Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead. – Benjamin Franklin
(1706 – 1790)
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:
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 is a virtual
textbook of printing. Alan Robinson,
Lisa Bowes and
Brian Sheehan (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.
The Changing World of Print Buyers: An Interview
with Margie Dana
D. Eadward Tree
I was a fan of Margie Dana years before adopting my alter ego of D.
Eadward Tree, so it’s a real honor to be able to interview her. And the
honor is doubled because she also published an interview with me today
on the excellent Web site for Print Buyers
International, in which I reveal why I write under a pseudonym and
what I would do if I owned a printing company.
Margie has been a friend and advisor to those of us on the “buy side” of
printing since 1999, when she started her weekly
Margie’s Print Tips e-newsletter that is still going strong today.
Her goal all along, as she says, is “to educate customers and
manufacturers about each other . . . to build bridges and eliminate
She keeps finding new ways to build those bridges and eliminate
misconceptions, such as by founding Print Buyers
International, writing two books (Put It on Paper! The Newcomer’s
Guide to the Printing
Industry and Print Buying
Made Simple), and writing
and blogging for the printing industry’s top trade publication and
web site, Printing Impressions. As
if that weren’t enough, she’ll be hosting PBI’s 2011 Print
& Media Conference next month and will soon be publishing her third
Dead Tree Edition:How has print buying changed since you switched from
being a print buyer to being a writer and head of an organization?
Margie Dana:I guess the biggest difference has to be the impact of the
Internet. It’s opened doors we never had in my print buying days. Think
about what’s at our fingertips now – it’s all there, if you know where
to look. More recently, the popularity of social media and social
networking means there are more ways for print buyers to connect with
one another. That’s big. And of course, since print volumes are down,
it’s had a significant impact on the roles and future career paths of
Most professional buyers are no longer print-centric. They are becoming
media generalists bit by bit – which is good for their careers.
Dead Tree Edition: So do you see many people who were print buyers
taking on more non-print roles?
Margie Dana:Absolutely. Many buyers if not most have seen their roles
expand into newer media as well as marketing, design, web work, project
management, mail/fulfillment management, and so on.
Dead Tree Edition: What exactly is a print buyer?
Margie Dana: The person in a company, agency or other organization who
has primary responsibility for managing/handling the production of
printed materials for his or her employer. It describes a function – not
to be confused with a title. It is highly misunderstood and
under-appreciated. The majority of print ‘buyers’ I know are much more
than purchasers. They are their firms’ de facto printing experts,
skilled in sourcing, negotiating, budget development, paper
specification, design software, production scheduling, troubleshooting
and so on. Many have editorial or design responsibilities. They help
determine what print projects are appropriate for a particular campaign
and are responsible for making them a reality. Multitasking experts,
they are internal liaisons with editors, designers, IT units, and
management – as well as liaisons with all vendors.
Dead Tree Edition: What inspired you to start Boston Print Buyers? (and
how did you move from “Boston” to “international”?)
Margie Dana:I thought you’d never ask. I had been a corporate print
buyer for over 15 years, first for Boston University and then for MFS
Investment Management. I loved it! I left in the late ’90s because our
son was then school age, and I wanted to be there for him. But I also
wanted to work and decided that since there were no resources for print
buyers, I might as well start a group. Boston Print Buyers had bimonthly
dinner meetings, always with an educational discussion led by a
sponsoring firm. A few years later, a friend convinced me to produce a
conference. By that time I’d traveled to both England and New Zealand to
speak to print buyers and printers. It was clear that print buyer issues
and trends were universal, so I decided to change the name to reflect that.
Dead Tree Edition:What exactly is PBI?
Margie Dana: A professional association that caters to those who work
with printers and related graphic arts firms. We hold an annual 2-day
conference as well as 1-day conferences. We’re a major resource for
print customers as well as printers, actually. We offer education and
information for these professionals. When I write or blog, I reflect the
current mood and trends of professional print buyers and printers, too.
Member benefits include serious discounts on all products, services and
events, premium membership in WhatTheyThink.com, and a
yet-to-be-announced Buying Power Program with a leading online print
service provider. PBI members get first notices of job openings and free
resume review by yours truly. In 2012 we plan to host a one-day PBI
Conference in Boston and are discussing plans for the same in the
Southeast and on the West Coast.
Dead Tree Edition: What is the most important thing that printers should
know, but generally don’t know, about print buyers?
Margie Dana:They do a whole lot more than source print, and most print
buyers are extremely influential in their organizations. Print buyers
get short shrift by many sales professionals in this field, and it
seriously bugs me. They’re believed to be gate keepers not decision
makers, and I protest loudly. I dare your readers to attend our upcoming
conference in Chicago on September 13-14 and take a look at who those
“print buyers” are: senior-level career professionals with significant
responsibility and clout in their organizations. They don’t have their
heads in the sand when it comes to the future of print andcommunications.
Dead Tree Edition: What is the most important thing that print buyers
should know, but generally don’t know, about printers?
Margie Dana: They’re all different. Experienced print customers know
this, but new buyers and designers don’t. They perceive printing as a
commodity and don’t know how to begin sourcing print efficiently. I
guess that’s why I’m in business. Dead Tree Edition: Are most print
buyers concerned about environmental issues? Do they just follow
whatever sustainability policies their employers have (or don’t have) or
are many of them going beyond what is required of them?
Margie Dana: Sustainability in this field is a funny topic. It is
currently not one of the hottest topics, if you follow discussion trends
in blogs and LinkedIn Groups. Buyers who as individuals are green
“activists” are more likely to make it a priority in their roles. It
does remain a very critical issue in higher education (no surprise
there). And as you pointed out, if there are corporate sustainability
policies and guidelines, print buyers adhere to them.