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Commentary & Analysis

Big Changes at Printing Industries of America

Last week, with no public announcement, the Printing Industries of America dismissed 15 employees with little or no notice, according to sources. Some had over 30 years of service to GATF, with whom PIA merged in the late 1990s.

By Frank Romano
Published: November 25, 2013

See Letter from PIA's Michael Makin

Last week, with no public announcement, the Printing Industries of America dismissed 15 employees with little or no notice, according to sources. Some had over 30 years of service to GATF, with whom PIA merged in the late 1990s. 

It is rumored that the PIA building in Sewickley, PA will be put up for sale and that PIA will move into offices in Pittsburgh, PA proper. Most, if not all, of their large offset presses are gone. NAPL also sold its building a few years ago, but it was in a highly desirable NJ location at the top of the real estate market. 

There had been discussions of a merger between PIA and NAPL but these were broken off. The PIA organization is based on an affiliate structure where members are first part of a local group with automatic membership in the national group. NAPL is general membership organization and uses print and other communication to create a homogenous group. 

At one time, PIA had 50 or so local affiliates, often state-oriented; today, the number is 30 or less. Some of the affiliates have merged to create mega-groups on a large geographic scale and may not be able to address local needs as they once did. 

With the loss of almost half of all printers in the U.S., the effect on printing trade associations has been profound. Both organizations share in two-thirds of the net revenue from the Graph Expo and PRINT shows, but that revenue has declined significantly in the last few years. What revenue there is has been the result of innovation and new thinking by the Graphic Arts Show Company. 

Many printers choose not to belong to either association and have created special peer groups to address their needs. Printers tell me that that the traditional printing association, with executives commanding six-figure salaries, may be incongruous in the new world of print that is evolving. Some say that both boards of directors have not been as responsive to their membership. “It is still a small clique that runs our trade associations,” I have been told. 

In the last few years various printing associations have gone out of business or merged with others. Some former members use forums on Facebook or LinkedIn to keep a dialogue going. The traditional suppliers who once paid high amounts to support the printing industry trade associations are dwindling and newer suppliers do not see the benefit. 

I believe that we need associations, but it is time for new leadership at the associations we have, if we are to have any associations at all. 

Frank Romano has spent over 50 years in the printing and publishing industries. Many know him best as the editor of the International Paper Pocket Pal or from the hundreds of articles he has written for publications from North America and Europe to the Middle East to Asia and Australia. Romano lectures extensively, having addressed virtually every club, association, group, and professional organization at one time or another. He is one of the industry's foremost keynote speakers. He continues to teach courses at RIT and other universities and works with students on unique research projects.



By Pat Berger on Nov 25, 2013

I was a member of the PIA until about 2003. I decided to end my membership after reading an issue of the PIA magazine. I felt that some of the articles were not even close to keeping up with the technology at the time. The time i used to read could be used better investigating technology on my own without the PIA twist and editorial.
The PIA had to reflect on every news piece so not to anger any supplier sponsor and or membership. I feel that they had become self serving to keep their own employment.


By Charles Pappas on Nov 25, 2013

The industry is changing and if organizations do not change they too will go the same as printers who do not change. Interesting enough the 1 year old printing trade organization NPOA (National Print Owners Association) continues to grow as the older trade organizations struggle. I think the point in the article about 6 figure executives and being non responsive is a key reason the newer group is growing. Their goal is to be run by members and not by executives.


By Greg Imhoff on Nov 25, 2013

There are substantial truths in the article and commentary. Thank you Charles for advising of http://www.printowners.org/printowners-list association.


By John Henry on Nov 25, 2013

I think this is the beginning not end of this. 1/2 of printers are gone but an even more than 50% have left associations.

I know I did when I saw the leaders of NAPL preaching change to us and nothing changed in how they operated. The hypocrisy to me was too great. At the same time membership was dropping and revenue decreasing, the NAPL board gave out large raises.

I spoke out when I was told what is paid is not my concern and membership had no right to know salaries.

When it got even worse, big pr plans were put in place with more promises of change, again little to nothing.

I think PIA has been a more responsive, but still faced the same issues, with equally high overhead and salary costs.

In the end out of a desire to network and back to our routes, 19 of us, Chuck included started NPOA. Now with over 350 members we lean and mean, yet providing what our members want. We change on dime as needed to meet those needs.

I hope some of you who are tired of the old model come check us in Florida in February.



By Erik Nikkanen on Nov 25, 2013

Back in late 1984, when I was first introduced to offset printing, I was sent with a group of other engineers to a two week training course at GATF.

On the first day of this course, one of the lecturers stated that the offset process was too complicated for anyone to understand. I was a bit shocked by such a statement. For one reason it was a stupid thing to say and secondly one should not say that to engineers.

