On Which Side is the Bread Buttered?

July 29, 2007

It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. The latest releases of Adobe Acrobat and Acrobat Reader 8.1 include a button and a menu option that allows users to “Print to Fedex Kinkos.” Here’s the quote from Adobe’s website :

“As people increasingly communicate and collaborate across the Internet, Adobe Reader and Acrobat enable more trusted communication and collaboration with PDF, reliably reaching people around the world,” said John Brennan, senior vice president of the Platform Business Unit at Adobe. “By enabling FedEx Kinko’s Print Online functionality with Adobe Reader and Acrobat, people can simply and conveniently access FedEx Kinko’s printing services, which provides more options for working with PDF files — including professional printing and shipping via FedEx, right from the desktop.”

Simple enough. Adobe chooses to give preference to Kinko’s as an output provider to the exclusion of the remainder of the U.S. printing industry, which controls oh . . . probably about 96% of the commercially printed volume that does not land at Kinko’s. Here’s the question: Should the rest of us in the printing world have a problem with this?

Before Poor Richard weighs in, let me state the obvious. The rest of the printing world does have a problem with this. Adobe’s decision to give preference to Kinko’s as a print provider has unleashed an expected firestorm of protest from printing associations, franchises, and independent printers (see the NAPL/NAQP response).

It is very tempting to look at Adobe’s decision as just another random act of corporate stupidity. Let’s face it, we come up against this sort of thing every day. Joe Executive, way up in the pearly white tower, makes a “strategic” decision and all of a sudden an entire customer base is pronounced “non-essential.” Wasn’t this the character of Coca-Cola’s near fatal decision to introduce the “New Coke” as a total replacement for their established core product? But let us not succumb to temptation . . . this situation’s different.

First, Adobe has a defacto near-total dominance position in the design, prepress, printing and (conventional) publishing world. They have either developed the best software or purchased it (Macromedia). For example, until only a few of years ago, printers had a choice between Adobe’s Pagemaker or Quark Express for page layout programs. Quark, with slightly better functionality, actually had the edge on Adobe in the design market. This all changed with the introduction of Indesign and the Adobe CS. Quark simply didn’t keep up and exacerbated the problem with a series of heavy handed customer relations failures. Adobe gained market dominance. At this point, printers cannot leave Adobe Indesign because it is the page layout platform of choice for all of our customers.

Second, if we did leave, do we have a place to go? Certainly not to Microsoft Publisher. Corel is still around, but it only runs on the Windows platform and just feels kind of clunky. Many of us are also locked into heavy investments in .pdf techology. Adobe Acrobat and .pdf are in a sense the Rosetta Stone program and format that lets printers achieve any kind of uniform and predictable output from the great mish mash of stuff we receive. None of us would voluntarily choose a return to the vagaries of native file output and all of the errors, problems and cost that ensued from that process.

What does this all mean? Effectively, Adobe can do whatever they please.

At least for now, the printing world is locked into Adobe products and there are few (read no) viable alternatives. We can fuss and fume about Adobe’s decision, but we really have no place to go if we leave. Adobe has taken a calculated risk for some short-term gain and lost the respect of a very loyal customer base in the process.

Adobe may also have a bit of trouble with the consequences of their choice of preferred vendor. One comment on a printing forum suggested that the Fedex Kinko’s link would be better suited for the Known Problems section of the Help Menu. For many of us, Kinko’s has just not been much competition. In our market, they are actually an occasional source for customers who need a broader range of capabilities than our local Kinko’s provides.

Adobe has chosen a side of the toast to butter, with the not altogether unrealistic expectation that the unbuttered customers will just have to put up with it.

At least for now.

In the rapidly changing world of technology, it doesn’t take long for software to go the way of the Betamax, LP records or the land line phone. And royally ticking off a large portion of your customer base doesn’t do much for goodwill or loyalty. In fact, it tends to make agitated customers pretty receptive to the next best alternative that comes along.

Growing Older

July 18, 2007

The girl that I had a crush on my junior year in high school kind of had a crush on him. She was smart, though. She never allowed the attraction to affect her better judgement. David was and is one of the two most intelligent human beings I know. We met in the second grade. Dr. Dobson probably would have named David the prototypical “strong-willed” poster child.

He was the smartest kid in the class and very independent at 7. He lived in the country. Going to his house was fun. There were lots of woods to explore and we hiked what seemed miles in them. He liked G.I. Joe. I had never seen one before, but thought that the Gemini space capsule that was wrapped around the doll was way cool. We were friends for a year or two, but lost touch by the end of grammar school.

In 10th grade, one of my musician friends called and asked me to come sit in with some new people he had met. One of them turned out to be David. He was 16 and had picked up guitar. Let me restate that; I think he picked up the guitar at about age 12 and never put it down for 3 years. He had discovered the blues and listened to all of the guitar giants. David could play Albert King licks on a Les Paul without stringing it upside down. Like all of the rest of us, he was an Allman Brothers fanatic, and had learned to play slide guitar “just like Duane.” He was very good.

In those days, David had an ego larger than Robert E Lees’s carving on Stone Mountain. He had long hair in a pony tail and attracted girls like a magnet. The smart ones didn’t stay around him long, though. He could be tough to deal with. So could I. The renewed friendship was always a little tentative. The girl I had a crush on called him “obnoxious Dave.” I don’t know what she called me. I never got anywhere with her either.

When I left for college, David didn’t. I wasn’t really surprised. He was really a little too smart for that. I expected him to make it in music. He had the Macon contacts that were important in those days. David didn’t make it big, though. It was a couple of other guys in that garage band that went on to form a moderately successful 1980s band, REM. I lost touch with Dave, hearing about him occasionally.

