Archive for the ‘Digital Nirvana’ Category

MSPs: Strategists or Implementers? Takeaways from the NRA Mailing Discussion

Monday, March 2nd, 2015

Last Friday, I wrote about what I asked might be a direct mail misfire—a prospecting letter from the NRA that spoke to our family as if we were already members and included our family’s “new membership seal” in the envelope window for all the world to see. My reasons for considering this a misfire are included in the post, and my position sparked a lively discussion.

Now that it has all died down, I am left with a question about the role of marketing service providers . . . or at least those who consider themselves to be. To be a marketing services provider, you must offer more than simply execution. You must offer strategy. Hence why one comment to my post was so striking:

If I were the printer and had a major client like the NRA who does a tremendous amount of mailing – I don’t think I would suggest to them that their mailing might be offensive to a certain group of [unlikely prospects]. I’d turn it around to you – do you think that would be a good business move?

I thought this was an interesting response because it implies that MSPs should not question the marketing practices of their customers. If they are simply printers — those who execute production — then absolutely, commenting on strategy would be inappropriate. But for those who consider themselves marketing services providers, isn’t offering advice on strategy part of what you are being paid to do? If a client could be doing something better, isn’t asking questions and making suggestions exactly the role that an MSP is supposed to play?

Of course, not all clients will come in the door wanting help with strategy. They just want someone to execute, and that may very well be what happened here. But this mailing was an opportunity to ask the question — if this had come across your desk, and if you were the MSP on this project, what would you have done? Just print the job and send the invoice? Or attempt to open a discussion about customer profiling, targeting, and strategy?

There were some excellent suggestions offered by those commenting on my post. In a nutshell, it was pointed out that groups need to be targeting beyond their typical customer profile:

All of these groups are seeking to expand their donor base beyond their hard core supporters . . . How can the NRA or any other group expand their membership if they narrow their mailings to those most similar to 75% of their base? Isn’t it good marketing to target and expand their membership to those that look like the other 25%?

My response:

I absolutely agree with you that organizations like the NRA need to expand their membership beyond their “typical” member. The question is how to go about it. The approach used in this campaign would be appropriate for prospects who already fit the NRA member profile. It may very well NOT fit those who don’t.

Here is the response, which I believe to be the most valuable part of the discussion:

If I were advising the NRA, I would tell them to target liberals with a record of gun owner ship or even an interest in guns. Pieces targeted towards women and inner city residents about self defense and self defense classes could also be very potent. The rewards of increasing this base of support could be significant in increasing their political power. To your point, I would certainly advise they use different copy for this audience than when mailing to a more conservative group.

Of course, doing this would require the MSP to take a risk — to step out of the role of simple print production and ask probing questions. This goes back to the original comment. To take that risk or just print the job and take the money? To me, this depends on two things: 1) the expectations of the client (don’t tread where you aren’t wanted); and 2) whether you consider truly consider yourself a marketing service provider or not.

This was a fairly contentious discussion, but I think that it’s exactly these types of discussions that flesh out really important issues to this industry and where we all learn the most.

If you haven’t read the post or the comments, check them out.


Monday, March 2nd, 2015

My EPICOMM colleagues and I devote a lot of time to studying our industry’s most successful companies. We’ve learned that some have diversified broadly, while others have stayed focused on printing—including lithographic printing; some provide commodities, while others provide highly customized services; and some serve a broad range of markets, while others specialize in a few.

These companies prove that there is no single path to success in our industry—i.e., we don’t have to be this or that. We do, however, have to select our value proposition carefully and understand exactly what’s necessary to excel with that proposition.

For example, if we want to be the low-cost producer in a commodity market we must be prepared to compete with companies we’ve never had to compete with before because the Internet and digitization are letting everyone into everyone else’s business. If we want to be a one-stop shop we have to integrate—not simply add—services into programs that our clients value or we end up looking like everyone else who adds but doesn’t integrate. And if we want to be a marketing service provider we have to cultivate news skills in sales, marketing, business development, database management, IT, and other critical areas because the services we’ll be taking on are very different from our core printing services.

So what do we want to be? We have more options than ever.  The key is to base our selection on a careful evaluation of our resources, circumstances, and goals—not on what’s hot or what the competition is doing. That’s one point on which all the leaders we study would agree.

