Obsolete?

December 20, 2008

Lately, I’ve been feeling a little like the buggy manufacturer, who, annoyed at the loud and noxious belches of the new automobiles in the street, comments, “Those things’ll never make it . . . they scare the horses!”

The folks at the Alphagraphics franchise are going to be upset, but I’m going to say it anyway, “Printing on paper is  becoming obsolete.” Two items I encountered last week have led me to this conclusion:

First, I heard an article on NPR about the Detroit Free Press (Detroit Newspapers Cut Back Home Delivery). Citing cost and profit pressures, they’re phasing out print to and going to 3 days a week for their print publication. Their emphasis will be placed on their web presence.

Then, bumbling around online, I came upon the proceedings of an event called The Inbound Marketing Summit. This event was held in September in Cambridge, MA and was all about new marketing techniques — internet, social networking, and how businesses (even small businesses) can grow by attracting people who are interested in their products to their websites.  This, I guess, is opposed to old marketing that targets just about everyone and tries to drive them all into a place of business, even when they don’t want to go there (like Poor Richard at the mall at Christmastime).

I haven’t finished going through the site, yet, but videos of all of the breakout sessions are available.  The first video I watched was both exciting and frightening.   The title of the session was “R U Ready? Leveraging New Technologies to Propel Your Business,” presented by a gentleman named Greg Verdino.  I’ve embedded the video at the bottom of this post if you’d like to watch it.

With college aged kids, the fact that I’m no longer in the mainstream is brought home to me regularly. I just didn’t really understand how far out of the channel I really am.  At one point during the presentation, Verdino identifies the audience by their generation names. “I’m an ‘Xer’,” he states, “how many GenY’s are out there? Millennials?” He didn’t ask about my generation. I’m a Baby Boomer . . . ergo out of touch.

Sure, I’ve been blogging for a while. I’ve got a Facebook site and I’m playing with LinkedIn.  I’ve even tried advertising with AdWords . . . didn’t get very far. I’m really not even scratching the surface. But, until now,  it had simply never occurred to me that these forms of communication were really going to take the place of print on paper.

For my generation, it’s still natural to pick up a book or a magazine or a newspaper. I do like to look at the mail. As a printer, I enjoy the feel of paper. I feel more comfortable reading print on paper.  While my children read books, their information comes from the Internet.  Email was a major innovation for my generation. Verdino comments that email is not considered reliable by the new generation entering the workplace. They prefer to communicate through their personal network. And printers wonder why we’re not printing letterhead and envelopes any more!

Am I worried? You betcha.  It’s difficult to reinvent a small business whose livelihood is dependent upon a pretty significant capital investment in machines that print on paper;  especially in a recession that has reduced the volume of business (and consequently human and monetary resources) dramatically. Is print dead? Not yet, but it really is changing a lot.

I am certainly hopeful that there will be a place for the local printer . . . at least over the short to medium term. A lot of the commodity stuff has already been gobbled up by the online, gang run printers (See Poor Richard’s post Caveat Emptor!). Most good local print companies really enjoy working with our customers and much of our business comes from folks who either don’t have the time or the expertise to take their chances with the online print service providers. We have become, in essence, custom shops, specializing in projects that need to be handled correctly and quickly — projects that get lost in larger operations.

Many of us have expanded our range of services.  At our AlphaGraphics, we mail, we print signs, we put together packages and kits  and we fulfill orders for certain customers.  We also take on the occasional “crazy order.” That’s the one that we really don’t know how to do until we finish it, but figure that it’ll work out in the end.  These services are keeping us afloat, but we haven’t found the “next best thing” to replace print.

And yes, there will always be printing presses of some sort. We still use trains, too, but they aren’t the preponderant form of transportation that they were in the latter half of the 1800s. You can even find a horse and buggy for hire if you look around a bit.  What I really need to figure out is how to take this horse and buggy in a new and different direction without going broke in the process. Ideas anyone?

