After 51 years and over 1,000 articles, Tribute bids farewell

Print has always been a challenging and changing sector - and Andy Tribute has seen it all. Now, he says, it's time to step down and take stock of all he's learned.

16 Oct 2012 | By

More than 20 years ago, I decided to write a monthly article in the hope of getting it published by the leading print magazines around the world. I was already writing regularly as the international editor for Seybold Publications, which produced the Seybold Report, the industry bible for pre-press technology and markets. I stopped writing for Seybold in 2000 and continued with the monthly articles, of which this is my last.

I have not counted but I believe that – including all the Seybold pieces, my monthly articles and the weekly column I have written in the US for the past decade – I have written more than 1,000 articles covering technologies and markets for the printing and publishing industries.

That is in addition to all the work I have done as a consultant since 1985, prior to which I had been working at the cutting edge of implementing printing and publishing technologies for printers and pre-press and computer suppliers since the start of my career in 1961. All in all, that constitutes 51 years in the industry, of which 44 years have been spent working with computer technologies to digitise the printing and publishing industries.

Consistent thread
Looking back, there is a consistent thread to everything I have seen in successful companies in these industries. This is to identify trends, or windows of opportunity, and have the vision and courage to implement them. Many people and companies may see the trends, but lack the courage or expertise to act on them – often through concern about the impact on their current business. Two classic examples are Kodak and Heidelberg.

Kodak identified the trend of digital photography before any other organisation, in fact they invented the technology, but poor management let the opportunity slip due to concern over the impact on its film business. Heidelberg saw the opportunity for digital printing at an early stage, but arrogantly felt they could build a better digital press than existing suppliers like Xerox. The result was an excellent press, heavily over-engineered, far too expensive and without the ability to link with digital finishing equipment. Heidelberg’s sales force also failed to understand the potential of digital printing and almost always pushed for an offset press sale.

A key message that comes from this that applies to all businesses is that your future business should replace your current one before someone else does. There are many organisations that have either failed to identify trends or failed to move fast enough to stop younger, more agile companies from taking their business away. Most newspapers are a key example of this.

I have been lucky in my career to have been at the leading edge of many technologies and in this a few items stand out. In the early 1970s, I worked on ultra high-speed phototypesetting doing 100% full-page make-up of data from company databases for products like timetables and tariffs, technical documentation and book catalogues. This was some 20 years before digital printing of data from databases would start.

Disruptive technology
In the early 1980s desktop publishing (DTP) arrived and fundamentally changed both printing and publishing. I had just started consulting and saw the real potential of this as a disruptive technology that would bring about huge change in newspapers, colour printing and publishing, and all forms of pre-press. The companies that did not pick this up and run with it often went out of business.

It was also around this time that I became heavily involved with digital printing. I was a part of the small consultancy team that helped Benny Landa launch Indigo and I also helped Xerox over a long period to enter and succeed in the graphic arts market. In this, I coined a phrase I used in many of the public presentations I gave around the world when speaking to printers: ‘Go digital or die’.

It surprised me how long it took from Indigo and Xeikon launching digital colour printing before most printers started to implement the technology. The early adopters, who were predominantly pre-press companies, or database or direct marketing specialists, got a major start in this area and today most leaders in digital printing were not printing companies before implementing the technology.

Changing industry
This brings me to today when the industry is in a major state of change driven by trends in other markets, predominantly the impact of the internet, and the trends that are shown by cross-media or multiple-media marketing.

For printers, this presents a much more difficult change than DTP and digital printing, which were technologies that moved the industry forward and whose impact and implementation were relatively easy to comprehend. It was simply a lack of vision or concern over an existing business model that prevented printers from being early adopters in these cases.

Today’s changes are very different. Printers already use the internet to increase the efficiencies in their businesses with technologies like web-to-print and many have implemented added-value services like logistics and creative design to help them become a provider of some cross-media services.

Marketing services
However, it is a major step-change for printers to become full marketing services companies with extensive cross-media capabilities and I honestly feel for most printers this will be a step too far. The future for these printers is to find partners where they can participate as a media contributor, rather than taking this step by themselves.

The past 50 years has seen constant change for print: from letterpress to litho in the 1960-70s; from analogue to digital pre-press in the 1980s; from high-end colour systems to DTP in the 1990s; and in the 2000s digital printing ushered in shorter print runs and variable data capabilities. We are now in the 2010s, and high-speed inkjet printing has the potential to change the publishing process allowing for shorter runs, personalisation and different ways of doing business allied to cloud-based workflows. The big question is: just how does the average printer fit into this scenario?