I walked into Nu-Way hotdogs on Monday afternoon with the intent of getting something to go. I had wasted an hour on bureaucratic nonsense in an attempt to get the signs approved for AlphaGraphics. Nu-Way was a quick stop on the way back to work. I saw him sitting in the back and called his name. He put on his round glasses and looked just the same as he did at 18; pony tail intact but only a little older and with a receding hairline. He said that he was working on Robert Reichart’s mayoral campaign. Headquarters was right next door and Nu-Way was convenient. He was eating with another campaign worker.

We caught up. He talked, I mostly listened. I was introduced to the other campaign worker, but the poor guy got left out of the conversation. The ego was still there, but tempered a good bit by the years. He had published a newspaper, toured the country playing solo guitar, done some graphic design and writing. Both of his parents had died. His mom had Alzheimers and David took care of her during her last years. He told me that he lives in the country outside of Cochran and picks up odd jobs . . . carpentry work, campaign management and stuff.

At one point of the conversation, he looked me directly in the eye and said, “You know I was pretty much an ___hole in those days.” I told him that we thought that it was listed on his drivers license, that he was permitted for it. “I’m sorry for whatever I did,” he said.

Acknowledging both of our strong-willed tendencies, I apologized in turn. David went on to talk about his mom during her last days. I remember that her name was Pearl and that she could cook and that she and David did not get along well at all when he was sixteen. David said that he had inherited his personality characteristics from Pearl. During her last months, she spent a lot of time worrying about people she had offended over the years. She tried to track them down, but many had died before her. This made an impression on David.

It made an impression on me, too. We cut a wide path with our lives without ever realizing it. We can leave destruction and damage in our wake even when we don’t intend it. The New Testament has a lot to say about this and (thankfully) that we can be forgiven for it.

In our younger days, I was skeptical of anything that could be termed “religious.” David was downright derisive. Christians were “dearlords,” if I recall correctly. Never the intruding evangelist, I didn’t ask if he had come to an end of himself during his journey, if he had looked for something greater to hold on to, if he had discovered a need for God. I hope I get another chance to.

We don’t change but we do. We grow older, a little wiser, a little mellower, maybe more tolerant. David and I talked about another old friend that has moved to North Georgia. He quit drinking before he killed himself. When we’re young, we think we’re the masters of our own existence. We’re in control. Then we encounter trials and tests; our lives are bent and sometimes broken as God points out to us how very limited our control really is . . . and causes us to turn to Him and walk another way.

Check Your Printing Vocabulary

July 14, 2007

Readers . . . you have to check this one out. Ever wonder what the difference between a “gutter” and an alley is? What about “tombstones” and “daggers?” Check this link for a cool and creative way to beef up your printing lexicon – The Dark Side of Design


July 10, 2007

When AlphaGraphics moved, we landed next to a landmark, Grant’s Lounge. Many of my customers don’t have a clue about Grant’s when I reference it giving directions, but Grant’s is at the very least a landmark to my particular generation of kids who grew up amidst the music of Macon in the early 1970s. I generally don’t find it productive to ruminate around in my memories, but our close proximity to the Macon club that was frequented by so many of the Capricorn bands has stirred up some fond recollections.

I can’t say that I was a regular, but I was there some. I remember my first time in Grant’s very well. It was probably in 1975. I was friends with a couple of the Allman Brothers roadies that had a little side band called the Almost Brothers. They were playing at Grants on the weekends when they were in town and I had been invited to come and jam. I played drums . . . not very well, but that really didn’t matter in those days. Macon musicians were a generally friendly bunch and they took a lot of kids under their wings.

For some reason, the first memory that sticks were the photos of enormous nude women behind the bar. I had certainly seen photos of naked women before, but not of such magnificent girth. I never did find out why the photos were there or who had the fetish for large women. That day, we set up the equipment and did a quick sound check. At some point, I remember Mr. Ed Grant walking in front of the stage and lifting an eyebrow in my direction. I was a skinny kid of 16 with big hair. Drinking age was 18.

As I climbed out from behind the drum kit, I saw Mr. Grant again. He motioned to me and I walked over.

“Young man, do you know who I am?” he asked.

“Yessir, Mr. Grant,” I responded. My scrawny kid impression of Mr. Grant was big and imposing.

“Follow me. I want to show you something,” he said as he walked around the stage. We approached a door. “Young man, do you know what that is?” he questioned.

“Yessir, Mr. Grant, it’s a door,” I replied. I wasn’t missing the obvious.

“No, young man,” he stated, “that there’s the back door. The police, they come in the front door, you go out the back door. Understand?”

I did. And I remembered Mr. Grant’s admonitions during later visits to the club, but I never had to go out the back door. Grant’s was a very cool place in those days, with a fascinating clientele. The young musicians were there. The musicians that made it were there. Older musicians that liked to hear the young musicians were there. There were black people, white people, young and old and no one seemed to mind. It was a good time.

Mr. Grant died a couple of years back, I understand. The club is still open, though you wouldn’t know it in the daytime. Beautiful wife and I worked late on Saturday a couple of weeks ago and the joint was hopping. The clientele and the music are way different, though. The building is decrepit, though I’m not really sure that it wasn’t just as horrible back in the day. It’s been purchased by the same investors that sold and remodeled our building, and they’ll be restoring Grant’s when they find a buyer.

I don’t even drink anymore, but I’ve found myself wishing for a neat little club or restaurant next door where young people and older folks and black people and white people could go. They could listen to good music or play a little music and laugh and talk and get along and have a good time and nobody would mind. I’m older, and I’d like it a little neater and cleaner than the Grant’s I remember. . . and I’d prefer to skip the naked photos of large women.