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Industry Insight

The Key to Publishing's Survival

I wrote the following blog last week for Publishing Executive Magazine that I want to share with this group of printers.

By Bob Sacks
Published: January 19, 2009

clueless-management1I wrote the following blog last week for Publishing Executive Magazine that I want to share with this group of printers. I think it is a key to the future of publishing and perhaps also to the future of printers as well. For me it has never been a question of if print will survive but rather how we will survive and under what conditions of eminence we will have when we get there... wherever it is that we are going.

Please read this and comment on whether as a printer you agree or disagree with the concept as proposed to publishers.

The Key to Publishing's Survival

The key to survival in the near and far future is for everyone in the publishing business to embrace everything digital. That doesn't mean you should stop printing magazines, but it does mean that if you aren't comfortable in the digital world you won't/can't survive. It is that simple.

All publishing leaders must jump in with both feet, learn the new languages, join Facebook, have at least 3 e-mail addresses, and get a Twitter page. If your kids speak the digital language and you don't, how can you possibly lead your flagship publication or publishing association into the new world? The answer clearly is that you cannot. If you are fearful of the Web's Second Life or worse, don't know what that is, then you can't have one.

To survive you must embrace digital technology like there's no tomorrow, because if you don't, there won't be. No one should be spared this digital education. Let me repeat that so we are on the same page: No one can be spared this digital education. That includes everyone from the mail room to the executive boards. I mean the leadership of MPA to the ABC. I am including the membership of the PBAA, GCA, PIA and the AARP. If you can't upload a video file and are not subscribed to several RSS feeds, you should be fired. If you can't convert a word docx file to a PDF, you are history. If you can't do the voodoo, you sure as hell shouldn't/can't manage those that do.

The rate of change in digital technologies is accelerating at an inhuman pace. If you don't use it and aren't comfortable living in it, you can't understand the importance of adapting your flagship for the times ahead, and you won't be able to stay on the curve, let alone ahead of it.

I have recently come to believe that too much of our leadership is either incapable or too fearful to understand the true future of publishing. I think that we have limitless opportunities before us - the chance to reach more people and more advertisers instantly and more efficiently than ever before.

It is ok to love and respect our past and yet be prepared for the prosperous adventures ahead of us in the new world. There are 4 billion people connected to the web right now. That number will only grow. This should make any publisher salivate with here-to-fore undreamt of possibilities.

The question is who is going to lead you there. The old adage has never been truer: lead, follow or get out of the way. You have no other option



By Michael Josefowicz on Jan 19, 2009


If the meaning of "you" is the organization, as opposed to an individual, this is exactly right. The thing is we are all defined by who we are. I'm a baby boomer. I like the web. Can't figure out why I should do twitter and love to read books.

But new hires are not baby boomers. They are Generation Google. So they don't have to learn about the web. The live the web.

So, I think it's about creating mutual respect and trust based collaboration. The kids need our experience. We need the energy and vision they bring to the table.

Besides, with all the problems we have to solve every day, who has the time to learn another new thing.


By Adoniram on Jan 19, 2009


Long-time lurker, first time commentator. I would like to add a few caveats to this post, particularly as I am a member of this "Generation Google" of which you speak.

First, there is such thing as over-adoption. The internet generation is highly aware of marketing, and I can sniff out a commercially motivated social media push a mile away. There's nothing that annoys me on the web quite as much as disingenuous communication, and as more traditional media adopt a digital presence, the backlash against insincere communication will increase.

Second, there must be recognition of where your business stands in the marketplace, and where you are in the "media arc." That is to say, if you are heavily invested in the science of print, your skill-set revolves around the accurate representation of content, your capacity to master complex tools, and your ability to produce the best "quality" possible. On the other hand, if you are a "craft" printer, I strongly believe this is a subset that has long-term viability and can be marketed long after print is "dead"... again.

In the case of the former, at some point, the decision makers of your business must decide whether they create content or enable it. For most printers, I would argue, it is the latter. And in this case, it behooves you not to invest in the appearance of being socially adept, but rather, in the ability to use the fundamental tools of the internet generation: Adobe's Creative Suite, Facebook's (or any content/information aggregate's) SDK, etc.

Printers have always been good at negotiating the space between the artist and the public. They have enabled business to communicate in a refined and nuanced manner. That capacity does not well exist in the social media environment yet. Things like color management, and pre-media work, are still very foreign to the architects of the social media environment, if they know it exists at all.

