Posts Tagged ‘James Cryer’

  • The Romance of Letterpress: A printer’s journey across America, 1913.

    Walter Cryer II, back in Sydney in about 1919 after returning from his trip to America. He married his fiancé, Ruby.

    This is the story of the discovery of a diary my grandfather had written back in 1913-14, as he travelled across America as a newly-minted letterpress printer, having grown up in Sydney. He was 21.

    It’s hard to imagine him, every night as he travelled across America, staying overnight in a bedsitter or guesthouse, busily recording his day’s activities – he could never have imagined that his words would echo down the corridors of time, over 100 years later.

    We gain some insights into him, into the state of the printing industry at that time, and glimpses into what society looked like at that time – moments before the world was plunged into darkness of WWI.

    Bear in mind, he was a lowly tradesman, working on the factory floor so his words or observations are not as sophisticated or well-informed as they may have been if they were the writings of a manager or an historian.

    They are, however, a first hand account by someone who was there, on the spot.

    Bear in mind also this was a pivotal era, as up to this time society was literally a horse-and-buggy one, but it was unique in that horses shared the roads with cars, and square-rigged sailing vessels shared the seas with steam-powered ships.

    In only a few years, as the world emerged from the other side of the war, it would be capable of building sophisticated machinery. And yes, it may be regrettable that the technology used post-war to build high-speed printing presses was based on lessons learnt in how to build machine-guns and tanks, but that’s the funny old world we live in.

    Discovering the diary

    Let me backtrack: it was an amazing discovery to find this diary containing nearly 200 pages all neatly written in pencil. Bearing in mind he probably left school at age 15-16, to join his father’s printery, his handwriting and spelling are almost perfect. I counted three spelling mistakes and two grammatical errors and one of those is debatable! What does that tell you about the standards of teaching, 100 years later?

    There was another twist. About four years ago, when I busily started typing out the written word, I was intrigued to occasionally stumble across a reference to ‘p/c’’ – as in ‘I sent/received a p/c.’ I assumed this meant parcel but eventually worked out that it meant postcard. Bearing in mind that these described events are over 100 years ago, it is inconceivable that the ‘p/c’s’ could have miraculously re-appeared. But they did, by an absolute fluke. One of my cousins had inherited the postcards – all 150-odd that sent during his 10-month trip – and we can thank her for scanning them.

    We should also be thankful for the fact that Walter had a fiancé who encouraged him to send all those postcards. Luckily he married her, so they got passed down to her descendants, who didn’t throw them out!

    Postcard #51 – The more vot you see of Chicago

    I never got to meet my grandfather – he died the year before I was born. This has prompted me to reflect on what sort of man he was. He was a very good man by all accounts, widely respected throughout the printing fraternity, a Mason, a Methodist and a member of the Lindfield church choir – he ticked all the boxes. But I had long since given up any hope of ‘communicating’ with him, unless it is with the help of a Ouija-board.

    James Cryer (right) presents The Romance of Letterpress – Youthful Impressions:
    A printer’s journey across America, 1913 at the Penrith Museum of Printing

    Difficulties in interpreting something written 100 years ago

    And so it was an amazing experience that I should stumble upon this diary when going through my late father’s study. Upon picking it up and turning to the first page, which referred to him embarking on a ship leaving Sydney, in November, 1913, I knew immediately it was him!

    However, there are some challenges in grappling with something written in another era. As mentioned, his hand-writing was perfect  – better than our own kids – but he would occasionally use a word or term that completely floored me. Suppose you’d attempted this task 20 years ago of typing out the diary how would you unravel the following:

    1) D&RG?

    2) Jack Rabbit?

    3) Dobying?

    You’d spend all day at the local library and draw a blank. These days, a 10-year old could probably Google/Wikipedia and find answers in a matter of seconds.

    It’d be like us driving over the harbour bridge and assuming it got demolished soon after and saying,’I drove across the SHB …’. One hundred years later, SHB could be a complete mystery.

    OK, in case you’re wondering: 1) Denver & Rio Grande Railway – long since gone. 2) Then the world’s highest roller-coaster ride, in Chicago – long since gone. 3) Doing one’s own laundry, actually ‘dhobying’  – originally a naval term, long since gone.