Direct Mail Misfire? Why Your Clients Need to Customer Profile

Thursday, February 26th, 2015

This week, we received another entry into the “Did they really do that?” file. I understand that, at the volumes that many of these national marketers mail, they expect a certain percentage to misfire. It’s a cost-benefit calculation. But I wonder about this one. If you had been the service provider on this job, would you have said anything?

We received this piece in the mail the other day. It was from the NRA, and it included our “new NRA membership seal.” It was a prospecting mailer, but it didn’t look like it from the outside. It looked exactly like what it said — that we were receiving the new NRA seal that we (by implication) had requested. By taking this approach, the mailer could easily have given the wrong impression to friends, neighbors, family, or anyone else who saw it.

Regardless one’s feelings about the NRA, the public implication of membership gives a false impression. As a family, we don’t appreciate that.

NRAIf a direct mailing is going to be presumptuous, you might expect the organization to do a more thorough job of profiling. But other than the fact that my husband is a gun owner, there was nothing else relevant about this mailing.

Gun owners are not a homogenous group. You might expect an organization like this to cross the gun ownership with other data to increase the odds that the mailing would not misfire.

One simple cross-check would be political affiliation. According to the latest data I’ve seen, the vast majority of NRA members (73 percent) identified with or lean toward the Republican Party.  There might be other cross-checks, such as membership to specific hunting magazines. My husband fits into none of the demographics associated with NRA membership. 

The NRA can be a highly controversial organization. Publicly implying that someone is already a member (or wants to be a member) isn’t the same as sending a promotion on lawn care when someone cuts their own grass. The risk is not lack of response. It’s deeply offending the recipient, creating negative word of mouth, and creating or reinforcing a negative brand image. That’s a much higher level of risk. Then there are the ethical considerations related to publicly implying membership in (or affiliation with) a controversial organization when the recipient might have very different views.

I realize that marketers still spray and pray, but I wonder if there are some types of mailings that should not fall into this category, particularly those that imply association with causes, products, or organizations that might be controversial.

What do you think? Do you think that this “presumption of membership” is an appropriate approach for a national marketer? Why or why not? If you had been the printer on this project, would you have said anything about this approach?

Jive Talkin’

Wednesday, February 25th, 2015

Whilst on an early morning flight recently, I ordered a cup of coffee and, the coffee being rather hot, I said to the flight attendant, “Do you have a zarf?” I got a blank look, as it appears few people know that “zarf” is the word for those cardboard sleeves around coffee cups that keep you from burning your hand (Forsyth, 2012). The word comes from the Arabic ظرف, zarf, meaning “container or envelope.” It has its origins in 13th-century Turkey P.S. (Pre-Starbucks), where coffee was consumed in an elaborate ritual using handle-less cups. The zarf was a cover used to protect the cup from damage and the hand from getting burned. Zarfs (also zarves) were decorative, and could be adorned with silver, gold, copper, brass, or other metals, as well as wood, ivory, bone, and other materials—or advertising, in the case of today’s zarfs. (It is also a legal Scrabble word, worth 16 points, more if you land on a double/triple letter/word space.)

At any rate, it’s hard to explain word etymologies in a loud airplane cabin at cruising altitude, and I suddenly had an image of Barbara Billingsley standing up à la Airplane! and saying, “Oh, stewardess? I speak jive.”

The word stewardess has gone out of fashion, which I find regrettable only because I like the mock-plural stewardii coined by Thomas Pynchon in the novel Inherent Vice (I haven’t seen the movie yet).

At any rate, back to jive. At one time, you could actually learn to speak jive. Cab Calloway was a famous jazz singer and bandleader, leading one of the country’s most popular big bands in the 1930s and 40s. His signature hit was 1931’s “Minnie the Moocher”—with its scatted “hi de hi de hi de hi” refrain—but few people know that Calloway also wrote a dictionary, Cab Calloway’s Hepster’s Dictionary: Language of Jive in 1939. The idea was instruct people living outside cities (in Squaresville, baby) how to communicate should you come up to town and encounter a jazzman in his natural habitat. Needless to say, much of the terms relate to music, as well as, uh, other recreational activities to be found there.

Dictionaries are nearly as old as written language. The earliest known to historians date from somewhere around 2300 B.C.E. and were cuneiform tablets created during the Akkadian Empire and consisted of lists of Sumerian-Akkadian words. Indeed, the earliest purpose of dictionaries was to translate words from one language to another. Likewise, the first English dictionaries were simply English translations of Latin, French, or Italian words.