Leading edge
As I retire from the industry in which I have made many friends around the world, I have to admit to being very lucky to have been on the leading edge of most of the driving technologies that have changed the industry. I have been privileged to be able to work with many of the key people and companies that have changed the industry.

I have also had my writing career as a mouthpiece for my opinions, which have sometimes been quite controversial as in May 2003 when after reading Heidelberg’s annual report I stated the only way for the company to succeed was to get out of both digital printing and web offset. I was heavily criticised for this view from around the industry, but in December 2003 Heidelberg announced it was to sell off both operations.

It is all very well to look back on past success, but I feel we can learn a lot from such changes. I think that it is still the case that companies have to pick up trends early and then have the courage, expertise and – admittedly – luck to adapt and replace their own business. Remember –  if you don’t, it is most likely that somebody else will.

Tribute’s technology highlights

1964 Rudolf Hell introduces the HelioKlischograph to produce engraved gravure cylinders without any chemical processing

1967 Linotype-Paul introduce medium cost CRT typesetting with Linotron 505

1975 Crosfield launches first digital colour scanner

1977 Monotype launch the Lasercomp, introducing the  setting of full pages with images

Xerox launch digital laser printing with Xerox 9700 printer

1979 Scitex launches high-end colour at GEC Milan with the Response system for page assembly and retouching

1984 DTP launched at Seybold Seminars by Apple, Adobe and Aldus

Eddie Shah invokes Margaret Thatcher’s union legislation to defeat the print trade unions and herald a major change with single keyboarding operations for UK newspapers

1986 Rupert Murdoch makes 6,000 union staff redundant and moves production to Wapping with full single keyboarding operations by editorial and advertising staff. All other UK newspapers rapidly followed invoking the change in trade union laws

1989 Photoshop brings colour to the desktop when introduced as Barneyscan XP together with desktop Barneyscan colour scanner

Tim Berners-Lee introduces first web client and server and launches the World Wide Web internet capability

1993 Xeikon and Indigo launch digital colour presses at Ipex

2005 Screen introduces Truepress Jet520 to launch high-speed commercial colour inkjet printing

Reader reaction

Industry tributes to Tribute

Andy Tribute is retiring. That statement may not be true for both meanings of the word ‘retiring’. First, Andy is an extrovert who loves educating folks about new technology. Second, those of us who know him feel that some project will come along to excite him, and - poof - un-retirement. Andy is best known for his work as European correspondent for Seybold Publications and later for Most of his early work was with automated typesetting systems. He coined the term "imagesetter" for the first laser device. Andy has spent a lifetime reporting on, consulting about, educating, opining, criticizing, praising, damning and extoling printing industry technology.
Frank Romano Professor emeritus, RIT

I have known Andy for more than 40 years and have always seen him as one of our best industry visionaries. If I wanted to know anything about the direction of various technologies I always referred to him and I always got a very balanced and honest view which in most cases turned out to be reality. I always made sure I met with Andy at any of the international exhibitions as he was able to give me a reliable overview of any new technology development which was worthwhile to look at. It will be difficult to find someone with this depth of knowledge to step into his boots but ‘everything good comes to an end’. After many years of printing industry activity, Andy  clearly deserves his retirement which now will be to the benefit of the golf course.
Lars Janneryd Formerly deputy MD, Crosfield Electronics

Omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent are just a few of the words that I would use to describe Andy Tribute. There are few individuals who have achieved such an exalted position in our industry as Andy has. A long-time friend, advisor to, as well as an occasional contrarian of, Xerox, we thank him for the passion he has brought to the industry that we love and wish him all the very best in his retirement. Now that he will have some additional free time, I am hopeful he will sign-up as one of my scientists!
Jeff Jacobson President, Global Graphic Communications, Xerox

In the course of a 30-year career in corporate communications you meet industry analysts and commentators you respect, you get to like – and you can’t ignore! One of those rare people who commands all of these qualifications is Andy Tribute. A gifted writer and a shrewd thinker. A man with hands-on experience who always speaks his mind, never backward in coming forward. A man who stands out in the crowd thanks to his deep knowledge of digital documents and printing for professionals. When you’re with Andy, you’re inspired and informed, motivated and mesmerized, you laugh and you learn. With Andy’s retirement, the industry loses a mind that has made an indelible impression of many companies and their management. We wish you all the best and many happy years of good health and happiness.
Jan Hol Senior vice-president, communications, Océ

When I think of Andy Tribute a few adjectives come to mind: brilliant, insightful, connected, determined. I’d say more but then this would start to feel like a eulogy, and Andy is by no means dead yet. In fact, I don’t even believe he’s retiring.
Jim Hamilton Group director, InfoTrends