    Grandparents, their role in society

    This discovery has made me think about the role of grandparents, who over the centuries have been either useful or not so useful. After the last war, my parents, for example, didn’t want to be reminded of a bygone era of depressions, wars, old-fashioned clothing, etc. So our parents didn’t tell us much about their parents probably thinking we wouldn’t be interested.

    And so I grew up knowing nothing about my own father’s father, as if he’d never existed. How things have changed: no longer are grandparents ignored – they’re now indispensable, cheap babysitters!

    Postcard #5 – Circular Quay.

    The reason for the trip

    Moving right along … the reason for the trip? Back then, it was almost like a ritual. The boss would send his first-born son (no daughters!) off to England or America to learn the trade. Walter’s father, also called Walter, had established the family business of Gibbs, Cryer Pty Ltd, a small printery in Druitt St, Sydney, in 1903. He would have said something like: ‘Now, son, off you go, you’re a good Methodist so you’re not meant to have a good time – you’re there to work and to call on as many printing companies and suppliers as you can and gain as much information about what’s going on in printing on the other side of the world.’

    And that’s exactly what he did. Along the way, he contacted many printing companies, as well as manufacturers of printing presses, suppliers of inks, paper, etc.  We can assume his father was proud of him. He certainly seemed to have a good time, despite his Methodist background. Just how much having a fiancé back in Sydney kept him on the straight and narrow we’ll never know. There are the occasional references to a mysterious ‘L’, as in ‘I took ‘L’ to the park’ or ‘I took ‘L’ home’. (More on that intriguing ‘L’ later.)

    Postcard #7 – RMS Aorangi.

    Off to America

    And so, after my grandfather jumped on a ship and shovelled coal across the Pacific, he disembarked in San Francisco on the very last day of 1913 into the teeth of a howling blizzard. Having left a balmy Sydney summer, welcome to the Northern Hemisphere!

    Postcard #9 – California Invites The World.

    To add to his woes he couldn’t get a job. America was going through one of its mini-depressions, largely caused by its very precarious banking system, where every man and his dog could set up a bank on the nearest street-corner and promptly go bust.

    So he jumped on a train and went to Utah, where he got a job as a letterpress printer in Salt Lake City. That didn’t last long. He took another train trip to the Midwest where he got another job, which also didn’t last long.

    A clashing of cultures

    Postcard #27 – Mormon Temple, Salt Lake City, Utah.

    Postcard #27 B.

    It was during this stint that he had an argument with the boss. This would normally not be a good look until you realise the context: a collision of cultures. Australia had just passed, in 1909, the world’s most enlightened workplace laws granting such things as overtime, penalty rates, the whole schemozzle.  Fast-forward to America, which had, and may still have, the toughest, most brutal work regime, virtually unregulated and based on the notion of ‘rugged individualism.’ And so working six days in a row, or working on a Saturday, made not the slightest difference – it was all at the same low rate.

    Because of this quite brutal, dog-eat-dog atmosphere, the unions were just starting to exert some influence. The innocuously-named ‘traveller’s card’ was an attempt to force bosses to only employ tradesman. This is a stain on America’s industrial relations record, as even in the 1920s various States would try to introduce such fair work laws, only to have them chucked out by the US Supreme Court on the grounds they infringed civil liberties.

    Print: becoming a part of everyday life

    Postcard #91 – Uncle Sam.

    At that time, printed products were starting to intrude more and more into peoples’ lives – even such mundane things as railway timetables, menus, business cards/stationery. But America was starting to show its flair for marketing, even then. There began to spring up things called novelty shops, which sold what we would call personalised or branded-printing, coffee-mugs, baseball-caps and the like.

    One of the classic examples was women’s powder-compacts that banks would use as give-aways. The stylish woman of 1913 would stop in downtown Chicago to put her lippy on using a compact with First National City Bank plastered all over it. I suspect the women soon realised they were being duped but Hollywood to the rescue! They invented Jean Harlow and flogged her image to newly-emerging salaried women who saw no problem in brandishing a picture of the latest Hollywood starlet. Yes, the printing industry was the beneficiary, but not without challenges: try printing subtle skin-tones onto metal or ceramic.

