yes, wallpa-
per and wrapping paper don't seem to
have an electronic equivalent as yet. In
nearly every other major category the
Web is at least a competitive medium
with print, in some cases better, in other
cases, not as effective.
There are some things that can be
done to make print more competitive,
there are other issues that cannot be
touched. For print to remain in the
running it has to address the challenges
that can be solved. These fall into the
areas of cost, turnaround and person-
alization. I'll look at these in more
detail on page 28, but for now I want to
examine the impediments print faces
in trying to get its act together.
Frank Cost, a professor at the College of Imaging
Arts and Sciences at RIT wrote a research monograph
that was published in late 2002. Innocuously titled
Design to Production: The Critical Interface, it might
have been better titled, Why the Printing Industry is
an Inefficient Mess. Cost outlines a host of reasons for
the inefficiency in several different areas.
One that he covers particularly well is the dynamic
of colour printing today. "The underlying reality in
colour print buying is that the client does not know
what he wants until he sees something physical. In
common practice today, that something is the con-
tract proof made by the printer," writes Cost. "Print
buying is like buying a bottle of wine in a fine restau-
rant. The purchase is agreed to only after the wine has
been tasted. But unlike the wine tasting analogy,
where the first bottle is rarely rejected, in print buying
the first proof is usually not acceptable. Print buyers
are like wine tasters who routinely send the first bot-
tle back but pay for it anyway (emphasis added).
Cost points out that printers are happy with this
arrangement. Proofing is a profit centre ­ the more
the merrier. But why are the buyers willing to embrace
what is apparently an illogical and inefficient process?
I argue that there is in face an unwritten and unex-
amined underlying conspiracy between print buyers
and print sellers. The buyer says to the printer: "You
continue to pretend that colour printing is incredibly
complex, thereby, justify the face that we get paid to
manage you. We in turn will agree that colour print-
ing is inherently very tough to manufacture, thereby
justifying the money we pay to you."
Look at press checks. In the survey, Cost asks the
question "For what percentage of your work do you
conduct press OKs at the printing company?" The
median response was 40 per cent! Forty per cent! This
is unbelievable to me. All of the technology to ensure
absolutely consistent colour quality from design to
proof to press is well in place today. There is absolute-
ly no basis in technology to support press checks. If a
press check is involved, either the buyer is incompe-
tent, the printer is incompetent (or has old equip-
ment) or both. Or, as Cost more gently puts it
" cultural issues... must come into play."
He continues to argue that print buyers are
demanding premium levels of quality without know-
ing how this will improve the performance of the
printed product in the marketplace. "Little objective
research has been conducted on the relative contribu-
tions of different characteristics of print to its effec-
tiveness as a medium of communication," he says.
"Without such research, the buyer's eye becomes the
only standard for determining whether the required
quality level has been achieved. With a better under-
standing of how print is actually perceived by the end
user, printers would be in a far better position to help
their customers make better print-buying decisions
and get higher return on their print investment."
Excellent points.
In his conclusion to the report Cost marvels at the
contradiction between the technology that makes it
possible "to nearly completely automate the file con-
version process, while the industry "still depends
heavily on skilled and expensive manual interventions
exercised at the eleventh make final correc-
tions or changes critical to the successful completion
of a job."
The cost of this inefficiency is shared by buyers and
printers. As a result, printing is a less attractive and
profitable business than it should be, and for the user,
a less predictable and affordable medium than it
could be.
Changes are required to printing and publishing to
help maintain print's viability in this millennium. In
the article Attack Plan 2004, I look at the opportuni-
ties and the challenges.
here are so many things that print does
well. It can offer great image reproduc-
tion in black-and-white or colour. It can
be tremendously portable. It can offer
immediacy. For most adults in North
America and much of the rest of the world, print rep-
resents a host of respected cultural values, values they
cherish and wish to retain.
And then along came the World Wide Web. Image
reproduction can be problematic. It's not as portable
as paper. The cultural values of print are lacking from
the Web. But, boy does it have immediacy. And inter-
activity. And low cost per impression. And a range of
other great features. As a result, it's kicking print's ass.
But few in the print community want to acknowl-
edge this. I haven't seen such an organized case of
denial since the introduction of desktop publishing.
Nothing so represents the printing community's
myopic defensiveness as the current slogan, "Print:
The Original Information Technology," adopted as
the heart of a print awareness campaign by the
Printing Industries of America (PIA), the Graphic
Arts Technical Foundation (GATF) and many PIA
affiliates "in a consolidated effort to unite an industry
and champion the value of print among the general
In an article about the campaign, the associations
claim that, "without print, other revolutionary infor-
mation technologies such as the telephone, the televi-
sion, the computer or the internet could not have
been invented." Technically true, I suppose, but hard-
ly the point. I think that this campaign is terribly mis-
guided. Does anyone really think that a popup banner
on The New York Times Website with the slogan
"Print: The Original Information Technology" is
going to encourage people to put down their mice
and head out to the newsstand?
Print as information technology? Wrong. Print is
not an information technology. That's not print's key
strength. Print is presentation. Print is portability.
Print is convenience. Print is tactile. Print is beautiful.
Print is not an information technology. It is a cen-
turies-old craft that presents ideas and images in a
manner designed to aid the reader to absorb the arti-
facts of our culture.
The internet is information technology. Everyone
By Thad McIlroy
ItŐs so easy to ignore the role of paper in this age
of the internet and of information explosion.
Paper. Who cares about that? ItŐs a wonderful
surprise to me to realize how much energy is going
into reinventing paper for the digital age. Most of
you now have experienced the new paper products
at office supply stores: 20-lb cut sheets with 93
brightness, and the marvelous substrates invented
for digital photographic printing. ItŐs not just
about brightness and luminescence: some of these
papers are archival, guaranteed to withstand
fading for 100 years!
Paper: A medium used to freeze digital information in
a form that cannot be modified or searched, is quickly
out of date, and requires an expensive infrastructure to
distribute and store.
­ Source: Gartner Group

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