Latest News

Sam-I-am, I do not like green tax and spam – magazine article

Thursday, 02 August 2007
By Print 21 Online Article
Tagged with:

My printer buddy is fond of sounding off about the evils of the internet, in particular the spam that invades what he considers to be his private inbox. When I told him that spam was a product of the printing industry, he took great offence. We then launched into one of several debates I have had recently with print industry colleagues on the nature of the internet.

It is my contention that the internet is just the current method of electronic communication. It differs from radio or telephone simply in the convergence of related technologies around it. Things like data storage, transmission speeds and colour electrography have all reached a new capability and a new, low price at a similar time. These convergences provide the internet and electronic communications with a new ability to mimic the previous dominant communication technology, graphics. What we call the printing industry.

It was graphic communications that enabled many of our institutions to flourish. Can you imagine a legal system, for instance, without provable contracts and what better way to make a contract provable than graphically, to write it down? A written contract is a form of graphic communication, enduring, provable and not easily varied. A banknote would be another example, grocery coupons, brochures – the list is endless.

The phrases ‘get it in writing’ or ‘signed contract’ still have legal resonance and any person of intelligence would accept that graphic communications or printing was one of the enabling technologies for what is now called Western Civilisation.
Instant appeal of electronic.

It is fun during Friday night debates over a few finely labeled cold ones to point out to my printer buddy that most functions of graphic communications can now be emulated electronically, if not surpassed in efficacy. Most retailers nowadays would prefer a credit card requiring a PIN over one requiring a signature for instance. My power bill is no longer printed and mailed but emailed, and the long-awaited promise of personalisation has been answered. Not by graphic communications but by electronic.

I have just ordered a new bush shirt from a personalised offer delivered to my inbox this very morning. Electronics has it all over graphics when it comes to personalisation. It is instant, may include a proof of reading for follow up and can be timed exactly. This compares with ‘mail and wait’ for printed promotions.

However, one thing that is not emulated by electronic communication is waste. I find it hard to think of anything that is printed that does not end up being someone’s rubbish at some time. The spam so hated by my friend, that threatens the internet, does not threaten the planet and the inevitable imposition of pre-manufacture taxes will further increase the cost advantage of electronic over graphic communication.

Tax-free and easy? Don’t be so sure

There is a view that waste pre-taxes will not be a levied on the printing industry and we should not concern ourselves. The first part is probably correct as printing is not a creative manufacturing process but a modifying one. Printing takes materials already created and converts them into another manufactured product. There is nothing created by the process that requires waste disposal and the printed materials themselves should not be levied for disposal.

But not to be concerned about the effect waste taxing will have on our industry is a very different thing. We already hear talk of the carbon market and the desired effect is to have environmental impact costs borne by those who cause the impact. Well, there are two ways to have an environmental impact; one is by using it and the other is by spoiling it. Let’s call them depletion and dumping.

Consider the manufacturer of paper, or board, or film or any other substrate you can think of. The paper manufacturer is cutting down a tree somewhere. A tree is a renewable resource but will still cop a fairly hefty depletion tax for reducing the world’s ability to absorb carbon. Then the tree is made into a product which will produce further carbon when disposed of, so will cop another hit at point of manufacture. Selling the roll or ream to the friendly local printer will see GST added to the already markedly increased price.

Now let’s put some ink on it. Ink is pretty much oil and soot, neither of which you would want in your vege garden or lunchtime sandwich. Mined oil, as we know, is not a renewable resource. It also produces greenhouse gases during production and disposal so it’s a baddie. You may rely on further heavy imposts both for depleting the resource and dumping the result. Vegetable-based oils have the advantage of being renewable and should avoid a depletion tax, but all oils are pollutants at the disposal end of things, particularly if further polluted with other substances. As for the soot portion or pigment, well, how do you manufacture soot and is it good for the environment?

Then we have bauxite, the raw material for aluminium, and let’s not forget rubber or the fact that presses are largely made of modified ferrous substances.