    This is just one example of how printing was making its presence felt. But also how clients were demanding the impossible and the printing industry had to rise to the occasion.

    The role of postcards and the advent of ‘three-colour printing’

    Postcard #50 – If you vont come to Chicago vy von’t you, vot?.

    Arguably, the most dramatic example of this, was the humble postcard. Surprisingly, postcards experienced what they called a golden era way back before WW I – between 1905-12 – when literally millions of postcards were whirling around the globe, like a swarm of locusts. People didn’t even have to travel, you could send one to your pen-friend in Scotland or Canada, saying ‘How are you?’ and they’d send one back say ‘Very well, how are YOU?’  Are you seeing comparisons with modern social media?.

    The problem was demand far outstripped the industry’s capacity to supply, due to the slowness of the printing process.The cost of printing even a humble postcard put them in the luxury category. But where there’s a will there’s a way and somebody worked out that you could speed-up the process if you eliminated one colour , taking CMYK back to three colours. But which three? Basically it was the three primary colours – minus black – which if tweaked slightly, could achieve a masterful reproduction of most scenes.  Jet black doesn’t appear too much in nature.

    Another example of how one industry, in this case travel by the burgeoning middle classes, was able to push the print industry to new heights. Plenty of printing companies back then made lots of money producing the humble postcard. In making postcards better and more affordable, it probably also helped promote more tourism.

    Consider another problem: these days to achieve four-colour reproductions, we apply rigid standards; colour is calibrated, inks are made to consistent standards, paper is made to various standards of opacity, porosity, reflectance. Imagine back then, you’re a printing company charged with reproducing a printed image of a scene to closely match the original. There were no colour standards, no ink standards and no paper standards – a printing company had to be its own laboratory, testing by trial and error all the ingredients – and don’t forget colour-matching was very much in the eye of the beholder, as interior-lighting was also all over the place. It was basically up to each tradesman to colour-match the outcome and there was a one in 20 chance he could be colour-blind!

    But in spite of all these impediments, or perhaps because of them, we persevered and the humble postcard became the rock upon which print got a massive technological kick-start. Hard to imagine now.


    Chicago – the location of the world’s biggest everything

    Postcard #60 – Lake Michigan, Chicago.

    Anyway, after meeting with mixed success in trying to find employment in the Midwest, someone said to Walter: ‘Go to Chicago!’ which he did, and immediately found secure employment. Well, for four months, anyway.

    It happened to be with Chicago’s largest printer, which made it also the world’s largest printer, RR Donnelly. Walter was running a new high-speed rotary-letterpress machine,which meant it printed using rotating cylinders, rather than the slower, flatbed presses. This device would have been like driving a Ferrari, expensive, fast, sophisticated, prestigious .

    And what was he printing? The world’s largest print job. At that time, Chicago had the world’s largest mail-order company, Sears-Roebuck, which had built a fortune entirely as a mail-order business. Probably hundreds of thousands of huge directories, the size of two house-bricks, were sent out to millions of families across America’s Midwest. They would spend their entire winter huddled round the fireside, from Texas to Montana, eagerly ordering everything from corsets to tractor-parts from these huge, fully illustrated directories.

    At that time Chicago was experiencing a kind of growth spurt, both industrially and culturally. It was the centre of America’s vast agricultural empire, which made it the biggest railhead, with the world’s biggest abattoir. There was the newly-emerging ‘prairie school of architecture’ from whence came Walter Burley Griffin, who won the prize to design Canberra, back in 1913. Companies were flocking to Chicago, along with as immigrants from Europe, and consequently, as printing is a derivative industry, it became the world’s major print hub.

    Postcard #57 – Lake Shore Drive. Chicago, Ill.

    The ‘Inland Printer’ Magazine

    An interesting sidelight is the name of the world’s largest printing trade-magazine. Started in the 1880s, it featured a different painting on the cover of each edition, to stress that printing was still considered more of a craft than a science and that, notwithstanding our tramp printers,  a good printer required a degree of artistic abilities to be considered a true craftsman. But the name of this magazine? The Inland Printer. Inland? Yes, that was a nod to the fact that it was not a New York publication. This was Chicago asserting itself as bold and confident, a place that actually made stuff, unlike New York which was just a financial centre and nothing more. Ah, more blokey rivalry! The magazine continued under that name until about the 1970s.