Finally, I would say that there are three avenues for printers, in a long-term strategy: large volume work, which should remain viable for a while yet; small volume "craft" work, which is a specific industry niche and not well marketed; or recognize the specific strengths of the philosophy of printing: the ability to use complicated tools to deliver the best possible communication between content creator and audience.

I have to believe that if someone could demonstrate a capacity to do this, and do it well, they would have found a very lucrative niche that is under-served and poorly understood.


By Jim Dittmer on Jan 20, 2009

Good post and well reasoned comments. I, too, am a "baby boomer" I was just tweeting that, as of tomorrow, I will have lived under 12 different presidents. We printers have a tendency to blinder ourselves to technologies that don't seem to affect us until we are far behind the curve. I don't know how many strippers told me that there would always be a need for strippers after the advent of the SciTex system. Or Cameramen when scanners made their appearance. Or Dot Etchers when, first the SciTex System and then Photoshop became predominant. The importance of knowing and understanding history is to realize our shortcomings and shortsightedness. We are one product development away from a staggering move away from ink on paper. That product is, of course, an inexpensive digital analog to paper and it is very very close as we discuss this. Perhaps you've seen the recent Esquire cover featuring eInks digital paper. It's also used in the Kindle. So far it's just BW, but soon we'll see full color and refresh rates that allow video.

I can hear my colleagues saying, "So what? People will always want to take their books to the beach or their magazines to the bathroom!" The point is that the advantages of a digital product linked via WIFI to the internet and digital delivery simply will make ink on paper as impractical and obsolete as hot type and stone plates.

1) Rising oil prices will make shipping of raw materials and finished goods increasingly expensive. The digital alternative is a small fraction of that cost.

2) The pressure to reduce paper in the waste stream will get stronger not weaker. At some point in the not too far distant future it will become clear that there isn't a large enough market for, with a few exceptions, the majority of our recycling efforts. In an increasing number of municipalities, recycling trucks simple dump their loads in the landfills along with the garbage.

3) The labor and machine costs of physically printing a newspaper or magazine is daunting. The temptation to cut off that expense, while retaining the editorial staff and content is overwhelming.

4) The speed at which information flows on the internet, makes even broadcast news outlets look slow. A delay of days or hours for news will soon be intolerable. As an example (and also an illustration of why twitter and similar services are so important for our future) take the case of Robert Scobel and the Chinese earthquake that caused so much death and destruction just prior to the recent Olympics. Mr. Scobel is a well know tech commentator who specializes in companies that are on the bleeding edge of the industry. He seeks out and finds the little companies doing fascinating things and more often than not he ends up telling us about products and services months before they are in common usage. Naturally he has used twitter since his inception and has almost 50,000 followers around the world. On that fateful day he began receiving tweets from a follower in China, describing a huge earthquake that was happening around him. This poor guy was at the epicenter of the quake. Scoble passed his messages on to the rest of his "tweeple" and we followed this guys 140 character descriptions with great interest. Why is this important? Because the first tweets got to us before the instruments at the USGS had registered the earthquake!

5) Advertising. We have devices now that are "GeoAware". That means they can tell where we are. We have, or shortly will, the ability to feed ads on a custom basis, taking in the likes and dislikes of the recipient, The time, where she is, and a host of other information that will allow us to taylor ads like we never have before. Imagine your at the beach, you're reading the digital version of the Star, it's getting close to noon and up pops a message that says, "It's almost lunch time. I know you like Mexican food and José's Burrito Palace is having a special-three fish tacos for a buck! Here's the link to his site and a review from Zagat.com" If you were a half mile further down the beach, you'd get an ad for Paco's Tacos. If you don't like Mexican food but like seafood you'd get an ad for Shirley's Shrimp Hut. The important thing is that because the information is customizable, you actually begin to appreciate the ads. The magazine loves it because they can sell the same ad space a thousand times, and the advertiser loves it because he can buy a display ad in a popular magazine, have it targeted to just the most receptive clientele, at just the right time, for a few dollars instead of a few hundred dollars!

That's a few reasons why I believe we will see the demise of large scale printing. Those printers that don't become Internet savvy, will disappear. To paraphrase Woody Allen: Progress is a shark, it must move forward or it will die.


By Michael Josefowicz on Jan 20, 2009

Your views are completely consistent with I heard from my design students back when I was teaching. The coming generation has the most sensitive bs detectors I've ever seen. I ascribe to the fact that they've grown up in an information rich world. Baby boomers grew up in an information poor world.

