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Nearly Mindless Ramblings

I usually keep a document around where I just store ideas and comments that might one day become a column or a blogpost.

By Dr. Joe Webb
Published: April 29, 2010

I usually keep a document around where I just store ideas and comments that might one day become a column or a blogpost. Most of them don't. This blogpost is a collection of these fragments of thoughts, with no particular order.

There are companies that just go through the motions of trying to predict the future in one way, and then they are supposed to get just one forecast right. It's one of the most wrongheaded ideas that I have ever had to deal with. Scenarios are far better than one forecast, within the context of an ambitious vision, augmented by a clear statement of long-term business objectives, and rolling forecasts of six quarters of business. Anything else is an exercise is bureaucracy, and implies false precision of managerial acumen.

Facebook is up to 400 million users, and 100 million access on mobile devices. Mobile was 65 million back in August 2009.

Some people measure things in terms of the amount spent and not the results. This is rampant inside the Beltway, whether government, thinktanks, and other entities. “How big is your budget” is not an accurate way of judging effectiveness or importance. Digital media is measured on how much users don't have to spend any more. There isn't one incidence of wildly successful viral media that hasn't had an aspect of the delight and amazement about its near absence of cost.

My favorite story in Chaos Scenario is the one where Six Flags wanted to give away 45,000 opening day tickets for its 45th anniversary. While meeting with the ad agency, one of the agency staff posted the tickets on Craigslist. They were all gone in five hours. I would have fired the guy for blowing a project with a big billing. Then, I would have made him president of the agency.

Speaking of agencies, Mad Men might possibly be the best television series in terms of its depth, casting, and attention to detail, that I have ever seen. (Sure, I do miss Fireball XL-5 and F Troop, but one should be expand their horizons and be open to serious dramatic programs). Mad Men does not hook you in immediately, and it does have some slow moments, but you end up drawn in to where you have to watch the next episode, which makes watching the DVD sets all the more practical way to watch it. The people are flawed, some badly, and the culture of New York advertising at that time had a deep unattractiveness and surliness about it, and it's in the show for all to see. It's the writing that makes the series, especially the episode in Season 3 with the John Deere tractor. Good actors can't save bad scripts. Good scripts give actors a great springboard to express their craft and make the script even better. And it's fun seeing Robert Morse in a perfect role.

Speaking of DVDs, a single DVD holds the equivalent of 54 cases of office paper printed both sides. If I remember right, that's about 3 pallets of paper. Think of all of the expenses of moving those pallets around that are freed to be used elsewhere, and the extra flexibility that the storage medium creates.

The Old Guard of Print has had a horrible decade. That should be a warning to the New Guard. Nothing can be taken for granted. One day the New Guard realizes there's a Younger Guard, and they realize that all of the sudden, they're not the New Guard anymore, and they’re going to be the Old Guard soon enough.

Graph Expo, with the addition of shows within the show, and now the addition of user groups, is becoming more like a destination than a trade show. The cruise industry has figured this out, by creating bigger ships with more than ever to do on board. This keeps the customers coming, even though the ports are the same. Now all the trade show needs to add is the drink of the day.

Our industry could use some younger spokespeople. There's enough gray and bald guys around, and it's hard to dress us up and make us look cool. Even if we use Facebook and Twitter like kids, it's clear that we have at least one foot in the past. It's not the enthusiasm of youth that we need, it's the intuitive way they feel around media that is so natural to them that is difficult to capture.

I bump into a fair number of printers and entrepreneurs who are undeterred, and find success because they were never told that what they were planning to do would never work. There's comfort in having fellow business people who have the same ideas as the prevailing industry mindset at the time. But that ultimately leads to mediocrity.

I had experience with customer events over the years as a member of the audience, as the entertainment, and years and years ago as a planner. There are some companies who can do it well and others who just go through the motions. The people planning them should be excited about meeting the customers, otherwise they are only attendee events, not customer events. Attendee events are a waste of money. Customer events are investments that can be cultivated to yield multi-year returns.

Studying karate reminds me of my limits and age more than anything else I do. Nope, that's wrong. It's the day after karate class that I am reminded of my limits and that I'm in my mid-50s more than anything else I do. Practicing karate in front of the big mirror in the dojo exacerbates the experience.

Supposedly, baseball owners were concentrating on improving the defensive play of their teams this year. A month into the season, it's clear that they have failed. My Mets are a bad team, but the teams they have played recently have been awful in the field, handing them wins. Whoever came up with the old saying that luck is the residue of practice did not watch the 2009 Mets. They may have a good year by being less worse than some of the other teams in their division. I hope everyone's play improves.

My efforts to repeal the designated hitter rule still have a perfect record of failure. It's only 37 years now that this rule has been in effect. Even though I hate the rule, it's nice to see Hideki Matsui still playing. The Mariners' long retired DH, Edgar Martinez, should be in the Hall of Fame.

I am deeply saddened by the demise of Graphic Arts Monthly and the Blue Book. The news of the latter caused me to e-mail Harrie Lewis, 93, and still a troublemaker in his own way, and who taught me incredible things about data, was of course disappointed. Harrie took over the Blue Book at the request of his family in 1956, and his cousins ran GAM for a long time, but had sold it in the late 1970s, I believe. Harrie is well and sends his regards. The Blue Book started 100 years ago. Harrie may pass that.

Yankees reliever Mariano Rivera has only one pitch, and still confounds the batters who face him, even though everyone knows what's coming, and has known for more than a decade. It's a reminder to businesses that doing one thing better than everyone else might be wiser than doing lots of things at an average level. There will always be great generalists and there will always be great specialists. Figuring out what's best approach for a business is often the hardest choice an entrepreneur makes.

I hear numerous reports of printing companies working four days a week just to keep the workforce together and to avoid layoffs. I hope it works for the sake of the workers. It still must be hard to keep the interest of employees in those circumstances.

The idea of inflation-adjusting company data is one of my favorite subjects, and audiences seem to be quite receptive to the idea. No one has ever volunteered that they had done it before I mentioned it. My favorite question, which was asked seriously, still remains “how do we inflation adjust our employees?” I answered “change their diets.”

My favorite story about getting started in the industry was always told to me by Jim Massa, who at the time he told me was, I believe, a National Technical Manager for color products for Agfa. He had an enormous grasp of sensitometry and all aspects of color separation from a practical and technical point of view. One would never have realized it based on how he started. He was high school kid in New York City looking for work, and had heard there were lots of jobs in printing. So he saw an ad for a color separator in the paper, interviewed, lied about his experience, and started work. He was fired before lunchtime. He told me that he must have repeated that series of events at least five times in his first week. By the end of the week he was able to claim he had industry experience and was able to impress people because he had worked in some of the best color separation shops in the City.

If students were taught wages and salaries were the profits they earn from selling their time and skill starting at an early age, and that part of their goal was to earn enough money for 40 years to pay for the following 25-35 years when they would not be working, I suspect businesses and the workplace would be viewed somewhat differently by employers and by employees. They might even look at school differently. They would certainly look at debt differently.

Dr. Joe Webb is one of the graphic arts industry's best-known consultants, forecasters, and commentators. He is the director of WhatTheyThink's Economics and Research Center.



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