I Wish Print Were Like Movies

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This reserved article originally appeared in CHROMiX ColorNews Issue 39 on September 15, 2009.

Click here to see the original in its original context.
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This Month's Feature Article:


Sometimes I wish print were more like the movies

My wife and I really enjoy watching good movies in a theater. We're the ones who sit until all the credits have run, commenting on the names, locations, job titles and the overall effort that goes into making a good film. We enjoy the short peek behind the curtain at the industry and I guess there's a feeling of honoring all the individuals who contributed to the work of art we just enjoyed.

The other day I was looking through a beautifully produced book on fly fishing and was struck by the quality of the whole package. The paper was heavy and lusterous, the design had plenty of white space and called attention to the writing and the amazing photographs. As a color person I was conscious of the depth and detail of the images and that some of them would have been tough to reproduce so well, yet every one of them clearly communicated the intended message and entertained me at the same time. I haven't fished in years, so I was particularly struck by the ability of the book to draw me into a topic that, if asked casually, I wouldn't have said I was very interested in.

If it were a movie, I would have jumped over to IMDB.com (the most wonderful cross-referenced database of film, TV and sometimes musical works) and dug into the screenwriter, cinematographer, director of photography, colorist and other people who'd contributed to the project. I could follow any one of them through their career and might have noticed that the guy who'd done the color also did several films I really liked and a few I didn't know about... perhaps I should look into them. The screenwriter may have been married to one of my favorite directors and their kid might be starring in a film I saw with my kids last week. The browsing, learning, and discovery in IMDB is endless and I often find myself distracted for longer than I'd planned.

But not print.

I leafed to the back of the fly fishing book and found nothing. Nothing. In the movie industry it would have caused a major uproar if they'd left all the credits off the end of a film. But not in print. I wanted to know who did the color. I wanted to know who designed the layout. I wanted to know who printed and bound the book. I wanted to know more about the paper that was used.

I was immediately saddened by the whole thing. How tough would it be to dedicate a page at the end of such a great book to honor the work and talents of the people who put it together? I don't blame the people who made the book. I blame us, as an industry. I can recall a few books that have mentioned the tools used to create the book, the font, sometimes the paper. They have been rare though, and searching through my memory, many of them were produced for technical or print industry topics. Perhaps the book's creators decided that people in our industry might be curious about the work that went into them. A nice gesture, if rare.

But shouldn't credit be given regardless of whether or not the intended audience might be interested? In a movie you can always stand up and leave if you are not interested. But for those of use who are, there are long streams of names to watch scrolling by as we digest the message of the movie with our popcorn.

"But the movie industry is unionized" I hear voices in my head argue. "They probably fought tooth and nail to get credit put into films."

Perhaps. I don't know the industry that well.

I do know that they shouldn't have had to fight to get credit. I know that those who contribute to books and other publications shouldn't have to either.

When I look at printing industries today, some in decline, some holding their own, some growing, I notice that industry studies are often about "Why print is still valid" and other such self-affirming topics. Perhaps if we'd done a better job, over the years, of disclosing and recognizing the efforts and talent that go into print production we wouldn't have to be spending as much time now justifying our existence. It's amazing how much print we digest every day, completely unconscious of its presence and of its influence. When I talk to technical people outside the imaging industries (and sometimes within) I keep hearing that paper is dead, that print is dead. Yet, at least today, so much of what we buy and use has a printed component that we take for granted. A photo on a screen is nice but on paper it has a level of beauty and permanence that emissive displays can't have. They don't need to either. Each has its place and purpose.

When it comes to gift giving I still can't bring myself to give electrons rather than atoms. My daughter has an iPod and no convenient way of listening to CDs. Yet I prefer giving her CDs as gifts, and she prefers to receive music that way. For me, an iTunes gift card is like an acknowledgment of a gift rather than a gift itself. The production of the CD, and the printed insert, has great value in this form.

Oh yeah, and the CD is full of credit for all the people who wrote, arranged, played, sang, recorded, mixed, inspired and otherwise helped bring the art to us.... but the printed insert.... nothing. Sometimes, the photo on the front, very rarely the layout or design. But the production, the layout, the color, the printing, the binding, the paper, the inks, etc, etc, etc. Nothing.

How many of our communications need battery power to exist? Or another way: which of our communications are we willing to leave to the transience of electricity and which do we want to have a more permanent life?

Don't get me wrong. I have to be completely honest about my technical leanings and how I get most of my news, do most of my research, and create and consume most of my written work these days using LCD displays.

But print has it's place. Print has permanence. Print has tactile qualities. Print *exists*.

It's time we reminded those who use and need print just how valuable it is, and just how much credit is deserved in its production.

a developing curmudgeon

Thanks for reading,

Steve Upton

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