The value is authenticity. Jon Stewart built a loyal fan base by making fun of bs. Perhaps the biggest cultural change that many in the Print world, and every legacy business world, is the intolerance for and inefficacy of bullshit.

good points but . . .
Printers as a group actually have a pretty good track record of responding to disruptive change.
Desktop publishing changed our businesses in about 10 years. Anyone who is still around adapted to the transition. I'm hard pressed to find another manufacturing industry that has as good a track record.

Was there lots of yutzing along the way? Sure.
But whining and complaining naturally accompany deep organizational change.

Meanwhile, I think we can learn how new tech and culture comes into an ongoing business. It is brought in by the new generation. The intern or recent hire comes in. Shows the "experienced" managers photoshop. Then adoption scales and the newbie becomes the manager of the dept. While the greybeard often takes the credit.

Some responses to the specific issues you raise:

"1) Rising oil prices will make shipping of raw materials and finished goods increasingly expensive."

That means distribute and print into local physical audiences should work. Either digital, sheetfed or web, transportation costs will become more and more significant. That's the defensible advantage of local printers over web based outfits like Printingforless.com or vistaprint.

"2) The pressure to reduce paper in the waste stream will get stronger not weaker."

Yes. Mass direct mail is under deep stress. Higher postal rates, do not mail legislation, and web based direct response will probably shrink this market radically over the next couple of years. But it will probably not affect CRM programs nor Print that customers value - coupons, shoppers, etc.

"3) The labor and machine costs of physically printing a newspaper or magazine is daunting. The temptation to cut off that expense, while retaining the editorial staff and content is overwhelming."

Yes but it turns out the web based CPM's will not support anything but a very low overhead.
Plus the easy part is to find the news. The hard part is printing and delivering newspapers. The most likely outcome will be print+web buys for local businesses that are not presently advertisers.

"4) The speed at which information flows on the internet, makes even broadcast news outlets look slow."

But speed may not be the sustainable value. Getting the news fast is easy. Understanding what the news means is hard and takes time. Understanding complicated things means Print.

"5) Advertising..."

There are good reasons to believe that advertising as we've known it is disappearing. It's a longer story, but it is best articulated in a post at Seeking Alpha at http://seekingalpha.com/article/112400-the-end-of-brand-advertising

Meanwhile I'm with you on the importance of geo location. But, the tech that we should all watch closely is the growing ability of cell phones to connect Print to the Internet. QR codes, RFID and Photo search are starting to become mainstream. Once Print is reattached to the internet, the rules will change . . . again.

"That’s a few reasons why I believe we will see the demise of large scale printing."

If by large scale you mean mass market, we violently agree ( tm - Andy McCourt) But if you mean that large scale tech intensive Print manufacturing, that produces niche publications which in the aggregate might well be longer runs than what they are doing now, then we disagree.


By Chuck on Jan 20, 2009

I'm glad you are sharing this with printers, and I hope those reading it take it to heart, because they do need to embrace the technologies and concepts here even more urgently.

But at the risk of sounding very negative, it appears to me that publishers are basically in a "replacement" cycle right now, with the landscape rapidly changing; new participants, business models and technologies emerging almost daily.

I doubt many of the new publishers are reading "Publishing Executive Magazine", and frankly, they don't need that magazine, it doesn't help them in any way.

The Seeking Alpha article is OK for starters, but if you really want to understand what that article is suggesting I would recommend the recent book "Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are", by Rob Walker. It's a fascinating, entertaining read, and incorporates many references for further analysis.


By Luis Paez on Jan 20, 2009

The printing industry is one of the most competitive industries I have seen, for a variety of reasons. Due to this, we enjoy a climate where new ideas are tested constantly. The challenge is to find those avenues that are being tested to see if they make sense for one particular business.

Since I am of a younger generation, like Adomiram above, I see the benefits of social media and live a very connected life and so agree with many of his conclusions as to the end game for today's printers. The most interesting road is finding a niche, and focusing your business around that niche. I think too few printers do this, trying to be all things to all people. When you focus on your customer, you create an excellent experience. If you can automate, then all the better.

A company's niche depends upon a company's unique history and your employee's backgrounds / strengths. To relate from a different industry, one of the most successful CPA's that I met, actually focused on only having policemen and nurses as clients. He understood this audience well, and performed head and shoulders above his peers at this niche. Printing is a competitive and fragmented market just like the Accounting realm, so a very focused strategy would seem to make sense.