    Working conditions in 1913 – life in the pressroom

     All the presses he ran required several helpers, we call them offsiders. They included feeders, who literally fed sheets of paper into the gaping jaws of the press. Feeders were invariably women. Why? I know this question may prompt facetious responses but the truth is that women were/are more dexterous, skilful and conscientious, not to mention more reliable than their male counterparts. Admittedly, standing all day tossing sheets of paper at a machine takes a special kind of dedication. Blokes just couldn’t cut it!


    is an excerpt from my draft manuscript, titled “The Romance of Letterpress.”)

    Postcard #82 – Brooklyn Bridge.


    Postcard #71 – Seeing Niagara Falls by Rubber Neck Wagon.

    And finally: who was the mysterious Elle ?– a mystery unravelled

    But getting back to Walter and his travels, let me solve the typographical mystery of the occasional reference to ‘L’ in his journal entries. This would normally not arose much curiosity.  He was a happily-engaged man, far, far from home, yet every so often, he’d say “Took “L” to the park” or “Took “L” home” this being in Chicago. And then some time later “Took “L” to Coney Island.” I’m thinking, wow! Not only did he have a girlfriend in Chicago, but she’s now followed him to New York! What do I tell the grandkids?

    Fortunately or not, depending whose side you’re on, the mysterious ‘L’ turned out to be the brand new elevated-railways popping up in both New York and Chicago. America’s answer to London’s Underground, these exciting new modes of mass-transit were lovingly referred to as the “L”.

    Too much information – maybe I should draw a veil over the mysterious ‘L’.

    To allay any lingering concerns, he returned to Sydney in 1914. He more or less took over the family business, married Ruby, his fiancé, had three kids (including my old man, also called Walter). He had a long and successful business career, renaming the company W.J. Cryer & Company Ltd in 1925. He was a respected member of the Master Printers Association. His son, Wal, in his turn joined the business before to fight in WWII. Walter continued to run the business until his son returned.
     He died in 1946.

    ‘Walter’ James Cryer
    June, 2018


    This is a transcript of a talk given at the Penrith Museum of Print in June 2018, as part of its program designed to reach out to the wider community as well as those interested in print heritage.

    Tribute should be paid to the Penrith Museum of Printing, for allowing me – and hopefully others – to speak on topics of interest pertaining to preserving the print heritage.

    Visit their website for further events.

  • The case for more capacity-based pricing in the printing industry – James Cryer

    The story of how Anthony Thirlby’s UK-based printing company, ESP Colour, is revolutionising the workflow, pricing and productivity of the industry – in the April issue of Print21 magazine – prompted James Cryer, industry gadfly and iconoclast, to write an affirmative and positive response.

    Greetings Anthony,

    I was fascinated to read the article on your company in Patrick Howard’s Print21. Being 4th generation in print, I toss the occasional thought bubble into his magazine and online publications on issues that annoy or fascinate me about the printing industry.

    And being self-employed I can afford to be as idiotic, controversial or merely thought provoking as I wish. No one can fire me! I’ve tried everything to fire up a vicious attack –even a mild rebuke, or being told I’m an idiot would be nice ­but so far nothing.

    I can just imagine if I’d written about a hypothetical company that proposed to do what you’re doing and wrote: Now what you’ve got to do to make a buck is to tell your clients they CAN’T have their favourite stock, nor can they have exactly the trim-size their chairman nominated 40 years ago and they may have to WAIT a few extra days  – the fact that the newly-minted purchasing officer who said they needed the job tomorrow when they didn’t really need it for two weeks is irrelevant! – And (I haven’t finished yet!) your client CANNOT see a proof, no, not even if they offer to pay, it’ll bugger-up the entire workflow and cost millions!

    And finally, if they’d even persisted in reading this far without tipping their morning coffee over my words as if to obliterate them forever, I would, tongue in cheek, of course, tell them that if any client even HINTED at wanting to come and do a press-check they’d be fired! And yes, firing clients is actually part of the process of running a profitable print shop.

    As said, if I’d written that as a serious article I’d have to check my letterbox and look under my car even more frequently than I do now. And yet, here it is, in brutal reality, reminding us that truth really IS stranger than fiction – a printing company making money by breaking all the rules!

