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Monday, March 11, 2013

1984, AN ORWELLIAN YEAR TO SAY THE LEAST

Graphic Art Monthly closed 1983 with a host of records, including the highest revenue, the greatest profit, the most ad pages, an increasing number of inquiries and the best editorial in the industry. We were having fun, making money, and leaving footprints. We were educating the marketplace informing printers, and occasionally entertaining readers with a sense of humor. For example, in the same issue that covered the introduction of page description languages from Adobe (PostScript I) and AT&T, (does anyone remember what it was called?), we ran a "tongue in cheek" piece on a spanking new product introduction, the California Job Case, a necessary tool  in days of letterpress. Peter Johnston authored the piece which was rather amusing,  considering the industry's technology explosion. It stimulated a great deal of response from readers who contacted us to congratulate GAM on scooping the industry with that "news".

 Then Big Brother entered the picture with the formation of the Graphic Arts Show Company (GASC), which organized its first Graph Expos in 1983. The political landscape had changed dramatically.  Power in the industry shifted from the customers to the suppliers.The new organization, which included NPES, the vendor association, and PIA and NPES, the major printers' groups  abdicated  political control to the manufacturers. NAPL took the biggest beat, losing its management fee for organizing Graph Expos. Actually it was a bit of genius. Because the charter called for the NPES president to serve as chairman of GASC,  the most power went to Regis Delmontagne. In spite of my comments at the NPES spring meeting in 1983 describing Graph Expo West in San Francisco as a total flop in 1982, another was planned for 1984. It was to be held in Los Angeles, a week before the Gutenberg. show Obviously GASC was attempting to squash the rival exhibit. With the expanding show schedule, Patrick LaFramboise was hired as exhibit manager. Another show would be organized for the fall in Chicago. Regis came up with a brilliant idea. Vendors that exhibited at Graph Expo would get a discount by joining NPES, making membership in that organization a "freebie".  In one year NPES had almost quadrupled its membership.

Readers should know that while a publisher is aware of each month's editorial lineup, he or she doesn't not read every page before going to press. With that said, when I picked up  the March issue, I found coverage of the two west coast exhibits. The first was a spread covering  the GASC show. It pictured the registration room with less than a dozen individuals on hand. On the right hand page was a report with a couple of photos below. One of them was a shot of Dave  Jacobson, Gutenberg;s promoter, under a Graph Expo West banner. The caption read, "An interested observer visits the exhibit." I chuckled at the inside joke.  The following spread reported the Gutenberg exhibit and opened with thousands of people lined up waiting to register at tables outside of the Long Beach Convention Center. It was damaging pictorial evidence that GASC had finished a distant second in the two exhibit race. I almost ran a column saying, "I told you so."

I expected a furious phone call from Regis, so I visited Peter Johnston's office. Knowing Peter's sense of humor, there was no doubt in my mind he had orchestrated the coverage of the two exhibits. "It wasn't a set-up if that's what you're thinking. Both photos were taken at 10 a.m.,  the opening of  both shows," he said. Then he noted, "And I thought that showing Dave Jacobson at Graph Expo was kind of funny." I told him I had chuckled when I saw it. But  I knew there would be repercussions from Regis. The minute I returned to my office, the phone rang, and without caller ID, I knew it was Regis. He was furious. "Those photos were staged," he argued.. I explained that both photographs were taken at the same time of day. "It was not a set-up," I insisted. From that day on, our relationship had all the ear marks of a ski slope, all downhill. It wasn't quite a feud, but the romance between the two of  us appeared to be over.

During the summer Dave Jacobson organized a junket to Germany and invited about 12 editors and publishers along. He was considering a Gutenberg in Germany. Though I cautioned him against, calling it  futile and misguided, he went through the motions anyway Competing with DRUPA was insane.. Of course it never materialized. On one of the many tour bus rides he had arranged, I dozed off. John Favat Sr., publisher of American Printer, was on the bus While  I was napping, he  put a copy of his magazine on my lap. making it appear that I was reading it. He photographed the scene and sent me one. I framed and had it hanging in my office. Under the picture our  art department put a caption. It read,"I ALWAYS FALL ASLEEP WHEN I READ AMERICAN PRINTER." When advertisers visited my office, I always showed them that photo and it always got a laugh. Several years later, I became contributing columnist for AP and I never fell asleep when reading that magazine.

One final note on GASC. When it came time for Graph Expo in Chicago in September, Big Brother got even for our coverage of the west coast exhibits. Arriving at McCormick Place, we found Graphic Arts Monthly's booth was located in the basement of the convention center. While our competitive publications were on the main floor, visitors had to take an escalator downstairs and our booth was at the  back wall. We couldn't have been any further away from floor traffic. I made my dissatisfaction known to a number of major advertisers, most of which were members of the NPES board. The next year at PRINT '85 Graphic Arts Monthly found its exhibit in a prime location on the main floor near the entrance.