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“Loss of Annual Report work inevitable” – Letter to the Editor

Thursday, 27 April 2006
By Print 21 Online Article

Governments, corporations and many other organisations elsewhere in the world, have been using electronic delivery for distributing statutory information, legal documents and annual reports for some time now. To imply that the decision by the Australian Government to allow corporations to distribute their annual reports in this way is breaking new ground is a load of delusional rubbish.

To demonstrate the point, here is a link to the Annual Report of General Motors.

If annual reports are presented in a password-protected PDF file, then they cannot be tampered with. Neither can several other methods of internet information delivery. Has Patrick Howard ever found that his news stories on Print21 Online have been tampered with? I challenge you to demonstrate that this can be done.

I also dispute the claim that this method of distributing Annual Reports will somehow lead to the use of more paper instead of less, by asserting that each recipient will race to his computer with excitement and bated breath to print out the entire content of the document, the moment that it lands in his/her inbox.

Let us not kid ourselves. Every last copy of this yearly presentation that consists of a bit of spin, a few numbers and a requirement to meet corporate obligations, is not exactly read with the great enthusiasm by each and every recipient, the way that the issuing company would like to dream about. Most shareholders give it a glance and send it to the recycling bin to keep company with the 90 per cent output of the printing industry already there. Many copies meet this fate unopened.

Annual reports sent by email in PDF form, or as a dynamic link to the corporate internet server, will be read on screen and perhaps if there is some information of interest it may result in the printing of a page or two. But that would be the exception with most recipients. People these days are comfortable with the idea that they have information on their computer that is accessible, searchable and archivable, without having to convert it into hard copy, unless they want to read it in bed. How many stories, from Print21 Online for instance, did you print out to hard copy in the last 12 months?

I have been in the printing industry since 1962. I first started in business in 1978, when I set up shop with a beat-up old Rotaprint and a Heidelberg Platten. I only had to print some business cards and put them into letterboxes and “they came”, despite the fact that I was hidden away in a basement with no signage on the building. Those days are gone.

In the interval, there have been several generations of technological and social change. Some of the changes have been quite traumatic. But running around blowing a lot of hot air won’t do anything to prevent what is inevitable, as Australia catches up with other countries in the developed world. You may attract a little attention for a short while by huffing and puffing, but at the cost of your long-term credibility.

A more realistic approach would be to seek new markets for a heavily over-supplied industry and perhaps negotiate with the government for ways to assist some less competitive sections of the industry to close down. Part of the problem has been not just the constant stream of new technology, which is always going to continue, but the fact that old machines are sold down the food chain resulting in a second tier of operators who try their luck with the old gear and rely on lower prices in order to attract enough business to survive.

It is a brave company who sends their old equipment to be melted down instead of turning it into cash, but by not doing so at an industry level, a new layer of competition is spurned in an already over supplied market. However, the greatest force at work here is the fact that the third world is now competing with us for employment and their fair share of resources after being screwed by the developed world for the last 100 years.

The slaves have arisen and the good times have ‘Gone with the Wind’. Some blame the silicon chip while others blame Paul Keating. But doing so didn’t make a difference. Blaming John Howard will be just as ineffective. Asking us to believe that you can convince him to cancel this legislation for change is like suggesting that a bunch of old compositors should take to the streets with banners aloft, protesting the use of offset printing machines.

I understand just how hard this loss of annual reports work is to swallow, but you can’t tell me that you couldn’t see it coming. My only point of surprise is that it didn’t happen five years ago. Technology and the resulting social change are like a freight train. You either jump on board and hang on for dear life, or you sit on the track and get run over.

I have tried both.

Steven de Vroom

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