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This is the last full issue of Printer’s Ink that I will be writing. This newsletter began exactly 15 years ago so this must be the 60th issue that I’ve written and that’s a lot of newsletters. Now that my participation is ending it feels like I’m deserting a child. Printer’s Ink will continue but it will have a different author or authors from here on. While I have been fully retired from Thomson-Shore for a year now I did agree to keep writing the newsletter for an additional year and now that year has come and gone, so it’s finally time to leave.
In many past issues I’ve written about our philosophy for running this company . . . about our conviction that a company should provide a work environment that gives every employee the opportunity to realize their importance to the operation, to participate in decisions that affect them, to own stock in the company, to share in company profits, to be aware of what the company’s goals are, to work in a situation where they can take pride in their own individual accomplishments and in the accomplishments of their fellow employees, to work in an environment that’s free of fear and intimidation, and where every employee is part of a culture that says every customer must be treated fairly. This has been something of a crusade for us and while I’ve gone over this stuff at great length in the past, and since this is my last shot, I wanted to at least briefly express it here again.
However, what I really want to do with this story is, at the risk of boring you, write about some of the “historical highlights” (or lowlights as the case may be) that I remember since this company began in 1972 . . . i.e. some of the folktales that describe Thomson-Shore. So, here it goes!
Unlike many of the startup companies you read about today, we did not begin life with much money in the bank and a lot of our early history was dominated by our struggle to survive financially. Most of our first equipment was from an earlier generation, or generations, and, other than a new printing press and folder that we paid about $50,000 for, we rarely paid more than $3,000 for anything. Our first Gathering Machine was older than I was and if you weren’t careful it could have pulled your arm off. It had been designed to spit out gathered signatures into some sort of mechanical device that no longer worked, so we solved that by taking them out by hand. This was really no problem as long as you were quick and alert.
Our Perfect Binder, which was only a little bit younger than the gatherer, had a theoretical top speed of about 500 books per hour but it had probably been a generation or so since it had been able to operate at that speed. If we ran it more than 200 books per hour it would vibrate so much it would literally walk across the plant unaided.
When our 3-Knife Trimmer arrived at T-S, it was on a flatbed truck and there was no easy way to get it off. We borrowed a forklift from the local lumberyard, put a pinch bar through two eye bolts on the top of the knife, lifted it up and drove the truck out from under it. All went fine for a moment or two then the pinch bar bent in two. The knife made a permanent impression in the parking lot . . . but again no one got hurt.
Our first Christmas “party” was an informal affair that we held as a potluck in our plant. Toward the end of the party, one of our employees, who had probably been out of high school 6 months by then, decided to show some of his fellow employees (unbeknownst to Harry and me) that he could polish off a pint of blueberry flavored vodka by himself . . . and he did. He then proceeded to go out in the snow in a futile effort to catch some imaginary turkeys he swore he could see.
Although we got off to a pretty good start that 1 st year, we virtually never had any money in the bank. Frequently, on those days when payroll was due, we’d have to go to the bank and take out personal loans in order to pay the people. When we’d started the business, in order to save money Harry and I had both cut our pay approximately in half from our previous jobs but we could still more or less get by. However, on those days when the cupboard was particularly bare we were the ones who didn’t get paid at all, but the upside was that neither one of us gained much weight.
In those early years, all of our correspondence was done long-hand. We had someone type out the orders we put through the plant, but if anything went in the mail, it was hand written. I did the quotations, the customer correspondence and the invoicing and for at least three years none of it got typed. I think the customers thought it was sort of quaint but eventually a person at the University of Alabama Press said he was embarrassed to send hand written invoices to his purchasing office so we decided to start typing them.
There were a couple of “travel” experiences from those early years that particularly come to mind. The first one involves Harry Shore driving a large, rented truck full of books from Dexter to Durham, NC during the oil embargo of 1974. If you remember those days it was difficult to buy gas and there was a line waiting at almost every pump and they would usually only sell you 5 gallons at a time. Harry’s truck was getting about 5 miles per gallon and he stopped and waited in line at every station he passed. He had to coast down every hill he went down in order not to run out of gas and from the time he left Michigan the gauge ranged from 1/4 to below empty . . . but he got the books there on time.
