By Margie Dana
For the past few years, I’ve been intrigued by one very mysterious blogger, D. Eadward Tree. Surely, you’ve read his work. He’s got the best name in the biz. His blogs pop up in various trade media as well as in several LinkedIn groups. This is what his official profile says:
“By day, the pseudonymous D. Eadward Tree is a magazine manager dealing with such oh-so-20th Century concerns as printing, paper, and postage as he tries to make dead-tree publications more economically and environmentally sustainable. By night, he becomes Chief Arborist of Dead Tree Edition, boldly venturing into the blogosphere – despite not knowing his RSS from a hole in the ground – to provide analysis and wisecracks about ink-on-paper publishing.”
Two weeks ago I asked to interview him. He did not want to speak by phone. The plot, she thickens.
I had to settle for an email interview, and he asked to do the same. You can find my interview on his site at this link: http://deadtreeedition.blogspot.com/2011/08/changing-world-of-print-buyers.html
Without further ado, my Q&A with D. Eadward Tree…
1. Who are you – really – and why do you write under a pseudonym?
I’ve spent most of my life trying to figure out who I really am. You’re familiar with my official profile (see above). As for the pseudonym, if I had used my real name, people would assume I was speaking for my employer, which is not the case. I couldn’t very well address controversial issues related to publishing or my company’s current or potential suppliers if I revealed my identity.
2. What motivates you? In my mind, you’re like the “60 Minutes” of the printing industry. You write very insightful pieces that expose flaws in our venerable field.
Part of my original motivation was that I saw the publishing industry moving more to the web, and so I wanted to learn more about how the web works. Being a “print guy,” I saw no opportunity to learn on the job, so I decided to create my own job. Also, I was often frustrated by the superficial treatment often given to coverage of printing, the paper industry, and postal and environmental issues and felt that I could make a contribution. Rather than following the stereotypical blogger path of just riffing on what has already been published, I get a kick out of providing original insights or uncovering new information – as evidenced by my nearly obsessive coverage of the black liquor tax credits. There’s also a bit of a monetary motivation, though I’m barely making minimum wage. (Minimum wage is still $1.25 an hour, right?)
3. How long have you been D. Eadward?
Since October 2008, when I started the blog.
4. Do your family and friends know about this secret life?
5. Who do you admire in this field? Who are your major influencers?
If you mean in the field of blogging, I admire people who use their deep knowledge of a subject to create content that is far better than what the mainstream media or trade press have to say on the subject. Gordon Pritchard’s Quality in Print blog (http://qualityinprint.blogspot.com/) is a virtual textbook of printing. Alan Robinson (http://courierexpressandpostal.blogspot.com/), Lisa Bowes (http://www.intelisent.com/postalaffairsblog) and Brian Sheehan (postalnews.com http://postalnews.com/ ) run three sites that are very different from each other and yet that all provide important coverage of postal issues. And I’ve been a big fan of yours and PBI long before I became D. Eadward Tree.
6. D. Ed (may I call you that)… have we met?
A friend of mine saw your interview questions and said, “’Have we met?’ That’s one of the lamest pickup lines of all time. But she’s kind of cute, so find out if she’s single.”
7. What’s your take on the “printers as MSPs” issue?
It depends upon the printer, the customer, and the type of marketing service. I’ve seen direct-mail printers that have branched out into managing email campaigns, creating PURLs, and providing other services that play to their strengths in direct marketing and in managing variable data. Some printers that produced reprints for publishers then took on the sales of those reprints and have now branched out to marketing the content of those publishers (such as the pullquotes you often see in car manufacturers’ ads or the use of recognitions like the Inc. 500 logo); that makes sense because those companies understand both the publishers’ brands and the companies that are interested in being associated with those brands. But I can’t see my company asking one of our magazine printers to become our ad agency.
8. What advice or recommendations would you give to printers as they continue to see ink-on-paper volumes drop?
From a friend with an MBA, I learned a valuable question to ask prospective suppliers: “What are your sustainable sources of competitive advantage?” I’m amazed at how rarely printers can answer that. (Hint: “Half of our presses are idle right now, so we can give you really good prices” is not a competitive advantage.) Competitive advantages don’t necessarily have to do with printing. They might be about obviously related matters like binding, information flow, the ordering process, or maximizing postal discounts. Or they might have to do with deep knowledge of certain kinds of products, markets, or industries that would be difficult for others to replicate – and that might result in offering services or products that are seemingly unrelated to putting ink on paper.
9. If you owned a commercial printing company (assuming you don’t), what direction would you be headed in?
It’s hard to generalize because there are so many different types of printing companies. But I wouldn’t try to be all things to all people and to go around telling everyone that “we can meet all of your printing needs”. I would focus on capabilities or knowledge that my company had that would be hard for others to replicate and then try to figure out how to use those strengths to meet the needs of others profitably. And those needs would not all necessarily involve printing.
10. Bonus question: How has the role of print buyers in the magazine industry changed in the past five years?
People in my industry rarely use the term “print buyer”; we’ve usually been called “production people” or “operations people.” These days we’re
more frequently called “M&D” (manufacturing and distribution) because most publishers now understand how intertwined distribution is with production. Many M&D people have branched out further – building web pages, creating apps, even marketing products. Good production people have skills like creating logical workflows and balancing the needs of disparate internal departments that are turning out to be more important than ever in the multimedia age.
©2011 Margie Dana. All rights reserved. Your comments are encouraged. You’re free to forward this email to friends and colleagues. However, no part of this column may be reprinted without permission from the author. Comments?