Johnson's World: Whose World Is It Anyway?

Real world advice and observations from a print shop owner.

January 1, 2012

You might have noticed me lurking here in the back of Quick Printing a couple of months ago.

Beginning this issue, Johnson’s World will be here every month. Many of you know me from my years with American Printer magazine, but some of you do not. What may you expect from me that you can’t get anywhere else? Glad you asked…

I’m in your business

I own a shop. I work there full time. I’m not a writer who observes printing; I’m a printer who writes about my work. Many write about print, but have never worked in the business. Others worked for equipment manufacturers; a very different animal. Some were once employed in the industry, but haven’t been for years.

That does not disqualify these experts, but the complete absence of balance indicates that we desperately need observation and commentary from within the business itself by those who face today’s problems. I feel your pain.

I’m not in your business

I’ve never called myself a quick printer, though on second thought, I guarantee the on-demand printing of books with 24-hour turnaround, which sounds pretty quick to me.

I’m a digital printer. Digital isn’t the wave of the future; it is here. I made the leap from offset worker bee to digital chief executive based mostly on optimism and faith, and because I wanted to do something different while remaining in the industry I first joined as a teenager.

I love this business

If I convey only one thing, I hope it is my love and enthusiasm for all things print.

“Is printing a science or a craft?” an early mentor asked me rhetorically. “Printing is an art, and the medium through which all other art is preserved.” Strong stuff. Print declining in importance? Don’t you believe it!

I can’t stand this business

Miniscule profit margins accepted as normal. Price cutting and price gouging. The “way things have always been” and “everybody knows”. Our poor image (or no image) among young people considering career paths. Sometimes I just shake my head. Other times I put my head on my desk. I used to bang my head against the wall, but now I have this column to write for therapy.

I like to write about “best practices,” but I feel it is my duty to also cover the worst. I promise that after pointing out a problem I’ll also offer a prescription, and close on an optimistic note.

Things are changing so fast

Technology is reshaping our business with blinding speed. Letterpress ruled more than 500 years; offset might not make 50. Handset wooden type from 1450 was still used in 1950; whereas publishing software circa 1990, such as Ventura and WordStar, won’t even run on today’s computers.

We now routinely print color at quality levels unimagined just a few years ago. It has never been easier for someone—anyone—to get their work into print. Of course, it has also never been easier to keep work out of print.

Things are the same as always

“This changes everything,” the mantra of the Internet boom of the 1990’s, was proven false by the bust. Sound business practices don’t change. Today’s technology only works by building upon the lessons of the past. In fact, if anyone is keeping score, I’ll bet I more frequently explain how digital is similar to, rather than different from, previous industry systems and workflows.

I’ve learned the hard way that buying machines with lasers instead of ink keys won’t make me a better salesman or a better businessman. I’ve received lots of advice along the way; some invaluable, some worthless. I’m here to share these and other lessons with you.

See you here next month!

Steve Johnson is president of Copresco in Carol Stream, IL, a pioneer in digital printing technology and print on demand. Contact him at [email protected].