    Just backtracking slightly, I must say I am a bit of an iconoclast myself when it comes to trying to break down some of the long-held conventions, which have plagued our industry. So, when I first started reading the article I was mildly intrigued and began underlining a few bits that caught my fancy.

    By the time I got to the end, the whole double-page spread was awash with double and triple underlinings, furious exclamation-marks and vigorous marginal scribblings, making it vaguely like one of our grandkids’ works of art.

    Anthems to success

    But seriously, this article, or more correctly, your business model, should be compulsory reading for all intending entrants into the wonderful world of commercial print. You are to be worshipped as the anti-Christ – the messiah, the Great Profit (sorry!) the one who can lead us out of the wilderness and back onto the sunlit uplands – from whence we came(th).

    The bits I thought were the most radical were –

    • “98% of what we print goes on one size”
    • “We … employ the best people [and] pay them 20% above average” (I must say this is music to a recruiter’s ears)
    • “We never schedule by delivery date” (love it!)
    • “There was initial reluctance from clients but we won them over” – and – “clients formed the biggest obstacle”.

    They’re all anthems to success, but arguably the last one is the most telling. Traditionally we’ve all been a bunch of lemmings, reluctant to stand out from the crowd or take a stand. We’re an industry cowed by convention and struggling to climb out from under the yoke of craft, which philosophically is built around perpetuating the status quo.

    If I had written that mythic article proposing we should do what you have done, I’d have been assailed by an avalanche of why it wouldn’t work.  We’re unwitting subscribers to the maxim: The perfect is the enemy of the good – in that we’re quick to see possible faults with ANY new system and so we cling to the proven or the familiar and don’t do anything!

    Plus, we’ve been too quick to seek the ‘magic bullet’ in rushing out to buy the latest Speedmaster (for example).  But if you don’t upgrade the workflow software you may as well just go and buy a second-hand press. Us blokes and we are mainly a masculine industry, are too bedazzled by big iron. We don’t see the bigger picture, which is the point Frank Romano made when he said: ‘Workflow is king’ (or words to that effect).

    Another dimension to this is, I was pleased to read that nowhere are you bleating about ‘quality’. That’s yesterday’s fish-wrapper – ALL print quality is good these days!

    What you’re doing is not unlike what Subway do; offer limited choices  – a few bread choices, a few fillings, a few sauces, etc. The customer thinks he’s getting unlimited choices, but in fact Subway have worked out what – I paraphrase you – 98% of people want to eat! If you want Trader Joe’s South African Smoke Seasoning or some such, forget it! Go somewhere else. And we’re not stopping to ask the chef if he’s heard of it. Go away, you’re holding up the queue of paying customers!

    I’m not suggesting that printing companies should employ Serco-style armed guards with machetes and axes to ward off time-waster clients, but … hmmm!

    You want it when?

    One of the causes of this pressure to schedule jobs according to their perceived ‘wanted dates,’ which you have refused to kow-tow to, is the sense that every print job is URGENT! We’ve probably contributed to the problem, collectively over the years by over-promising and under-delivering – or to put it in more technical jargon: we frequently run late.

    So clients hedge their bets by insisting on a delivery date that is sooner than they really need it. And why wouldn’t they? We don’t give them any reason to do otherwise. The pressure this creates leads to a lumpy workflow, where we DON’T group like jobs or adjust the press progressively as you do. The workflow becomes a battleground where ‘special pleading’ trumps efficiency.

    This disruptiveness gets embedded in our collective cost structure and creates a massive arbitrage opportunity for someone to come along, who is not under-cutting but who simply has a smoother workflow.

    How to get the smoother sequencing? If only there was a sorting mechanism to group all the GENUINELY urgent jobs, then the reasonably urgent ones – and finally the non time-critical ones. One idea I’ve had (Anthony, I’d be interested in your thoughts) is to price them differently according to urgency. I’m not suggesting you change your system but there may be scope to introduce a time-sensitive pricing mechanism, if not in your operation, then other printers could explore it, as another way of using price signals to modify customers’ behaviour.

