Theodore De Vinne and less than 20 large American printers formed the United Typothetae of America in the late 1800s to provide a united front against the Typographical Unions’ demand for an 8-hour work day. UTA was formally organized in 1887 at a convention in Chicago attended by 68 delegates representing 18 master printer’s associations and 22 cities. Its purpose was “to develop a community of interests and a fraternal spirit among the master printers of the United States and Dominion of Canada and for the purpose of exchanging information and assisting each other when necessary.” The United Typothetae of America would become Printing Industries of America.

Chartered in 1933, the National Association of Photo Lithographers was founded to support the growing lithographic printing industry. Lithographers were not considered real printers and not accepted into PIA. Walter Soderstrom was the visionary who formed the technical and business basis for the group.

From its small beginnings in 1924 as the Lithographic Technical Foundation, this member-directed foundation grew into one of the world's leading centers for graphic communications research and education. In 1999, PIA and GATF consolidated, offering printers and suppliers membership benefits of both organizations.

From the early 90s there were changes in the printing industry. First, GATF saw a reduction in research and a subsequent decline in its financial base. George Ryan held the group together with exceptional management and innovative research programs and conferences. The merger with PIA was a way to keep GATF alive. At first it was GATF/PIA, then PIA/GATF, and now just PIA. After the merger, it was decided to sell PIA’s offices in Alexandria, VA and move to GATF’s facility in Sewickley (Pittsburgh) PA.

Both NAPL and PIA had annual trade shows, with NAPL’s called Graph Expo. In the 1970s, both shows were merged with the NPES PRINT show and managed under the Graphic Arts Show Company (GASC). The profit from the shows was split three ways, with each entity reaping about $1 million for PRINT?years and a few hundred thousand for Graph Expo years. That provided the money to buy buildings and support expansive staffs to support members.

The major differences between the two associations:

1. NAPL is direct membership; PIA membership is through one of about 30 (once 50 or so) affiliates.
2. NAPL tends to be management oriented; PIA has a strong technical orientation.
3. PIA does testing and research; NAPL does not.


1. Both offer technical consulting.
2. Both have an annual executive conference (funded in large part by suppliers).
3. Both run seminars on pertinent topics.
4. Both have economists and produce economic reports.
5. Both have extensive publication programs.

Both associations have seen declines in membership and revenue in the last decade. Dues cover less than half of their income. NAPL has absorbed the quick printing association (NAQP) and the R&E Council, and rents out parts of its building to other groups. Both associations have seen declines in supplier support and show income. Both associations have had significant layoffs of personnel.

As trade associations, both groups have boards of directors who have financial responsibility for the association. In the past, presidents or upper management of large printers served on the boards. Board members are volunteers who donate their time and effort to manage the association. In the past they had staffs back at the plant to handle problems, but today I notice that they are on their cell phones constantly, balancing the association and their own business. Printers today run very lean organizations.

It is time for the boards of both associations to become more proactive. Association board membership is a serious job. When I see high-paid association executives rushing to open car doors for board members, I realize that we have lost our focus. And when things go wrong, I hear the hired help blaming the board or its committees. Who is really in charge? The boards of both associations should re-evaluate why they serve and how they serve. They need to take back control of their associations.

The executive directors are called “president.” The PIA president’s salary was published last year in Advertising Age and showed a high six-figure amount. Under the current president, PIA has seen a reduction in printing company membership, an embezzlement, a reduction in reserves in the millions of dollars, the loss of superior talent that moved to other associations, and a loss in affiliates. One of the oldest affiliates went out of business and to this day no one talks about how supplier monies were funneled into foundations and then disappeared. I still believe that PIA charges the national scholarship fund too much for administrative services. This is all mentioned only because PIA released a press notice last week that it had extended “an olive branch” to NAPL and was rebuffed. PIA is not in a position to offer an olive branch to anyone and that release was disingenuous.

The people at PIA are exceptional and dedicated. But it is fair to comment on the current president’s performance. It has been poor in my opinion. No printing organzation would stand such performance; yet, the PIA board is not willing to make the tough decision.

NAPL had to respond to the PIA missive and it did so with a paragraph that said it was still interested in discussions. NAPL has issues with the affiliate approach. I have always considered the affiliates to be the strength of PIA, which is why I present seminars for them at no charge. However, they are having their own problems as the industry contracts and re-aligns itself. There are affiliates ready to drop out of PIA as some have already done. Fifteen percent of affiliate dues are paid to support PIA. Some affiliates are strong. Some have insurance programs or trade shows that assure a revenue base. Others struggle to attract and retain members. Some PIA affiliates even sell NAPL materials.

Within a few years the printing industry will be a shadow of its former size. It cannot and will not be able to sustain as many printing magazines (there were once 11 of them), or trade shows (there were once 22 of them), or suppliers (Kodak alone represents 15 companies that were once independent supporters and exhibitors), or as many trade associations (there were once 10 of them). Because neither NAPL nor PIA took responsibility for promoting print, another association has come into being called the Print Council.

Dr Joe feels that we need competition for ideas. We do not need two associations serving the same purpose to do that. Show revenue in 2009 is down, membership is down, and supplier support is down. The bone of contention in any possible merger appears to be the role of the local affiliates. If we just wait a while, there will be fewer of them as they continue to merge or go independent. There is a rumor that a number of them had a representative approach NAPL about taking them under NAPL’s wing. In any case, there are alternatives that merged national associations could apply that would include the affiliates if the discussions are honest enough.

Up to now, honesty has been in short supply. Did the PIA president actually tell his staff that a merger would never happen before offering the so-called olive branch? Are there people who like the idea of their own little clubs and thus vote to sustain groups that are not sustainable? Go back and list the awards that these self-admiration societies have given to themselves. Some of the members who received awards for superior management of their printing companies are no longer in business.

With one strong industry association, we could move the printing business ahead. We could cut duplication of effort and provide the tools that printers need to prosper in the new world of printing. We will need new thinking and new ideas and new people. We need to re-invent our printing industry trade associations.

So, here are my suggestions:

1. Deduct 15 percent from your affiliate or NAPL dues. Send them a message that waste is not an option.
2. Tell the board members from your state or region to either get on the ball or go away.
3. Tell the suppliers that their money is supporting an old paradigm and you want a discount on their products because that money is increasing the cost of equipment or software or supplies. Ask for a 40 percent discount!
4. Tell the entrenched management at all associations that their political games do not matter any more.

Of course, the status quo is too comfortable. But eventually change comes and it will come to the American printing association infrastructure. There are now more peer groups than ever before -- informal groups of printers united by revenue level, technology use, or market emphasis. They do not feel at home with the two national associations so they have gone off on their own.

Sadly, many of you do not even belong to any association. You do not see the value, or could not deal with the politics, or have enough challenges with your own business. But there is a need for strong trade associations -- they represent us to Congress, translate rules and regulations, provide insurance and group benefits, offer technical and management consulting, and promote print. We need a trade association that works for us.

I realize that this article will generate response, some of it defensive, because some people have a lot to protect. But I think that printers are smart people and that they will see the waste in the current approach. They need an association that truly serves them and the industry. And then they will come back to an association and make our industry stronger.

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