May I have your attention?

July 1, 2008

Johnson’s World by Steve Johnson

The kind folks here at AMERICAN PRINTER recently shared with me comments from a readership survey. Good news for me: Lots of people said they read the magazine for columnists Vinocur, Johnson, O'Brien, and especially Gorelick. Everybody loves Gorelick. Somebody should let Dick know he is so popular.

I'm a Gorelick fan, myself. Every now and then, when he writes something particularly on the money, I write him a letter to say so. In the 1990s, I switched to sending him e-mail. He usually replied with something like, “Thanks Steve. I'm glad someone out there is listening.”

Now that I write the column next door to Gorelick, I know how he feels. Sometimes I wonder if anybody out there is listening.

A voice in the wilderness?

A few months ago, I ran a story about Amazon's plan to penalize authors and publishers if they didn't use an Amazon subsidiary for their printing. I thought this story was of real importance. So did AP editor in chief Katherine O'Brien, who also featured it in the e-newsletter InRegister.

Roger Fritz liked the story. A well-known veteran author of more than 20 business books, Fritz has taken a keen interest in the digital on-demand publishing phenomenon. He has moved from conventional publishing to taking control of his own material, becoming personally involved in the printing and promotion of his books.

A pioneer in the self-publishing business, Fritz recognized the importance of the Amazon story. He was the only one of 80,000 readers who thought enough of the subject to telephone me and say so.

Did I do a poor job of presenting the story? I don't think so. Whatever you think of my writing style (and surveys indicate you like “Johnson's World”), the story stands on its own.

“The British are coming!” might not have been the most eloquent phrase Paul Revere could have chosen, but it got the job done.

Can you hear me now?

Perhaps the importance of the story was not perceived. Allow me to recap: Internet age “e-tailers” like Amazon and big-box retailers like Wal-Mart or Barnes and Noble have erased bookstores from the face of the earth. Now Amazon essentially proposes to do the same with printing. Important enough?

I hope the problem is not that readers just don't care. I sometimes shake my head at the topics that do generate interest. When Xerox changed its logos last year, there was some serious blogging devoted to discussing the pros and cons of this move. Who cares?! My Xerox machinery hasn't become any more or less profitable with the new logo on the box.

I could write a story about Mac vs. Windows. I'd get letters on that one. Printers never tire of discussing such things. Why, I can't fathom. (By the way, my opinion on the Mac vs. Windows debate is that I support any and all systems that are commonly used by and work well for my customers in their workflow.)

Maybe readers don't think they'll be affected. As I mentioned in the story, anyone who has ever printed a 4-, 8-, 12- or 16-page signature could be impacted by this.

On the other hand, perhaps you care but don't know how to respond. I've noticed that the topic of postal reform and the bizarre actions of the U.S. Postal Service don't generate much buzz among printers themselves. It seems that the average printer-mailer feels powerless to change things, and has decided to leave postal reform to the lobbyists and politicians.

Take action

Remember the Kinko's button in Acrobat? Boy, did we raise hell about that one. In that case, we knew what to do: Demand that Adobe remove the button! Is that where I lost my audience? Because in my column, I did not once suggest the easy course of action: Demand that Amazon not penalize authors and publishers for using the on-demand printer of their choice.

Instead, I suggested that we take on Amazon on its own turf by retailing printed products online, ourselves. This is not a radical concept. Many very successful companies are using that business model today. The catch is, all of them are relative newcomers, the new generation of printers. How about the mainstream, which represents most printers?

When gasoline broke the $1 per gallon mark, there was nearly a revolution in the United States. Gas is now at $4 per gallon, and the outcry is relatively meek by comparison. Why? Nobody seems to understand what caused fuel prices to skyrocket, or what to do about it.

Is this also true in the case of Amazon? I think printers are a resilient and resourceful bunch.

Now tell me, folks, what are you going to do?