    My proposal is as follows;

    What better or easier way to do that, than to simply quote EVERY job by routinely offering (say) three price options:

    $10/k for urgent delivery (i.e. that falls outside our normal flow);

    $9/k for normal delivery;

    $8/k if you’re in no hurry and allow us to blend it into our workflow at a time that suits us.

    The numbers are arbitrary, of course. But the point is that for 100 years we’ve priced everything on a normal delivery basis, but we cave in and deliver many jobs ahead of schedule, which has a disruptive and largely un-recovered cost impact. Economists love this three-tiered approach as it places a cost on disruption, but it ALSO offers a reward/incentive to those clients who genuinely aren’t in any hurry. Why should they pay as much as the queue-jumper? But that’s what our traditional one size-fits-all pricing philosophy has encouraged over the years: it’s actually ENCOURAGED everyone to seek a rushed delivery benefit for free!

    This idea is not new! Airlines use it, as do hotels, just about every service provider in a competitive market where excess capacity can come and go like the wind, uses it – except the printing industry!

    There is no LOGICAL reason why we shouldn’t adopt a capacity-based pricing model. We can now monitor and predict our workflow pretty well. I think the answer is that our estimators probably went to the same school that estimators in the building game went to where you simply take the cost of a tonne of bricks, add the cement (metaphorically), add the labour component, add the lot together and bingo! there’s the cost of your building.

    I know it’s going to cause aggravation among some quarters, who will struggle to understand why the very same book or brochure could cost $6 one day and $5 another. I’m dying to tell someone, somewhere, someday, the reason is that the latter client didn’t lie about wanting it overnight; he actually gave the printer a few days extra to produce it!

    But getting back to your new approach. The economist would view it as simply stopping one client gaining an unfair advantage –i.e. getting his job earlier than another client, but not paying anything for that benefit. It’s a bit like a crowd at a football match; if one person stands up to gain an unfair advantage everyone else then has to. But nobody is better off. In fact they’re all worse off, because now they’re all standing!

    Your pricing approach, is virtually like saying, if EVERYBODY sits down, we’re ALL going to be better off!

    Everyone in our industry is complaining about margins. Everyone’s complaining about not wanting to lower prices, because in theory it squeezes margins. Everyone talks about trying to get a better i.e. higher, price.  But the paradox is, that the higher the price of ANYTHING, the LESS people will buy. With the advent of the internet and other media, it was never so important that print should be price competitive, not with the bloke down the road, but with other communication options.

    Your approach addresses the margin issue without obsessing about the price issue and where you’re having the best of both worlds; one – by asking everyone to ‘sit down’ your margins go up, and two – by effectively offering a generally more competitive price, more people will buy from you.

    Sometimes the simplest solutions seem to elude us.

    I’d be interested to know what you think of the above – a lot of it is simply stating the bleeding obvious – but sometimes even that has to be spelled out.

    Yours is arguably the single most dramatic break-through in memory, in our march towards greater efficiency.


    James Cryer, BA, MBA

    JDA Print Recruitment

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  • Are printers really paying too much in wages?

    Industry gadfly, James Cryer, bites back at the suggestion that high wages are a problem for the printing industry.

    In the current issue of Print21 magazine, Hagop Tchamkertenian, the industry’s sole full-time economist, claims the industry’s wages bill is too high. In his opinion the secret of how to make a buck in the printing industry is to reduce your labour costs.

    As far as I’m concerned this earth-shattering revelation can be implemented in one of three ways.

    One being to simply front up to all your employees and say,“You’re all costing me a fortune, I’m knocking 10% off everyone’s wage packet – starting next week!”

    Or, you could say – “Dear valued employees, the PIAA advises that we’re employing too many people and we’ll be drawing lots tomorrow in the staff canteen to find out which of you will get the chop.”

    Or, you could say in more polite terms, “I’ve evaluated the optimal man/machine mix, and have come to the conclusion that I need to substitute more capital for labour, which means, I’m buying a big new press so I don’t need to employ so many tradesmen.”

    We know this is happening among many high-profile firms – Southern Colour, Bambra, Label House and Jaypak in WA, to mention just a few, who have proudly proclaimed the power of their new press and its capacity to replace multiple bodies with just one.

    So far, so good. Hagop should be pleased to endorse all the above, as such strategies will result in achieving a lower cost-base.

