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.


Why Printers Hate Microsoft

September 9, 2006

Coming up with a title for this entry was a struggle. I really, really wanted to type “10 Reasons Bill Gates will burn in hell;” but I resisted. At least in the title. Printers hate Microsoft for a lot of reasons . . . really good reasons.

Word is a design program, right?

Just because it kind of looks like a brochure on your screen doesn’t mean that your printer will be able to do anything with it at all. Microsoft Word was designed as a word processing program. Type up a letter and it spits out neatly on your little HP inkjet printer.

As the years have progressed, the mighty minds at Microsoft have added capabilities to it that would lead the unenlightened user to believe that they can actually do page layout in the program. I could spend hours describing the problems with this application, but let’s just keep it simple. It doesn’t work. WYSIWYG isn’t. It’s very unlikely that what you see on your screen will be what I get when I print. In fact, it’s even unlikely that what you see on your screen will be what I see when I open it up on my screen.

So I’ll use Microsoft Publisher . . . it’s a page layout program

Right, providing you know what you are doing with it. Actually, Publisher has improved greatly since the first versions came out in the late 1990s. We will even recommend this program for folks that want to do simple layouts, like newsletters or “quick and dirty” publications.

Here’s another great computer acronym. GIGO — garbage in, garbage out. For instance, the internet graphic that you lifted from http://www.homephotos.com looks great on the screen. The resolution is sized for the Internet at 72 dots per inch (dpi). It’s just a little grainy when you stretch it out to 150%. And maybe that woman was supposed to be that fat. You just helped her out a little when you stretched the horizontal axis 200% and the vertical axis 120%.

Here’s the problem. We’re going to print that picture at 2400 dpi. The fat lady is going to look like she missed the decompression chamber after a deep sea dive. And you’re going to ask why. We’re going to smile and say (very nicely) that we pointed this out to you when we sent the proof. And you’re going to say that she looked so good on the screen. You’re going to be mad at us because the fat lady blew up and we knew that she should have fit into a size 9 to begin with.

Where did my fonts go?

You found this neat font on the Internet called Knebbish 3 italic. You searched for 14 hours and finally got it off of a server in Tehran or Ludowici or somewhere. You used it everywhere, along with 17 other really edgy fonts that you bought for $5 Canadian from twoguysinagarage.com font foundry. They were in the Word file on your computer, but none of them appeared in the proof of your publication. In fact the font that did show up looks like an old typewriter and the formatting’s all screwed up.

Guess what? Fonts don’t carry over (embed) in Word documents. Even in Publisher, they won’t embed unless you tell them to. There are exactly 27.5 quadrillion fonts floating around on the Internet and your printer doesn’t have them all. Even if we do have Knebbish 3 Italic, it might not be the same version that you got from Achmed or Bubba in Ludowici. So, you need to send the fonts with your file.

But Microsoft is all I’ve got. What do I do?

Your printer can help. First, give them a call before you begin your publication. They’ll give you some instructions to get you started correctly. If you take a little more time to prepare and create the layout to your printer’s specifications, it will save you both production time and the cost of “fixing” the file. Your printer should be happy to provide you with this information. It’ll save them headaches later. At Alphagraphics, we regularly schedule short training sessions for folks who are new to layout or who haven’t worked with a printer before. We’ll also help you package your finished files to provide us with everything we need to print (layout, fonts, and graphics).

Adobe to the rescue!

Probably the best fix for Microsoft products comes from one of their competitors, Adobe Systems. In the mid 1990s, Adobe introduced the portable document format (.pdf), a file format that essentially “freezes” your Microsoft document. While PDFs are not foolproof, they’re a much more stable and static format than anything Microsoft ever dreamed of.

At AlphaGraphics, we routinely convert all native files (Microsoft or otherwise) to .pdf for output. We can provide you with a free utility, called PDFExpress, to convert your Microsoft files to .pdf for printing. You can also save into .pdf format or write a .pdf using Acrobat Distiller, but you’ll need to use specific settings to create a file suitable for print. Again, ask your printer if you need help.

Back to Bill . . .

Every printshop can literally count thousands of dollars that have gone down the tubes because of Bill and his programs, so it’s natural that your printer is going to grimace or make some sort of disgruntled (or obscene) noise when you tell him that you’re bringing him Microsoft to print. Please excuse him. It’s not you he’s upset with. What he’s actually envisioning is Bill’s eyes bugging out behind those weird glasses as his hands tighten their grip around Bill’s geeky throat.

Wake him up from his daydream and he’ll be glad to help.