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Nine critical terms

Dec 1, 2010 12:00 AM

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In the bad old days, only “hickie,” stripper” and “bleeding in the gutter” had two or more meanings. These days, the graphic arts industry is characterized by terms that defy precise definitions and impair communications. Some trade associations and consultants publish research using these undefined terms, thereby making their survey results questionable. Here are nine of the terms to which different people provide different operative definitions.

Print buyer | Our research indicates that only about 20% of “print buyers” (as identified by printing companies) spend more than half their time purchasing and coordinating the manufacture and distribution of print. In a recent survey for a commercial printer, respondents were asked to describe their job function. No one responded, “Print buyer.” That function has been commingled with the design or management of other advertising, promotion or marketing media. A print buyer no longer perceives himself or herself as a print buyer.

Large format | To someone with a copying machine, a 9 × 12-inch image might be “large format.” To a traditional sign company, “large format” might be synonymous with the 4-color images increasingly found on the sides of 53-ft. tractor-trailers. Entire publications are devoted to the subject of “large format” imaging, but seldom is the term defined.

Digital printing | This probably is the term that results in the most communication difficulties. Upon receiving a promotion piece from Printing Industries of America about a conference on the subject, I wrote to the organization asking for a definition of “digital printing.” Does it encompass DocuTech and other black-and-white copiers? If so, that technology goes back to the early 1980s. Does the term encompass variable-data color printing? If so, pioneers Indigo and Xeikon were introduced in 1993. Does it refer to color copiers capable of receiving 4-color electronic files? Does “digital printing” also refer to digitally driven presses? And if “digital printing” is defined as toner-based imaging, how are Indigo and Océ presses, which don't use traditional toner, categorized?

Fulfillment | Fulfillment, redemption and conversion generally are religious terms; they aren't very descriptive of graphic arts services. Yes, there is a better, more descriptive term: “customized distribution services.” Even “customized post-bindery services” is better than “fulfillment,” which fails to encompass or imply such important functions as mail list procurement, list maintenance, addressing, mailing, testing and other activities.

Quick printer | Until the last several years, there was a relatively clear delineation between a quick printer and a general commercial offset printer. In recent years, buying organizations' pressures for quick turnaround times and decreasing quantities met the increasing sophistication of so-called “copy centers.” Today, there are commercial printers with full-size, full-color offset equipment that also have toner-based boxes. The differences in the two types of printers have blurred. In terms of speed, everyone is a quick printer. And electrostatic imaging has become acceptable to even the most demanding, critical experts on reproduction quality.

Spam | The subject of spam inevitably arises in a discussion of the cost and effectiveness of print vs. other media. Recent research by Epsilon involving thousands of respondents reveals no common definition of the word “spam.” Some consider it to be any commercial communication from any organization. Others refer to spam as any message they consider to be irrelevant. Many respondents consider excessive frequency a primary ingredient of spam, a word whose definition is becoming less universal over time.

Customer/competitor/supplier | Until recently, it was relatively simple to identify a competitor. It was a company with similar production equipment usually located in the general geographical area. Today, a competitor might also be a customer that has copiers or small commercial equipment as well mailing and other distribution capabilities. Many printers of all sizes consider Xerox, HP, and other firms engaged in facilities management and direct sales to print-buying organizations to be both suppliers and competitors. Prepress once was a major profit center for printers. Technology has enabled customers to prepare their own files and to become suppliers. The buyer-seller relationship invariably changes when technology becomes widely accepted, decreases in price and gravitates to users/customers. Some printing and binding technology is in the process of migrating toward print buyers now.

The bottom line: don't engage in a deep discussion that utilizes any of the nine words discussed above without first establishing a common operative definition.

Dick Gorelick's marketing expertise graced the pages of print industry trade magazines for 25 years. See our tribute as well as Dick's past columns at


Dick Gorelick passed away on September 12, 2010. Dick was a prolific writer who always worked far ahead of his deadline. While Gorelick & Associates has formally suspended its operations, Dick's writing remains timeless.