“The industry sure has changed in your lifetime,” Jim Olsen said to me as we walked through the aisles at Graph Expo this afternoon. “And it sure has changed in my lifetime.” Jim got his start in the industry at Williams Press, back when magazines were printed on letterpress equipment. So he’s seen a few changes over the years. (I should also hasten to add that he has the latest iPhone and bought an iPad before I did.)

We had been walking back from a demonstration of the Fujifilm Digital Inkjet J Press 720. The demonstration was pure trade show theater, Petit Guignol perhaps. The press itself is concealed behind a white curtain. As the orchestral music swells, the curtain slides back and the press is unveiled, and I was kind of reminded of that scene in King Kong where Kong is unveiled to a New York audience, who are aghast, agape, and agog at the sight before them. (Happily, the analogy ends there.) The machine was then demoed—a high-speed (up to 2,700 four-up sheets per hour) inkjet printer that prints on regular coated offset stock. To my eye, the printed samples looked pretty good, and unless the demo was some sort of Mission: Impossible-like ruse (were Barney and Rollin hidden inside handing out preprinted sheets?), they were printed live as we watched. “It’s magic,” Jim had said. Well, a certain Arthur C. Clarke quote notwithstanding, not really. Just technology.

Today was the opening day of Graph Expo 2010, which, despite the show’s compressed physical size (it was remarked that the extra space was there for after-hours roller skating), actually drew a pretty good crowd, a welcome relief for those who were dreading a reprise of Print 09. It has been remarked several times today that, as one analyst had it, “one couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a piece of digital equipment.” And, after all, the 900-pound gorilla in the room (if you can stand all this monkey business) was the dearth of offset. Obviously, some big names were conspicuously absent, which has been fairly well publicized in advance. (Or so I thought; I overheard one woman on the shuttlebus back to the hotel bewail, “Heidelberg wasn’t there!” as if a favorite uncle had skipped a family reunion. Which may not have been far from the case.)

Still, this is very much a digital show, and an inkjet show at that. Some are surprised, but, when I think about Jim Olsen’s history in the industry, I can’t help but wonder in what year an attendee at a printing trade show said something along the lines of “one couldn’t throw a rock without hitting a piece of offset equipment” and lamented the loss of letterpress equipment exhibitors. Things change. And, well, wouldn’t it be boring if everything stayed completely stagnant year after year?

But then it was with a certain wry humor that I noticed the following plaque on the wall of the Hampton Majestic Hotel, which, if I were of a cynical bent, would point to as an omen for our industry:

Or perhaps it's the subtitle of the USPS's annual report. (Don't comment; I'm just kidding.)

Take a trip to a printing museum and this same sign could very well accompany a piece of equipment or an entire technology that had once been productive and profitable. So we shouldn’t lament that the market or our industry is changing. We need to change with it, and enjoy the ride!

And to that end, if you are reading this, and wondering what to do with yourself Monday at 10:30 am, our own Dr. Joe will be giving his “Disrupting the Future” sermon (fire will be provided, but bring your own brimstone; I think you can pick some up in the food court, if the smell was any indication) at the Xerox booth, and he and I will both be signing copies of Disrupting the Future afterward. I’ll be wearing that sign from the Hampton around my neck as a badge of honor. And I'll bring my roller skates.