The word “dictionary” itself was coined John of Garland in 1220 in his book Dictionarius, which was a primer on Latin vocabulary and diction. John of Garland—his exact birth and death dates are unknown—was a philologist and grammarian as well as a prolific author and poet. His works were highly popular in England, particularly after 1476 when William Caxton installed the first printing press in England. Caxton himself wasn’t as much a fan of John of Garland’s works as was his assistant, Wynkyn de Werde (né Jan van Wynkyn de Werde). De Werde took over Caxton’s print shop after Caxton’s death in 1491 and it was de Werde who, even during Caxton’s lifetime, sought to improve the quality of printed books. Thus is de Werde commonly thought of a “England’s first typographer.” The reason was aesthetic, true, but also practical: as book printing and the number of print shops started to grow around the turn of the century, improved book quality was an important competitive advantage.

One of the most important results of the establishment of printing in England was the standardization of the English language—or to the extent that English has ever been standardized. In an age before there had been any kind of mass communication, people living in disparate parts of Britain spoke different dialects, some of which could even be considered different languages. Even if you travel around the U.K. today, it can be difficult to understand people the further you get from London.

What the earliest English printers did—Caxton, de Werde, as well as another prolific printer and contemporary of de Werde’s named Richard Pynson—was translate and print books in an English dialect called Chancery Standard. It was the dialect used in London, which was after all the political and economic center of England. It was printing more than anything that started to “fix” the English language.

OK, blog participation time. Say the phrase “Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe” out loud.

Let me guess: you pronounced “Ye” with a y sound, right? If you did, that’s actually not correct. It is pronounced the because the Y in that context isn’t really the letter Y. It’s an Old English letter called a “thorn,” pronounced with a th sound. The thorn was written in various ways before printing (commonly Þ), but as it evolved with other letters, it began to look vaguely like the letter Y. When Caxton started printing, he had to import type from Germany or Italy, which did not include a thorn character, but did include the letter Y. So Caxton fudged it a bit and took to setting the word the as Ye (Y with a superscript e). It was, however, always pronounced with a th sound and not with a y sound. (The word that was similarly typeset as Yt.) When the first edition of the King James Bible was printed in 1611, it used Ye in various spots. We occasionally see ye used today, usually in a mock-antique way, but pronounced in a way it was never pronounced in antiquity. The only language in which the thorn is used today is Icelandic; those of us who follow the CrossFit Games know that the surname of Icelandic champion athlete Annie Thorisdottir is written as Þórisdóttir in her native language.

There are actually a bunch of letters that were shed from English over the centuries: wynn, yogh, ash, eth, the long s (aka the f, although it wasn’t really an f, used as an s in certain cases until about the late 18th century), and even the ampersand (&) was a proper letter at one time (it stood for et, the Latin for and).

One of the simultaneously great and terrible things about the English language is that it has always been an organic language. That is, the grammar police to the contrary, there is no central authority determining what is proper English and what isn’t. (This is unlike French and other languages, which do have academies that vet changes and additions to the language.) There are conventions—and I refer to you “Weird Al” Yankovic’s “Word Crimes” for a good compilation—but generally speaking those conventions are wont to change. Sure, the Oxford English Dictionary adds new words to the lexicon every year, but that’s not really official. Kind of like the Weather Channel naming snow storms, much to the annoyance of the American Meteorological Society.

English changes according to how it is actually used. The terrifying prospect is that Internet-ese or texting shorthand will infiltrate itself into “real” English. Two weeks ago, while touring Canon Solutions America’s Customer Experience Center in Boca Raton, they had been printing a small pocket lexicon of texting abbreviations. OMG!

Speaking of OMG…did you know that little bit of shorthand for “Oh My God!” was actually coined in 1917? Its first recorded use was in a letter by British Admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher who wrote to Winston Churchill on September 9, 1917:

I hear that a new order of knighthood is on the tapis—O.M.G. (Oh! My God!)—Shower it on the Admiralty! (Fisher, 1919).

The context is a bit involved (it was in the midst of World War I), but suffice to say, spelling out what the abbreviation stands for probably defeats the point of using the abbreviation at all.

If these abbreviations do creep into the language…well, c’est la vie. (See how foreign words and phrases make their way into English?) And that would be OK. (And I could probably do a whole post on the etymology of OK.) Let’s hope, though, that text message abbreviations don’t become the only way that people enjoy classic English literature—back in 2005, British mobile communications network Dot Mobile had announced a plan to “translate” classic works of literature into text messages, for the purpose of helping students study for exams. (“2b? Nt2b? ???” Is that a question?) Dot Mobile went out of business before anything could come of it, though.

