An old workmate of mine used to complain that ‘accountants make bad printers’. He was a very good printer, but became disillusioned when middle managers and beancounters began to infect the trade back in the 1980s. After all, that was a time when the trade was highly unionised, well-paid and very labour-intensive.
Looking back, it probably reached its peak in the mid-80s, for after that time, the managers took over in earnest – and cutting costs was the mantra they followed with increasing ideological zeal.
I remembered the phrase recently when I had to reject a print run. A series of monochrome graphics had not reproduced well; there were streaks running down the full page illustrations in every one of the books. The job had been printed digitally, not  litho – the process I’d worked in. In litho, such marking would have been put down to gear wear on the press, but digital is the new kid on the block to me, so I just complained and asked for a reprint.
But, while the process may well be totally different to working with viscous ink and printing plates – and the need to manage the ink/water balance during the run, the practice of taking a sheet at random from the delivery stack to check colour strength, image position and overall quality during the run would have meant that this problem never left the pressroom, much less made it through the bindery and out to the end customer.
Then again, with staff numbers paired right back, the beancounters in charge now probably feel that the risk of such things happening, once the job is ‘passed’ by the customer, is something that can be written off. After all, if the statistical probability is small, why not run the risk of not checking? An occasional reprint is still cheaper than paying the wages of printers to stand around on the off chance that one of the sheets they pluck from the delivery might show something’s amiss.
Cost effective? Probably. Even if it runs counter to another old saw – when the fault is so obvious that it would’ve been ‘spotted by a blind man on a galloping horse’. Are those hooves I hear?


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