    But hang on. Aren’t there a couple of road-blocks to this theory?

    One is that we’re about to embark on a recruitment drive to attract and retain more staff. Is Hagop is advocating we should employ fewer people? Perhaps we should call a halt to the new industry training initiative?

    Another is that I know a small but highly successfull digital-centre whose boss deliberately pays his staff over market rates. Do we advise this manager that he’s got it all wrong – he should go back and reduce their wages. Presumably this is what Hagop meant when he wrote labour costs are “clearly impacting on the bottom line.”

    I don’t believe the solution is as clear-cut as he may think. We are in the midst of a massive transition from labour to capital.

    I have another explanation. I suspect that two forces have been operating in concert to throw the unsuspecting economist off guard.

    One is the fact that the cost of other inputs, such as paper, have dropped faster than labour costs, which creates the illusion that labour is too high.

    The second is that dramatic improvements in workflow and other efficiencies in recent years, have resulted in some reductions in price, which again makes labour look higher in relative but not in actual terms.

    But this is the fun of being an economist – you can stir the tea-leaves, peer into the abyss, and come to virtually whatever conclusions you like. It reinforces my belief that economists should not try to tell proprietors how to run their business.

    As someone said to me recently – be sure of your facts!

    To read Tchamkertenian’s report as it appeared in the Print21 October issue, click here.

  • Don’t demoralise the industry – James Cryer

    With all the doom and gloom being spouted about the print industry at the moment, it can be easy to miss the plethora of positive and innovative developments spreading through the local industry as well.

    James Cryer (pictured), founder of JDA Print Recruitment and well-known industry gadfly, writes that some of the industry’s biggest players are looking in the wrong places for industry news, focusing on the negative, when they should be focusing on the positive:

    We all know that economists and statisticians spend their spare time pulling wings off blowflies and terrorising young children by threatening to read them bed-time stories with titles such as “Post-modernist Trends in Econometric Analysis.”

    But do we have to be batted around the gills every time we open the trade press with reports of our imminent demise?

    Take the latest PIAA survey: In a classic example of stating the obvious, we read with breathless anticipation that “89.8 per cent of respondents ranked lack of orders as the primary barrier to increasing production levels.”

    I know statisticians and economists speak in different tongues to us mortals, but roughly translated, I think this means: “The reason we don’t have enough business is because we don’t have enough business.” Do people actually get paid for writing this stuff?

    And elsewhere: one paragraph refers to “labels…forecasting deteriorating conditions” – but another refers to “labels … reporting improvements in investment in plant”. This, I think, highlights the problem of being over-analytical.

    But who exactly is this harbinger of gloom and doom aiming at? There is no such thing as ‘the’ printing industry these days. We’ve moved on. It is now a diverse nation of disparate tribes – all marching to the beat of a different drum. Anyone who refers to the ‘printing industry’ as an amorphous blob, should be taken out the back and smeared in Bronze Blue. It’s quite meaningless to lump us all under one umbrella – it’s a mark of a living, breathing (not gasping) industry which is evolving and which recognises and celebrates its differences, and its niches.

    To proclaim a global approach – ‘PIAA survey – capacity utilisation lowest in recorded history,’ – is to deny the existence of these different tribes, which now make up the broad visual communications ‘rainbow.’ Is the PIAA really speaking on behalf of all these tribes – or is it merely cloaking its own ‘offset-centric’ struggles under the mask it calls ‘the printing industry’? It is folly to lump everyone into the same bucket.

    However, the problem for the beleaguered business owner, upon reading all this depressing ‘news’ is this: just what evasive action is he supposed to take?

    The survey’s author is long on description, but short on prescription. Given this depressing news, what are we meant to do? Are printing company proprietors meant to miraculously transform their printing business into a video outlet, or a guesthouse for destitute printers?

    The point is, I’m sure we’re all aware of the difficult environment – but there are no short-term fixes.

    However, there are lots of encouraging signs of little green shoots breaking through the permafrost. Recent articles in various trade press have highlighted them. There is a list a mile long of exciting initiatives occurring within various print segments.

    At this difficult time in our transformation, what the world needs now, are fewer econo-sadists and more promotional press releases and pronouncements from personable, persuasive publicists, preferably promoting print as a positive proposition.