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Remembering & repeating the past

Apr 1, 2011 12:00 AM

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I often find myself wistfully recalling the good old days. Remember print's golden era of 2007? Not that 2007 was any great shakes, but that was the last time the U.S. industry grew.

Brace yourself — NAPL predicts sales from printing and related sources to grow 1% to 3% this year. “But even if we finish at the top of that range, our sales volume would still be $17.8 billion, or 18.1%, below pre-recession levels,” says Andrew Paparozzi, NAPL's chief economist.

Almost 70% of the 500 U.S. and Canadian printers in NAPL's survey expect to grow. But only 39.2% of participants expect profitability to increase in 2011. And only one in four (24.6%) participants expect to raise prices.

Lest we get too discouraged, remember Adobe's experience with Acrobat. “Two events helped propel Acrobat into the mainstream,” reports Pamela Pfiffner in her history of the company. “Adobe's decision to give away Acrobat Reader free of charge and the rise of the Internet as an information platform.”

If there's one thing we excel at, it's giving things away. And now, thanks to the explosive growth of smart phones, we have a new distribution platform.

But what if Adobe hadn't added high-end imaging processing capabilities to Acrobat in 1996? “We thought about trying to process PostScript files into a sort of stripped-down PostScript,” recalls John Harrison, then with Agfa. “Using our access as an Adobe OEM, we also looked at getting into the RIP and pulling out some kind of intermediate format.” Some of Harrison's colleagues lobbied for a Scitex-type workflow.

“Early versions [of PDF] seemed positioned for office documents and were just not robust enough for complex graphic arts work,” says Harrison. “PDF 1.2 was a big improvement.”

The first PDF-driven workflow generated “tremendous interest” according to Harrison. “We received so many questions because PDF was unexpected. Of course, there were also skeptics.”

Hesitation gave way to innovation — but only because of the determination of some daring visionaries. That's a lesson worth remembering.

Katherine O'Brien, editor in chief

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