Here’s Greg Verdino’s Video:

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more about “Learn How to Leverage New Technologie…“, posted with vodpod

Possessed

December 15, 2008

My printshop is possessed by demons and I’ve been given the job from Hell.

Aside from that, things are going astoundingly well.

devilLet me preface this post with a simple statement of faith. I know that God is still in control and I am firmly convinced that he has a sense of humor. I will not sit in the ashheap in sackcloth and bemoan the situation, because it really is too ridiculous to be serious.

I’ll try to chart the sequence of events.  I think it began when Debra, the service tech who works on our nearly palindromatic digital color machine (begins and ends with an X) was given a week’s vacation by her nearly palindromatic company.  Good for Debra, bad for AlphaGraphics. The nearly palindromatic machine kicked out and backup was sent in.  At 10 am on day one, he had been trained to repair the machine and was fully confident. At 7 pm on day one, he was missing parts and had patched the machine well enough for us to run some critical jobs. At 9:30 am on day two, we had run one critical job and the X___X digital color machine had melted down. Backup showed again on day 3, this time with tenacity, a cell phone, and a full day’s supply of cigarettes. Day 3 and Day 4 went by and backup gave up completely.  Poor Richard calls for reinforcements from the big city.  They show up on Day 5 and we’re up and running . . .

BUT: We’re printing in bright reds and bright blues.

Upstairs . . . the fans won’t go off on the machine that is manufactured by the company whose initials begin with the eighth and sixteenth letters of the alphabet.  The fans are a good thing . . . they cool down the ultraviolent lamps that make the ink stick to whatever it is that you’re running through the machine. It doesn’t take 2 hours for the lamps to cool. Mike, who runs the machine upstairs, decides that two hours is indeed excessive and perhaps he should turn the machine off and on to see if it will reset. He is successful at turning the machine off.

We have a good customer, who, like all of the rest of our good customers, is trying to squeeze blood from turnips. We’ve missed a couple of jobs, but she’s sent us this one. It’s a booklet . . . all ready in Microsoft Publisher. She needs 75 of them. All of the photos and none of the fonts are embedded in the file.  It’s ginormous . . . we could actually see the lump coming over the phone lines as we downloaded it. It has 6,374 photos compressed into 24 pages.  All were taken with the camera in my cell phone and they’re all in RGB mode. She needs 75 books in color and she won’t understand it if we charge her to fix the file. Nor is she particularly excited about fixing the file herself.

Fast forward from last week to today . . . Jamaal, my remaining pressman, is totally unflappable.  What that means is that he can’t be flapped. I am convinced that he could smile through the devastation of a hurricane or the horrors of nuclear war. At 1 PM he prepares our envelope press for a short run of remittance envelopes. Printing these envelopes requires a special feeder. It is a fairly cantankerous beast on a good day. Today, the envelope press will not run . . . it is putting ink where paper should go and paper where ink should go.  Jamaal switches the envelope feeder to another press. It will not feed.  Poor Richard tries to help and makes matters worse . . . much worse. By 4:30, Jamaal is flapped . . . he has managed to accomplish 45 minutes of work in 3.5 hours.

Upstairs, a technician has arrived to fix the machine manufactured by the company whose initials begin with the 8th and 16th letters of the alphabet.  He is fortified with 3 large boxes of parts sent by that company . . . all of the circuitboards needed to fix a wide format printer or put a man on the moon. None of them are working.  Poor Richard is praying that his customers will be patient. Didn’t it take about 10 years after Kennedy’s speech before Neal Armstrong actually played golf on the moon?

Debra has returned from vacation! Hallelujah!  The booklet from hell is still printing in bright reds and blues! Not Hallelujah!

If there is one thing that I have learned after 10 years in this business, it’s that sometimes the best solution is just to go home. The kids have band concerts tonight. What could be better than that?

God is good. Isn’t life grand?