A Profile in Print
Few industries in the United States have been as challenged by technological change as the printing industry. In the span of less than 30 years, printers have been fundamentally transformed from creative craftsmen into digital communicators. While increasingly sophisticated and expensive presses are still a printer's backbone, high-tech prepress and database services are now the printer's nervous system.
Thousands of printers either sold their businesses or, hoping the technology would go away, buried their heads in the sand and went under. The printing companies still in business today are those that embraced and met the many technological challenges along the way.
Predictably, print sales also have undergone dramatic change during this time. Just ask Ted Robison, sales and marketing manager for MailBlazer™, a line of direct mail products manufactured by Universal Forms, Labels and Systems, Inc. Robison was alumni director at Whittier College in 1971 when he was recruited by Don Bishop, then president of California-based Penn Lithographics, to be a sales representative.
"Don needed someone who could speak the same language as his customers in the education sector," said Robison. "I had been managing Whittier's direct mail campaigns and was editor of its quarterly magazine, so I basically learned about printing while on the job." Since those early days, the learning curve has gotten a lot steeper.
Robison remembers when IBM Selectrics took the business world by storm in the late '70s, rendering "hot type" obsolete. "Almost overnight printers' typesetting operations, as well as independent typesetters, disappeared as designers and marketers produced their own 'galleys' for printing," he recalled. "Art boards, rubber cement and Exacto knives were the tools of the trade then. I have many memories of type curling off of art boards on hot days in the back seat of my car."
Then came Apple's Macintosh computer and the desktop publishing revolution in the mid-'80s. Much to the chagrin of printers, new publishing software such as Adobe PageMaker and QuarkXPress allowed secretaries and bookkeepers to design and produce their own art boards. "It was [a] nightmare," said Robison, "because many of these people were untrained in either the software or design principles. Printers were spending hundreds of unpaid hours helping customers correctly prepare their artwork." To recoup lost margins, many printers brought design and prepress teams in house and started charging for their time.