The second travel episode involved me driving our company truck (it was an old yellow van that looked like a school bus and the heater only operated part time) in mid-January to Columbus, Ohio. I left at 3:00 a.m. with the temperature below zero.
There were so many cartons of books in the truck that the entire van was filled and there was barely enough space left for the driver.
When I got to Columbus it was snowing hard and I had to carry those cartons of books through a guy’s yard and down an outside cellar stairway into an area that could have served as a dungeon.
To make matters worse the customer was an Ohio State fan and since Michigan beat OSU that year, he didn’t think he should have to help carry . . . but he did.
One thing we were particularly slow to start doing was making income tax and FICA payments to the government. I kept track of the FICA records and knew what we owed but I didn’t know exactly when we owed it or where to send it. So for a year, we didn’t pay . . . and they, bless their heart, never asked. Eventually we got an outside accountant who knew all the rules and we did catch up then. That was one of the few times I felt good about the bureaucrats in Washington.
We have always claimed that we’ve never had a sales force but in the early days I used to go to New York city three days every month and call on publishers. I did this regularly for about ten years and at the end of that time, an awful lot of our work came from there. When I was in New York city, I used to take the subway eight or ten times a day and I think I was familiar with every subway station in New York city from Union Square to 50th Street. The subway was not only cheaper than cabs, it was a whole lot faster. I could travel 20 blocks from one appointment to another, 15 minutes apart, and be early for each one. The real problem with subways was the heat. I don’t know if they are air conditioned now, but they weren’t then and the subway was over 90 degrees all summer with humidity to match.
I don’t know if I’d want to live there, but New York city was a great place to visit. I have great memories of sitting under a tree in Union Square, eating an ice cream bar . . . cooling off before my next call.
This is probably a good spot to end this story. It’s already too long and it doesn’t even have the merit of providing any useful information but it was perhaps worthwhile to relate some of the folktales that have gone into the making of this business. And, it felt nice to recall all those things.
As I read this over, it seems to be a grossly inadequate description of a company’s 27 years but in a story this short it’s probably impossible to say anything adequately. I will add that, with few exceptions, Harry and I have loved this business, its employees, its customers, and its “traditions.” For 27 years we’ve tried to make a statement about the beauty of respecting all your colleagues (customers and employees alike) and using The Golden Rule as your guideline and we, perhaps naively, believe that we’ve been fairly successful at it . . . but now I’ve got to stop. If I say any more, I’ll have tears in my eyes.
At any rate, that’s the news from Thomson-Shore where all the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and all the books are above average. Here are my e-mail addresses if you would like to contact me: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
--- Ned Thomson
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Beginning with the next issue of Printer’s Ink, the articles will be written by employees who will write about subjects in their own area of expertise. This new format seems appropriate since we are an employee owned company. This will give the “owners” a chance to communicate their thoughts and observations. Todd Gaffner will be the editor. Ned will continue to do one non-book related story for each issue.
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Here’s What You Should Know About It.
Being able to take a customer supplied file, whether it’s Post-Script, application, or PDF, and go “Direct to Plate” (DTP) gives the printer the opportunity to print the book without having to produce, and opaque negatives of every page. DTP literally allows the printer to place the file through imposition software and then on the printing plate, completely avoiding negatives.
There are many advantages to using this technology and practically all of them pass directly on to the customer. Here is a brief rundown on how you will be affected if your job is a candidate for DTP at Thomson-Shore.
Quality: Because the image goes directly on the plate instead of going first to a negative and then to the plate, the image that gets printed is one generation closer to the original source. There is one less medium to go through and one less chance for something to go awry, be destroyed or for dust specs to stick on a negative and end up being printed.
Production Speed: Jobs that come to T-S and go DTP will have a shorter production time. Currently that time savings is averaging just over 2 working days and it seems to be increasing as we get more experience with the production flow and production advantages of DTP.
