Standing resolute in the new year

January 1, 2009

Johnson’s World by Steve Johnson

Nobel Prizewinning author and Soviet dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's book “The Oak and the Calf” employed the metaphor of a calf repeatedly butting its head against an oak tree, refusing to stop until either the tree was knocked down or it killed itself trying.

What are the chances of a young calf bringing down a mighty oak? Not good, yet Solzhenitsyn did live to see the fall of the Soviet empire. By comparison, tearing down some myths and misconceptions about the business of print should be child's play. Here are my resolutions for 2009.

Remain a curmudgeon

Some say I'm grumpy, others cynical, but a better description might be exasperated. Outdated business models, unproven theories and just plain bad advice continue to abound in the printing business. Somebody needs to play devil's advocate, and I am reelecting myself to another term in that role.

The most dangerous things we hear might begin with the phrase “everybody knows.” Well I don't just “know,” so I'll keep challenging the experts to justify the statements that they bandy about so freely.

Remain independent

I'm not on the payroll of any equipment vendor, software company or industry consulting group. Nobody owns me.

I also pledge to remain president and CEO of a real-live printing company for another year, and many more to come. I enjoy consulting, speaking and writing, but my fulltime, 60 hour per week job is at the helm of Copresco, where I deal daily with clients, color and cash flow.

Be wary of ancillary

You will see more columns warning of the dangers of “ancillary services” as a savior for profitless printers. I am a strong believer in adding products and services that fit into a printing company's strategic mix, but many printers don't even have a strategy!

If you aren't making money in your core business — print — how can you expect to do so in new areas that you don't even fully understand? Diversification should not mean dilution, distraction or delusion.

Be wary of experts

Many of the experts in our business began their careers when letterpress was king, a letter cost a nickel to mail and a pay phone call cost a dime. Remember letterpress, letters and pay phones? If your industry association executives or hired consultants remember these tools, make sure the solutions they suggest to you have been updated for today's situations.

Some concepts are timeless; others are hopelessly obsolete. I pledge to continue to call into question conventional industry wisdom whose time has come and gone, some of which was never very good in the first place.

Print is alive and well

The current, bad economy has been tough on everyone. Is this an excuse for poor sales? This Christmas my household received a record number of first-time catalogs from internet-only companies. These are retailers that have never had a store and have always sold only via the world wide web. Their sales are down, so they are turning to a proven and reliable communication tool: print.

I am constantly delighted to see print thrive in new areas, even as other traditional bastions of print decline. The difference between 1909 and 2009 is that print has competition. It is up to us to get our message across. We cannot just wait for new clients to call.

Print is worthy of respect

Pessimistic? Hardly. I shall remain the printed word's most enthusiastic cheerleader and evangelist. Print remains the human race's primary and only permanent means of communication, and deserves respect as such. So do those who devote their careers to the printed word.

I'll continue to harangue my fellow printers to earn that respect by demonstrating the value of print. Of course, this means that you must believe in it yourself.

A world of humor

The title of this column is “Johnson's World,” with the emphasis on world. Print does not exist in a vacuum, and neither do any of us. I'll keep on serving up generous helpings of philosophy, trivia, history and politics, seasoned with wry humor.

Happy New Year from Johnson's World!