True, printing may avoid any disposal pre-taxes. But every input we have will incur them and this will inexorably increase the actual cost of graphic communications for the next few generations. In addition, as an industry we are always likely to be in carbon deficit and will have to buy carbon credits from industries that generate them, like forestry.

A sign of the times

For those who think it won’t happen or the ‘not in my life time’ brigade, let us consider our cousins in the Auckland signage business and the local Auckland City Council. There, for reasons completely unrelated to the collecting of rubbish or efficient sewage disposal, the council seems determined to ban signage from the city environs. A pity if you have just ploughed a million or so into the latest superwide plotter, not to mention the poor chap who used to rent out billboard space on the side of his building. Bugga off and fix the trains, say I, and what about some rates relief?

It is a timely reminder though of the kind of pressures which will increase as global warming becomes the excuse for a rise in extreme green policy. But extreme or not, just as letterpress was superseded by offset and offset by digital, these forces cannot be resisted and graphic communications must evolve or die.

Encouragingly, there are signs of the evolution required. The New Zealand industry is in the top four of users of recycled paper in the world. Our rapid technology uptake and modern plants mean that waste minimisation processes such as those available via CIP4 are readily used by the wise plant purchaser. Every printer I know recycles aluminium plates and appreciates the revenue produced. NZ printers simply must be efficient or our short run lengths are terminal. We print, and boy oh boy, do we print.

That’s a load of old print

Which brings me back to our invention of what the internet boys call spam. I live in the country, far from the madding with a rural delivery address. My spam filter cuts out most of the unwanted from my electronic mailbox but my physical address is assailed. I no longer subscribe to a newspaper but like it or not I receive the Franklin County news twice a week, the Papakura Courier, Franklin Life Pukekohe, Franklin Life Papakura, The Valley Voice rural, The Valley Voice Papakura and the Papakura Aucklander, all purporting to be newspapers. Then just for good measure there’s the Rural News, Farmers Weekly and Straight Furrow, most of these are printed coldset, some with heatset covers.

In addition I may expect weekly catalogues from Briscoes, The Warehouse, Dick Smith, Countdown, Foodtown, New World, Mitre 10 and Harvey Norman. These are mostly heatset tabloids or similar.

Let’s not forget Warehouse Stationery, RD1, Bayleys, Harcourts, Rebel Sports, Postie Plus, Barfoot and Thompson, Pascoes, State insurance, Hill & Stewart and Bond & Bond. Then, of course, there’s my mail!

I presume all of these, which amounts to a considerable annual tonnage, are delivered by the petrol consuming and increasingly wealthy Rural Delivery driver.

Some of these shoppers are beautifully printed examples of the craft at its best. The real estate catalogues in particular feature magnificent contones with real colour depth and excellent layout and design. Without exception, I glance through the glass at the printing, have sniff at the ink and place them on the disposal pile. Once a month I load up my truck (yes folks, a truckload a month) and take the lot to the dump where, along with 60 gazillion others, I neatly pile them in tied bundles for recycling.

Turn down the volume, pump up the value

My point is this. Electronic spam is cheaper and costs the planet nothing. The graphics communication industry cannot win this war unless we even up the battlefield now in preparation for the changing world. A world in which printing products that will only be dumped will be way too expensive. In that future, purchasers, not sellers, will decide what is worth printing and will not tolerate the waste of resources printing spam.

We should ensure that any regulations restricting electronic spam also include the printed variety. As an industry we should be seeking a situation where the only thing that arrives in an inbox, electronic or physical, is something requested. That will destroy the fishing activities of the electronic spammers and restore real value to the printed product. If someone requests information on the latest Jaguar, can you imagine Jaguar sending them an email? You cannot read the laptop in the bath and a good brochure is still worth keeping.

It is only by lessening the volume and increasing the value of printed product that the graphic communications industry can continue to maintain relevance in a globally warming world.

Got a view on this story? Drop us a line and let us know

Comment on this article

To receive notification of comments made to this article, you can also provide your email address below.