Shouldn’t we be doing more to promote the possibilities of print and the printing industry to the next generation?
Back in the old days—more than six, seven hundred years ago—when the average person needed to read a document (usually something very official, say from the government to a merchant), they didn’t have the education to read, so they turned to a scribe. If you lived in London, you most likely made your way to St. Paul’s Cathedral to one of the “stationers” (by then, they had already moved from simple tents to permanent stalls or stations built around the cathedral). To write or reply to a document, you’d follow pretty much the same procedure: Go to a scribe, or when in London, turn to a stationer.
Over the course of the centuries, the level of education has changed. Most of us read and write and are capable of handling our correspondence ourselves using pen and paper, or more advanced technologies like a computer and a printer, or just a computer and a digital document delivery solution.
The scribes, or sticking with the London example, the stationers, weren’t just reading and writing documents. They also duplicated documents, so to speak, an early version of making a Xerox. And, also at an early stage, they became the guardians of the copyright. What’s more, the stationers embraced flexible letterpress printing, as invented by Johannes Gutenberg, basically monopolizing the business of printing for pretty much what is now known as England. What year am I talking about, you are asking? The year 1403 and onward. That’s when the stationers became a guild, The Stationers’ Company. Today, this organization is known as The City of London Livery Company for the Communications and Content Industries. More than 600 years after being established as a guild, it is still going strong and still standing for everything print and the future of printing. (Remember this part for Thought 1, further down.)
I have attended many of the guild’s sessions over the years I’ve lived in London. As much as I sometimes thought to myself, “Old boys club, old boys club,” I couldn’t stop admiring the tradition members stubbornly carried forward and how they managed to innovate year over year. Or how they enhance their community outreach programs annually to create awareness and appreciation for print, and to encourage young talents to consider a career in printing. But above all, over and over, they confirmed the power of networking, standing strong together, recommending insiders to outsiders, and vice versa, to overcome business challenges. (Remember this part for Thought 2, further down.)
What has all this got to do with our printing headaches, may it be office imaging or production printing?
The Stationers stuck together for two reasons: Together, we’re better; together, we’re stronger.
Better = quality control before you can join and while you are a member.
Stronger = we own the market through know-how, technology, and quality.
That makes me wonder. If 617 years ago, services providers were smart enough to form a guild that helped them dominate the copyrights and printing industry, why don’t we have more influential industry groups? I know we have the BTA and the MPSA, but how strong are they? Are they holding the industry together? Are they pulling the players together, and are they strong enough to protect and push their interests hard enough?
The Stationers basically started off as service bureaus. Today, we’d probably call them PSPs (print services providers), similar to franchises like Minuteman, Postal Annex, or FedEx. And as demand and technology kept evolving, their services also evolved into letterpress printing (Gutenberg) and book printing, to today, where members represent pretty much anything print and document related, including packaging and archiving.
That makes me think, why are so many in our industry so hesitant about expanding their services and building strong partnerships with companies that complement and enhance their services?
Lastly, are we doing enough for the future of print? We can only survive if we have enough “fresh blood” coming in every year, are excited about the tradition of documents, and are eager to give documents the future they deserve, even if this means redefining the word print(ed document) from physical to digital. After all, we are all familiar with the term “digital footprint,” without having ever physically set foot on the internet.
So, keep the tradition evolving!
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