The Evolution of Publishing and Print

The past three decades have witnessed a revolution in publishing with technology the driving force behind that change.

And I should know. When I joined Gould people asked how long I had been in the industry and I was shocked to realised its 28 years! More than half my life!

In that time publishing has seen unprecedented changes and, having worked across several disciplines – Magazine Publishing, Web Offset and Gravure printing and now Paper – I have seen most of it!

I remember my early days in publishing when everything was still being typeset. The lead time on a weekly publication was something like six weeks! Editorial copy was written on a typewriter – remember them? – or even by hand or shorthand!

A team of sub-editors would proof read, correct punctuation, re-write and mark-up copy for font, size, style and column width then send to a typesetter to set in galley form – reams and reams of copy in the correct column width and style - to layout.

At the time typesetters had invested in state of the art ‘Linotype’ equipment - effectively huge computerised typewriting systems. Server rooms to run the equipment would take up half the office, sometimes more.

The cost to install was millions. The license to use fonts would have to be purchased additionally.

Many of the typesetters were based around the Farringdon and Liverpool Street areas of London, their premises long since converted to luxury flats which in many cases now sell for in excess of £1 million.

The typeset copy would be returned for the layout designer to paste onto a layout board with positional image guides for pictures and illustrations. ‘Grant’ projectors – a huge booth like contraption that magnified or reduced the image to trace onto paper - would be used to create a guide for sizes.

Text inevitably over, or under ran considerably. The sub editor would cut or fill to fit the layout, writing new copy by hand or typewriter and attaching to copies of the galley. This was a fine art calculating the number of words, copy count, lines, columns, marking up for style and correcting copy for spelling and punctuation.

The layouts would be sent back to the typesetter to re-set type and, using hot melted wax, paste copy and black and white half tone images onto boards. Back the pages came for further checks and corrections.

Two-three weeks had passed and still not a colour image to be seen! Time to send the layouts to the repro studio! Pages were marked up and the repro company would scan images/transparencies, colour text, produce a set of film and make colour proofs for approval.

Every element of the process was highly skilled with each of the workers having served long apprenticeships. Remuneration and benefits were justifiably high. Investment in high end Crosfield or Scitex scanners and systems ran to millions. Retouching was charged out per hour and could run to thousands of pounds.

Another two-three weeks passed before finally a set of film and a colour proof for each page or double page spread were sent to the printers.

At the printers large planning rooms were waiting to impose pages by hand before shooting each section individually to film on conventional platesetters. Registration was by eye, sections cut and taped together with a scalpel, magic tape and/or red tape where working in negative.

In the case of gravure each film was shot to opaline (a photographic like paper) which was then attached to the image cylinders by hand ready to be scanned for engraving. It hadn’t been that long before that hot metal was the only method, colour was too expensive to use or not available and typesetting and repro were the new technologies.

How times have changed but despite all the advances in technology at the front end the basic principles of offset lithography and gravure printing are the same.

At the time magazines were in the ascendancy, selling sometimes more than a million copies a month or week. Everyone was making money! Typesetting and repro bills could be in the millions per annum depending on the size of the company and print bills were probably double the current rates.

Between then and the early noughties - the advent of desktop publishing, computer to plate or cylinder technologies, the changing needs of the consumer and the entrepreneurialism of publishers and retailers spawned numerous new magazines and catalogues.

The deregulation of TV listings, our obsession with all things home, cookery, fashion and celebrity, lad’s mags, our fascination with puzzles and competitions all created new markets.

The printed word was booming! We thought it would never end! Then along came the mobile explosion and everything has changed again! People now have the ability to grab news on the move, just as they can with newspapers and magazines.

So we are now entering another period of uncertainty, but like film outlived video, radio, magazines and newspapers survived the arrival of television and live gigs continue to be the mainstay of youth culture, I am convinced the need for print and paper will evolve to offer an alternative to ‘tapping on glass’ and that the ‘feel’ of paper will remain a pleasure people will find hard to give up. Then again I would say that!

by Ross Borton, New Business Development Director.