Pricing: There are two conflicting factors here but the result favors DTP and the DTP cost advantage will get larger and larger as technology continues to improve. Here is a synopsis of those factors.
Since a DTP job does not use a negative, that saves a bit more than $1.00 per page on a 6 X 9 book. Unfortunately, at the moment the cost of the DTP plate itself is about three times the cost of a conventional offset plate and that pretty much offsets the savings from the negatives.
However, when a job goes the DTP route, we cannot make a conventional blue line or dylux proof because that requires using a negative to expose the proof. A DTP job creates its proof by breaking the imposed flat into reader spreads and sending it to a duplexing laser printer (we put it on the same kind of stock the book will be printed on). This plain paper proof, known as a Digital Blue Line, is less expensive than a dylux blue line by about $.30 per page for a 6 X 9 book and therein lies the savings.
This $.30 per page savings is going to increase as the DTP plate comes down in price and there is strong evidence that this will be happening sometime in the near future.
What Gets Archived?
In olden days, when a “conventional” job reprinted we would go to our negative storage area where we keep about 50,000 sets of negative flats, locate the right one, pull the flats out, put each page flat on a light table to be sure they’re all still in place, and then make the plates. When the plates have been made, the flats have to be packaged and refiled.
In contrast, for a DTP job the furnished files are archived together and if the job reprints, it can be accessed on the server by using the original production date and the job number. The plates can be made using nothing more than a keyboard and a platesetter. When the reprint is completed, the file and fonts are again archived. As with conventional archiving of flats, we will likely designate a period of time that we keep these files available for reprints. This is necessary to enable us to keep up as technology in achieving systems change.
An advantage that DTP offers for reprints is that the format can be changed to accommodate any press, be it web or sheet fed. So, if our press load indicates a change in the press from first to second printing is desirable, it can be easily done. Also, the time it takes to get a DTP reprint ready to print is going to be at least a couple days less than for a conventional reprint.
Miscellaneous: A DTP plate is currently being worked on (we are a Beta site for testing this plate) that uses water in the processing i.e. no chemicals are needed so none need to be disposed of. Environmentally, this is a major plus.
Because we have two full-size imagesetters, one of which was designed to do DTP, we have the capacity to do about 50% of all our work using the DTP process. We have now reached that percentage in our actual work with more than half of all our new work being done via DTP. On the other hand, most all of our reprints are still done conventionally because that’s how the first printing was done.
At the moment, we are aiming to be able to do most jobs via DTP. For electronic jobs with illustrations some of our customers remain in favor of conventional plate making because the DTP proofing method of digital blue lines only shows the illustrations in low resolution. This is not an issue if T-S does the illustration scanning because we guarantee the quality of the scanning but if the scans are furnished to us, then we cannot guarantee how good they are. If our customers do not feel confident in the quality of the scans they have supplied in their files, we will discuss with them their options for high resolution proofs.
DTP is the wave of the future for printing and it’s here today. When you combine it with PDF files, you’ve got the best possible combination for top quality, low price and fast production and it’s going to keep right on getting better.
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One of our customer service goals for the past 18 months has been to realign our customer contact people into regional teams instead of being in groups (or departments) by function. Up until now the estimators were one department, customer service representatives were another, order planning was another, etc. Each group was physically located together in their own department. About 15 months ago we began a test case by putting together one regional team for the western region to see how it would work. Our goals were: 1) Better internal communication within the group so if there were questions about an incoming job, all the people who might have input would be there in one office to give their help. 2) Better communication with the customer with fewer calls having to go into voice mail because more than one person who would know what’s going on with your order is there to answer the phone. Better answers should also be available because there are more people there to contribute to the answer. 3) Speeding up the movement of a new order by cutting out at least 3 days in the time it takes to move a new job into the manufacturing process.
We believe our first experimental team along with the four remaining teams which followed about six months ago have nicely accomplished the first two goals by simply sitting next to each other and focusing on improving communication within their team and with their customers. The third goal is ongoing, and although we have made significant strides in this area, we will continue to focus on improving our order planning process.
