By John Giles

The recent controversy --and the positive resolution-- around the special FedEx Kinko’s link in Adobe’s Acrobat 8 and Reader products points out the importance of printing associations.

Adobe announced in June that it made an agreement with FedEx Kinko’s that there would be a link to "Print at FedEx Kinko's" in version 8 of its Acrobat and Acrobat Reader products. Almost immediately, the industry erupted. Many felt the move made it look as if Adobe was endorsing FedEx Kinko’s as the de facto printer for PDF files. Emails and letters where sent to Adobe, but it wasn’t until the printing associations weighed in on the problem did the software giant start taking notice. When Adobe execs met with top industry officials, print association leaders were there to represent their members. NAPL, NAQP, and PIA told Adobe what many of their members were saying --take off the FedEx Kinko’s link and treat all of your partners equally.

It wasn’t until the printing associations weighed in on the problem did the software giant start taking notice.

In the end, Adobe responded to its critics and the link will be removed, and it is important to recognize how they got the message. Emails, letters, blogs, articles, columns, and telephone calls do make a difference, but having top Adobe officials sitting across the table from association officials representing thousands of their printing customers had a much greater weight.

The missing printers

The sad thing is that while the associations were representing thousands of printers and not every printer in the country. Association membership has dropped in the past decade and the strong, consolidated printing voice of the '60s, '70s and '80s has gotten weaker. Associations have had to compete with the Internet. Associations were once the repositories of information concerning the printing industry. If a printer had a question about running his business, he turned to the association. If a vendor wanted to learn more about its customer, it called on the association.

Now many questions and answers can be found on the Internet. A quick Google search can find thousands of answers to any question. Chat rooms and list-serves offer a place for printers to communicate and share ideas, comments and complaints. What some printers saw as a value of being an association member is now available free on the Internet.

But there is a problem with having so much access to information. There is no filter to help determine what is good information and what is not. Printing associations serve as a filter for its members. They help evaluate the answers and presents the best ones. Associations have access to experts. An association can help a printer find answers that actually work and help make the association’s member business better.

It is up to printing companies to step up and support the different associations by joining and working for a great good in the industry.

Adobe hopes it has put the horse back in the barn on the FedEx Kinko’s deal. Top officials have conceded that the firestorm concerning the FedEx Kinko’s deal could have been avoided if they had talked to more people in the industry. But why didn’t Adobe talk to the associations before signing the FedEx Kinko’s agreement? It is a numbers game. Membership has dropped and associations have less revenue. Associations were not seen by Adobe as to being a primary source for information about the industry. But at the end of the day, it was the associations that got Adobe’s attention. Adobe now is listening to what the printing associations are saying. It is up to printing companies to step up and support the different associations by joining and working for a great good in the industry.

Collective voice

Associations are more than just groups to get discounts or a source of training programs and materials. Associations are the collective voice of the industry. As an industry, printers are faced with common problems that can only be solved on a national scale. Associations are a printer’s voice in Congress and state legislatures. They are a voice to vendors. The more members the louder the voice and the more impact it has on an issue.

PIA, NAPL, NAQP, and others played an important role in resolving the Adobe/FedEx Kinko’s issue, giving voice to thousands of concerned print providers. An individual printer can’t stop work and lobby the government for changes. An individual printer would find it hard to develop a dialog with top officials from key print vendors. Associations can. It doesn’t cost that much to join an association and be part of a team that will help protect a printer’s interest. For as little as $465 a year a person can join NAPL/NAQP. Most printers can join PIA for less than $1,000 a year with smaller sized printers paying even less. That is a small price to pay for representation in front of organizations and people who can affect the printing business.

The Adobe/FedEx Kinko’s deal isn’t going to be the last time a vendor does something to upset printers. And you can expect Congress or  your state legislature to consider changes that won’t be to the best interest of printers. The only way printers can protect themselves is to join a group that represents the interests of printers. You will find this voice with printing associations. The discounts and educational programming are just an added bonus for the printing industry speaking in one voice to the world.

Please offer your feedback to John. He can be reached at: [email protected].