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From the Editor : Not Too Late to Change

December 2009 By Bob Neubauer
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WHILE ATTENDING the Digital Printing in Government & Higher Education Forum in Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago, I listened to Leslie Rutledge, manager of ReproGraphic Services at San Diego State University, describe how she saved her in-plant. When she arrived a few years ago, she was confronted with outdated offset equipment and declining business. So she polled customers to find out what they wanted, invested in digital printing equipment, improved customer service and brought almost all university printing back in-house.

Just days later I learned that a large western university was closing its in-plant due, in part, to a decline in offset volume, which resulted in two consecutive years of big-time revenue losses. A university memo expressed the belief that only by investing $1 million in a four-color press could the in-plant compete.

I just shook my head as I compared the two situations. This in-plant should have made drastic changes a year ago when it first noticed it was deep in the red. Like San Diego State, it should have sought new applications to replace declining ones like offset, invested in digital equipment and cut staff. It should have reexamined its rates and then raised them. Even a small increase would have added up.

But my object here is not to criticize this in-plant, rather to point out what others in this boat may soon face. The same arguments will be used against you.

For example, the university's memo implied that departments are now using e-mail and the Web for marketing purposes and moving away from printing. Yet e-messages don't generate nearly as much response as they do when they are combined with printed messages. If this university's departments are e-mailing instead of sending work to the in-plant, it's because they need a different kind of printing—digital color printing—so they can do shorter runs and add personalization.

The memo also stated that only print shops that can afford four-color presses will survive. This ignores the fact that the vast majority of the country's printers are small shops that lack such big iron. They survive by watching their costs, providing excellent service and keeping productivity high. And when big jobs dry up, they go after lots of smaller jobs to make up the difference. This in-plant didn't need to buy a $1 million offset press; it could have leased a digital press and recouped that expense within a few years.

 

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