Today marks my 10 year anniversary in the paper and print industry. While much has changed, there’s still more changes to come - that is for sure. A look back over the past decade made me a little nostalgic. When I started grades like Strobe, Gleneagle, Vintage Velvet, Signature True, and Confetti were still around, mill trips were a week long event (death by fork and cork) and no one had heard of FSC.
Foreign sheets or imports hadn’t really come onto the market, but I distinctly recall their introduction – Cleveland was the largest port of entry at the time for coated imports. I remember being at a spec seminar held by Sappi, and we were all asked to write down a question we had about their products or the industry. I posed the question about imports and how to sell against them, since it seemed that many of the projects I worked on were being downgraded to foreign sheets from grades like Strobe or McCoy. The rep heading up the seminar quickly shot it down and said it had no relevelance to the market their papers were in. I remember being so emabrassed for asking that question at the time – I was a novice, what did I know? Looking back it seems more than that mill rep did.
Another thing that baffled me at the time was the term digital printing. It seemed this term meant something different to everyone. Being the newbie I asked the woman who was supposed to serve as my mentor what digital printing was, her reply was a xerox copier. At the time, in our market digital printing meant the printer had a DI press – there was no variable data or soft proofing yet to arrive and no one had a Nexpress. Nowadays, I’m challenged to find a project that doesn’t print digitally. The average run size back than was 20,000, now it’s rare if the quantity is over 1,500. A merchant’s stocking inventory was important but most jobs had enough time in them that they could accommodate a mill item – today it’s not only time that’s a premium, but if it’s not on the floor forget it and find something that is.
Today many lament we are doing more with less – I don’t necessarily think this is the case. I think we have so much more. There are more resources available than ever before. And they’re free. When I first started, the only resources that were around were some put out by the paper mills - remember the Fox River Designer Series and the Warren Standard? IP's Pocket Pal is still around and is definitely a valuable resource, but I have to say I love how easy and accessible the internet has made learning. Everyday I check my Google reader for my favorite industry blogs, and while I am inundated (like all of us) by email, my filters work pretty well so I can easily access the ones I want. Social media has added an entire other dimension to my work day - and yes it is productive, not a time sucker. While my knowledge of paper and print has grown over the past decade, the opportunity to be more is there every day – the fun is in deciding how to use it.