Monday, May 16, 2011

How I learned to love ink on paper (and the people who print)

From my earliest memories I really loved photography. My mother worked in the local photo lab after WWII so we always had lots of photos and I clearly remember those first color snaps that revolutionized consumer photography at the time.  After high school I first majored in Fine Art with a photography emphasis, but I quickly realized that my mentor, the late Wayne Brannock, had already taught me more about photography then I would ever learn from the artsy folks at Missouri State.  So I changed my major and packed my camera bags for the University of Missouri.  My relationship and love for silver halide lasted through the 80's and 90's, through the advent of digital photography and the fall of Kodak.

My photography always had a commercial bent, be it my time shooting for Columbia Records or working my way though school shooting weddings and portraits on weekends.  But during my time at Corbis, I realized the real action was not in the commercial or professional realm at all, but on the consumer side.

It's still amazing to me the transformation that happened in the late 90's.  Digital color printing had already made it's mark, primarily with "good enough" color on devices like the Canon CLC500.  But digital photography was getting ready to further blur the lines between photographs and offset-style printing.

In 2000 it became clear to me that this transition was the future of how consumers will purchase physical media.  I joined a company that was using wide format ink jet to print maps and historical documents from the Library of Congress but soon became a consultant to the originator of the consumer hard-bound photo book.

Now, thinking about what I really love about what Blurb is doing, I'm really happy that I've been able to maintain relationships with the folks that actually get things done in our business--the print service providers, or PSPs.  Much like my days working in professional photo laboratories, most of these are closely held, often family-owned businesses.  And like photography in the 90's, they are dealing with changes at often lightning speeds, not knowing where the next threat to their existence might come from.  These are the people that write the checks to buy the heavy iron that makes the product you see everyday in an economy that is often  less than friendly.

Blurb has indeed helped to democratize publishing.  But without the people on the front lines what we built would have been but another business presentation for a start-up that couldn't get going.  I'm personally grateful for all of the friends I've made along the way as I transitioned from photo to print, and I see a very bright future for all of us.

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