For the record: Ian Baitz

This month’s For the Record interview is with Ian Baitz, the Chair of the School of Graphic Communications Management (GCM) at Ryerson University. Teaching at Ryerson for over ten years, Baitz has been a key contributor to the successes of the school, moving into his role as Chair in 2009. His area of teaching is printing processes. As an educator he has been one of the key drivers behind the school’s successes in flexo and packaging. For example, this spring he led GCM’s Phoenix Challenge team to a first place victory in San Diego. Often delivering lectures on the topics below we hope you enjoy his informative take (tuition-free, just for our readers). 

What is your stance on offset vs. digital?

Offset and digital are complementary print technologies that each meet clients’ needs when implemented correctly with a sustainable business model. Offset provides a wide range of substrates and inks, outstanding efficiency and very low cost per impression at mid and high run lengths. Advancements in automation in offset allow the most efficient printers to gang jobs on large and very large format presses and complete a job changeover in only a few minutes. Through extensive automation, even short run jobs can be produced profitably and quickly on offset presses.

The pace of change of digital technologies is accelerating. New inkjet digital presses will challenge the quality of offset printing, and, as cost comes down, the digital-to-offset crossover point will rise. Digital offers the ability to print variable data, but marketers have not embraced VDP as broadly as many printers expected.

The lower equipment cost and pricing models of entry-level digital printing equipment have resulted in a number of smaller digital printing firms that challenge some of the more established companies in our industry. But, in some cases, the business models of these startup firms are not sustainable.

Where do you stand in the ‘(our world is going) paperless’ debate?

Don’t believe it. Naysayers have incorrectly predicted the end of print since the start of radio broadcasting 100 years ago. Print did not cease then, nor when television appeared, the computer or the Internet. There is an important role for print in the entire communication mix, and some printers have become really great at explaining the role of print in the media mix.

There is always a lot of initial excitement around the latest mobile, video or other digital technology, but there is also an element of user fatigue around many screen-based technologies. A lot of people wish they could better limit “screen time.”

What’s one problem that the printing industry could have already solved but hasn’t?

We need to become better at defending our industry against greenwashing. There are a lot of people who incorrectly believe that print and paper are not environmentally friendly. In some cases, these myths are being promoted by digital communications businesses that stand to profit from greenwashing. The reality is that nearly all human activities have energy and environmental costs. This includes email, eBooks, cloud storage, and the myriad of ever-changing devices used to access digital files.

Most people outside of print would be surprised to know that the amount of forest in North America and Europe is much greater than a generation ago, or that the main threats to forests worldwide are urbanization and agriculture, not papermaking. Far more trees are felled for construction than for paper. Organizations such as Two Sides have given us outstanding tools to challenge myths about print. However, we all have a responsibility to tell the positive story of print.

Only 8-10% of printers are profit leaders. What do you believe makes them different?

Profit leaders are visionaries who find segments of the market that are less prone to commoditization. They implement technology to drive efficiency and control costs, and they value people by investing in employees and developing relationships with clients.

What do you miss about the “good old days”?

I miss the hands-on, highly tactile aspects of bygone technologies: handling type, paste-ups and film, hand-processing plates, mixing inks, and registering colours using a wrench. There is something highly satisfying about how the technologies of years ago stimulated the senses of touch, smell, sight and hearing. There was something highly satisfying about the variety of tasks in print shops that perhaps seems a bit lost as more and more tasks are done by machines instead of craftspeople.

What keeps you up at night?

As an educator, my priority is people, so I spend a lot of time thinking about how to help students engage with our industry and develop a passion for print. Equally important is how to motivate, encourage and support faculty and staff so that they can work together to do their best for our students and our industry. We’ve also seen that there are a lot of new pressures on students today that we did not face when we were in school. They are facing more issues around peer and family pressures, career trajectory and balancing family, work, financial and academic responsibilities. Educators have a responsibility to help learners manage these many distracting issues so that they can succeed.

What makes you happy to come to work in the morning?

I get really excited on days when I will be teaching in our hands-on labs at Ryerson. Since becoming department chair, I do less teaching and far more administration. But the most fun I have at work is when I have the privilege of working with students and seeing them become excited about print.

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