In order for our customers to get visually acquainted with all the people on their T-S team, we now have pictures with a brief biographical sketch of each person up on our website. Please give us a call if you have any questions or concerns about any of this.
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••••••••••••••••••••••••••Tseng Information Systems Charles Ellertson Durham, NC 919.682.9197
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PDF (Portable Document Format) is growing dramatically as a percentage of our incoming electronic prepress jobs. Obviously this pleases us and we’ve been encouraging you to try PDF for about 9 months now. A week does not go by that we don’t discover additional benefits of PDF and become still more convinced that this is the way copy should be prepared for printing.
However there are a couple of items that are holding PDF back a bit and you should know about them.
The first of these is that it’s apparent that there are some typesetters who have “proprietary” typesetting systems that are not totally compatible with PDF conversion. Typically any typesetter who can produce PostScript files can make PDF files and while most systems can do this, some can cause errors in the final output. So, if you’d like to take advantage of the lower price, speed and other improvements that PDF offers, it’s probably worth your while to ask your typesetter in advance whether they can provide you with PDF files.
The second impediment to PDF is the current difficulty in using PDF files for illustrated jobs that will use the OPI process.
OPI refers to the technology where we make high and low resolution scans of illustrations before the customer sends us the text file. We send the scans on a CD back to the customer who then places the low resolution scans into their text file. When we get all of this back, at output stage, our server swaps the low resolution for the high resolution scan and we are ready to proceed.
It turns out that today’s swapping software is not compatible with PDF files and when we get a PDF file on any OPI job we have to go back to the customer to get their PostScript or application files.
This can be solved if the manufacturers of the OPI software address the problem but this has not happened yet. Our interim solution is to send just the high resolution scan to the customer for cropping and placement but while this will work, it takes longer for the customer to work with a high resolution scan than with low resolution and the file ends up much bigger. Since computers have increasingly larger hard drives and faster operating systems, OPI is not as important as it initially was.
While these impediments do cause some problems, we consider them to be relatively minor. PDF continues to demonstrate that it represents the future for copy preparation in printing. Combined with direct to plate technology, it can bring about a treasure trove of advantages for the publisher.
Available on our website are PDF conversion guidelines for Acrobat 3.x and 4.x. If you do not have internet access contact your customer care team and they will fax the guidelines to you.
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While this is the last full issue of Printer’s Ink that Ned Thomson will write, I may still write a short story for subsequent issues. I’ve been invited to join the Arizona Book Publishers Association (Harry Shore and myself and our wives will be spending the winter in the Phoenix area) so I’ll hope to come up with something worthwhile to relate from contacts there. If not maybe I’ll write about the boredom of retirement.
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In a recent television mini-series on the A&E network, they gave a run-down of the 20 most important and influential people in the history of the universe. They presented them in reverse order and number one turned out to be Johann Gutenberg. They justified this by saying if he (or no one else) never invented the printing press that civilization would not have advanced beyond the 1600s. Selecting Gutenberg actually surprised me. I thought number one would have been the politician who said he invented the Internet.
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Momentum Publishing of Troy, Michigan has just brought out a book called Learning Curves. It is stories of the leaders of twenty-one different businesses in Southeast Michigan. Thomson-Shore is one of the twenty-one they write about.
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If you haven’t visited the T-S web site at www.tshore.com awhile, it currently contains, among other things, over a dozen suggested guidelines for producing electronic files. All of these are in PDF format and quite a few of them are also in HTML files. You can download any or all of them without charge.
Well, as mentioned previously in this issue, we have been doing Printer’s Ink for 15 years. During that time we have never made a concentrated effort to “clean up” our mailing list. We have done certain things like including the “ADDRESS CORRECTION REQUESTED” on the front of each mailer, but we feel that we need to do a little extra after these fifteen years. So, if you would like to continue receiving Printer’s Ink, please take a moment and fill in your address information on the enclosed reply card, check the “Yes” box on the back of the form, and drop it in the mail. Or you can go to our website (www.tshore.com) and register to receive Printer’s Ink. We’d really like to continue sending Printer’s Ink to you, so please let us know you want to continue receiving it.
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