On top of this idea, there is the challenge of adapting to new technologies out there. Whether it be to warm up to marketing organizations or to offer something special (offer/tech?) to large clients, a cohesive strategy must be visible to all in your company. In a word, this is vision. No matter what you use to create this, this will be the glue that keeps any organization working together.


By Ray Camacho on Jan 23, 2009


“If you can’t upload a video file and are not subscribed to several RSS feeds, you should be fired. If you can’t convert a word doc file to a PDF, you are history. If you can’t do the voodoo, you sure as hell shouldn’t/can’t manage those that do. “

I love it!

This article is why I get up in the morning. I love the printing industry. I love the smell of ink, and the fact that every single job we produce is custom. The industry is always under constant change; get over it.

I love that fact that what's "in" today could be out tomorrow. Individuals with drive will strive to perfect their craft, whether its a pressman or a salesman. My father told me; “Son, all I ask of you is your best; if you grow up to be a garbage collector, be the best garbage collector there is.”

The problem our industry has, is quite simply; complacency.

There are to many order takers; Luis Paez, had it right above with the example of the CPA. The CPA knew its customers, and strived to learn more about its customers.

Nothing more ticks me off, to hear a sales rep whine about how the printer down the street beat us up on price. One question to ask any sales rep with this complaint; “Did you quote the specs exactly as they were requested?” Did you just take the order / request? Did you ask the purpose of piece, did you read the piece and its content before trying to get the proof approved?

Simple questions, need to be asked, and then “the team” of employees at your company can help you win the job. Perfect example, why does the catalog have to be 8.5 x 11, why can't it be 6 x 11 or 8.5 x 5.5 and save money on postage, and paper. Maybe your customer is not open to the idea of changing the specs, but at least you asked.

The constant asking of intelligent questions will win more jobs, then price, any day of the week. You don't have to have 30,000 followers on Twitter or over hundreds of friends on FaceBook to be an excellent printer / publisher. That's not to say that ignoring the Internet and its many new tools, is the way to go. I'm on twitter, and have friends who I follow and follow me; its a great way to stay in touch. Imagine twitter as ease dropping on conversations, you select people to “follow” based on what they are going to talk about. I follow new media marketers and printers, I like the constant ease dropping of great conversations; and some of them get me going, so I will engage the conversations.

I don't know all the answers concerning digital media but have a network of friends who I can ask, thats the power of social media. So “the order taker” doesn't have to be an expert, just know or follow a few of their own, and know when to ask for help.

I love all the print shops that have now changed their name to Communication Companies, to “cash in on the “new buzz.!” Changing your companies name, getting a FaceBook account or even twitter, is not going to bring more sales in instantly or necessarily keep you from going under in the future.

But remaining constantly curious asking intelligent questions, will ensure your survival. I have made a career out of asking the questions other don't, and doing what others are afraid of.


By Michael Josefowicz on Jan 23, 2009

Great post. I think you've covered most of the points. Just two cents more.

The ability and proclivity to ask "why" often comes with experience. Even if you don't want to twitter (that's me, I just don't want more noise in my life. But I'm a crank), the experienced professional respects those who do.

It's important to remember Adoniron's comments early in this thread

"There’s nothing that annoys me on the web quite as much as disingenuous communication, and as more traditional media adopt a digital presence, the backlash against insincere communication will increase."

Since I spent 30 years in the industry, in NYC, I would change this to "Don't Bullshit." Better to be great at what you are great at, and network with people who are great at what they are great at.

If you can't walk the walk, then talk about something else.

If you can really ask "Why?" and then Wait and then Listen and then THINK about the best solution - that's value creation. If you have a team with a wealth of experience to bring to the party that can be unique value creation.

It's much more sustainable than having a conversational knowledge of the latest "Next Big Thing."


By David D. "Griff" Griffith on Jan 23, 2009

As a proponent of keeping up to date on digital and personalized publishing for nearly two decades I heartily agree. I have been working with traditional publishers in Europe for years helping them to find ways to maximize their value to their markets.

I feel what you've shared is best summed up in a quote by former Army Chief of Staff, General Eric Shinseki, who said, "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less." Well?

Join me on LinkedIn at http://www.linkedin.com/in/ddgriffith or Facebook at http://profile.to/ddgriffith or follow me on Twitter at http://twitter.com/ddgriffith. I'd be glad to share my experience and make good use of yours.



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