The course was great in describing the basic details of the process and the technologies used and was very helpful. But over the years I have come to believe that the GATF and eventually the PIA never really understood the offset process at the fundamental levels needed to advance. I think this stems from their belief that no one can understand it so they did not try.

There is a big difference in technology and science. GATF/PIA have been technology oriented. But when the science does not advance, that has to limit the advance of effective technologies.

I still think there is a need for the old style GATF type of operation but one that is more science oriented. At this time, I don't see any group in the graphic arts community capable of doing this properly.


By Greg Imhoff on Nov 25, 2013

I echo Erik here.


By Robert Lindgren on Nov 25, 2013

Frank, I’ve known you for almost forty years first as a typography guru an then as a guru about everything print, but when I read the first two paragraphs beginning “Last week with little or no public announcement…” and then “It is rumored…” I couldn’t believe that you were so out of the loop. I could only conclude that your piece was written some months ago and just made it to the internet. The changes at PIA have been discussed for the better part of a year, mandated by its Board of Directors in June, approved by its Officers, its Finance Committee and unanimously approved by the Affiliate Association Managers and the Board of Directors in Chicago on November 17th. A detailed outline of the changes was broadly distributed on November 19th after the affected staff was notified.
More importantly, the changes preserve the key strengths of PIA in federal government affairs, environmental health and safety, technical knowledge, human resources and industry economics. By moving to sell an unneeded 55,000 sq. ft. facility PIA will release a substantial amount of capital to provide an earnings stream to fund continued service to member firms. PIA and its Affiliated Associations are working together better than ever to provide value for industry firms as evidenced by the expansion of the peer groups, the addition of buying power programs and the enhanced focus on digital opportunities. We will be aggressively pursuing an effort to explain to all industry firms the power of PIA membership as an essential tool to enable them to stay competitive and grow.
Yes, changes have been made. Just as every firm has had to accommodate changed reality. A failure to do so would have been a disastrous failure on the part of the PIA leadership. That didn’t happen. PIA remains the world’s largest printing industry trade association and is fully committed to continued service to our industry.

Bob Lindgren, President
Printing Industries Association of Southern California


By Pat Berger on Nov 25, 2013

Robert Lindgren

South Coast Air Quality Management District rule 1171 was used as a combative entity to push against. A proper approach would have been to teach the PIA members how to prosper, grow and adjust to the changes once 1171 became fully implemented.
You can't explain away this http://www.aqmd.gov/rules/doc/r1171/R1171_Safer_Alt.pdf read the last page "conclusions"
I don't see how the PIA could be an essential tool to enable printers to stay compettive and grow. Their past history says otherwise.


By Hank Brandtjen on Nov 25, 2013

As I read the article posted by Frank Romano regarding the changes at PIA, I thought for a second that my computer had traveled back in time. All of what Frank writes was debated over a few years back and nothing came of it.

For the most part, the GASC (trade shows) supports three industry associations. When the GASC was flourishing, there was enough capital being generated to fund PIA, NAPL and NPES. This is no longer the case.

When all the rhetoric is shoveled aside, it comes down to this: there is a need to be pro-active instead of reactive. Forget the politics of the situation. Start with a clean slate and map out the structure of GASC and the three associations that meet today's, and tomorrow's, needs.

Based on the steps taken to date, I see little hope.


By Robert Lindgren on Nov 25, 2013

I appreciate Pat Berger's comments, but I would like to note that the SCAQMD document referenced is from 2007. In the ensuing six years (as we have done for many years in the past) we have worked with the SCAQMD to enable our industry to lower VOC emissions within the confines of available technology while still making possible a viable printing industry in the Los Angeles basin.

Bob Lindgren, President
Printing Industries Association of Southern California


By Stan Najmr on Nov 25, 2013

Bob, I am sorry but Frank is correctly summarizing the current situation in the field where information is shared with those who can directly contribute.


By Kerry Stackpole on Nov 26, 2013

Print has a great story to tell as a vital part of the marketing communications business. Yet, one cannot ignore Schumpeter's gale about "creative destruction" or ignore the structural shift taking place in the industry. If as Peter Drucker has written,"leadership is doing the right things" then recent decisions and choices made by the Printing Industries of America Board of Directors were courageous, difficult and undoubtedly necessary. Isn't that the story of the printing industry today? Difficult choices. Changing customer expectations. Shifting marketplaces. The strongest message here is that trade associations reflect the reality of their memberships and the industry they serve. Whether we like it or not seems somewhat beside the point.


By Pat Berger on Nov 26, 2013

Kerry Stackpole aren't you president of Printing & Graphics Association MidAtlantic



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