DIA Celebrating 25 years

The Printing business was very different in 1987 – Gutenberg would be astonished at the changes in the industry over the past 25 years. Market sectors were at their zenith. Typesetting companies such as Cooper & Beatty, MonoLino, and Typesettra and pre-press companies like Batten Graphics, Bomac Batten and H&S Reliance (to name a few) were stand-alone markets. Then there were printing companies: Arthurs Jones, Clarke Litho, MIL, and MM&T come to mind.

Advertising agencies controlled millions of dollars of print buying power. A quirky little company in Cupertino, California claimed if you bought their Apple desktop computer, and loaded a software program called QuarkXPress, you could do your own typesetting and layout of your pages at the same time. The end of type galleys, mechanical assemblies, and the scent of rubber cement or wax adhesive wafting through art studios was imminent.

In 1987, the challenges faced by Prepress companies were thought to be political. The Federal government was campaigning to finalize and implement the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The target date was January 1994.

How would NAFTA impact pre-press companies? These companies had 50 light tables in the film stripping department – manned by 80 – 90 film strippers working 24/5 at $18/hr. In Phoenix, pre-press companies were paying their film strippers $4/hr. If there was to be cross-border free trade, that meant the pre-press companies in Phoenix could knock on doors in Toronto and sell film at 75% less than Toronto ad agencies were currently paying.

The situation was perceived as critical, and a group of pre-press company owners and managers got together and formed the Ontario PrePress Association – incorporated in 1987, the first meetings were held in 1988. Companies initially involved included Alpha Graphics, Empress Litho, Jenmar, Franklin Tuckey, Colourgraph, PBC Lithoprep, PrintAction, Scan-O-Graph, Bergman Graphics, Superior Engravers and Legg Brothers. The plan was to get the Federal government to realize the impact of their actions on one of Canada’s largest industries.

In going through the OPPA/DIA archives to write this article, I came across a document from one Board Member who had met with the relevant Federal Cabinet minister at the time. The government made it abundantly clear they had no interest whatsoever in what the OPPA had to say.

Meanwhile, the OPPA was up and running. That quirky little computer company in Cupertino, along with Aldus, Quark and Adobe were making some serious inroads. So much so, that by 1990 typesetting companies had all but disappeared. To quote Howard Batten, an industry leader at the time and CEO of Batten Graphics, “our competition is no longer companies with the same function as ours, our competition is technology.”

How true that was – within another five years, stand alone pre-press companies were in a life or death struggle, and the introduction of computer-to-plate in 1995 turned out to be the fatal blow.

Printing companies had grown plate-making departments into pre-press departments, and the digital world was burgeoning.

Very quickly after the founding of the Ontario PrePress Association, education became the major focus of the organization. Staying current, networking with other companies with similar challenges, trying to forecast the trends all became a critical part of staying alive. Pre-press companies either bought printing presses, or sold out to printers who needed a turn-key pre-press operation. Sadly, many just faded away.

In 1998 the OPPA changed its name to the Digital Imaging Association. No longer were member companies producing film, or plates, or scans – their product was digitized data.

This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the Digital Imaging Association. What has been the recipe for survival? It is very simple – we continue to focus on supplying educational forums for our members.

But that’s not all. The DIA educational meetings are a superb networking opportunity – to ask questions and share the battles, both won and lost, with your peers. Other meetings include key management issues, the occasional town-hall meeting where several topics are addressed, environmental compliance programs, print buyer panels, market trends, how to run your business more profitably, lean manufacturing, how to diversify your business and even how to get your business ready to sell.

Our Board of Directors reflects the broad base of our membership. When the OPPA started out, manufacturers and vendors were not part of the mix. That changed very quickly when it became clear that the relationship is symbiotic – and so we benefit from the participation of “supplier” members and directors, as well as printers, software developers, sign printers, consultants and trainers. We try to incorporate every aspect of the Graphic Imaging Sciences into the fabric of the Digital Imaging Association. Here’s to even greater success in the next 25 years!

If you have ever been a part of the OPPA or the DIA, please consider attending our 25th anniversary celebration being held at St. Andrews Valley Golf course on Thursday, June 7, 2012. If you’re a golfer, plan on playing a round. If not, join us for dinner at 6pm. Contact Marg Macleod (416) 482-2223 marg@digitalimagingassoc.ca for more information or to book your reservation.