English is always evolving and borrowing words from every which way. Which is a good thing, otherwise we would not have lovely and useful words like zarf. And that ain’t jive.



Associated Press, “Get the classics in text messages,” USA Today, November 18, 2005,

Asher Cantrell, “12 Letters that Didn’t Make the Alphabet,” Mental Floss, December 13, 2012.

John Arbuthnot Fisher, Memories, London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1919, p. 78.

Mark Forsyth, The Horologicon: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language, New York: Berkley Books, 2012, p. 55.

“Glossary of jive talk,” Wikipedia, last modified on December 27, 2014, retrieved on February 12, 2015,

“Richard Pynson,” Wikipedia, last modified on January 28, 2015, retrieved on February 12, 2015,

“Thorn,” Wikipedia, last modified on January 29, 2015, retrieved on February 12, 2015,

“Wynkyn de Werde,” Wikipedia, last modified on January 28, 2015, retrieved on February 12, 2015,

“Zarf,” Wikipedia, last modified on January 30, 2015, retrieved on February 12, 2015,

Canon Solutions America Celebrates its 2nd Anniversary (Part 2)

Tuesday, February 24th, 2015

At the event last week, Canon Solutions America talked about its 2014 results and strategies for 2015 and beyond. Some items stand out more than others, but the recurring theme throughout the event is that inkjet technologies form the core of CSA’s growth plans:

  • Build a foundation, and then grow - Toyotsugu Kuwamura, President and CEO of CSA, described how the group managed small revenue increases (1% and 2% respectively in 2013 and 2014), and that with an efficient infrastructure in place (and upcoming product launches) that the company expected higher levels of growth in the coming years. (3% in 2015, 5% in 2016, and 6% in 2017). CSA reports that it was about a $1.7 billion business in 2014, with the biggest component of that being the Enterprise Services & Solutions (ESS) business. Though large, ESS is not where CSA expects its biggest growth. That is expected to come from the Production Print Solutions (PPS) and Large Format Solutions (LFS) groups.
  • Large format growth – LFS is the smallest of CSA’s groups, but it has been growing at the fastest rate (7% year over year from 2013 to 2014), with significant growth expected in the coming years supported by products from the ColorWave and Arizona families.
  • A new name for Niagara – CSA said that a new name would be announced for the Niagara technology at Hunkeler Innovationdays (February 23-26, in Lucerne, Switzerland). InfoTrends expects that CSA will continue to use the term ‘Niagara’ to describe the underlying technology (in a similar fashion to how Kodak uses ‘Stream’ to describe the inkjet technology used in Prosper) but will choose a new designation for the actual product name. (For additional details on where InfoTrends sees ‘Niagara’ fitting in the Zone of Disruption, please download the free white paper entitled, “The Cut-sheet Inkjet Color Revolution.”)
  • ImageStream 3500 and Niagara print samples – CSA showed, but did not distribute, print samples from the ImageStream 3500 and Niagara. Both looked very good.

ImageStream 3500 print sample

  • 2015 arrivals for Niagara and the ImageStream 3500 – The first ‘Niagara’ has already been installed in Europe at a company called T Systems in Weingarten, Germany. The first four Niagaras in the United States will be installed in the second quarter at OneTouchPoint, IWCODirect, Merrill Corporation, and PPI. CSA is confident that it will have more Niagara orders than it can deliver in 2015. The first ImageStream 3500 in the U.S. will also be delivered in the second quarter. It will go to IWCO. The ImageStream 3500 runs at 525 feet per minute speed and is built on the JetStream transport. It supports a 30-inch wide web (there will also be a 20-inch version). Canon will show the ImageStream 3500 at Hunkeler Innovationdays.
  • New Media and Solutions Lab – CSA has invested more than $1 million to create a media and solutions testing lab to support its paper testing program. CSA reported that it is actively engaged with over 30 paper mills and that about 900 papers are available to its U.S. production inkjet customers. This lab will also support cut-sheet paper development for Niagara. CSA reported that its customers printed 71.5 billion pages in 2014 (across all product categories). That’s a lot of paper. (CSA thinks it’s about 30% of the total production digital market). And so it makes sense that CSA would invest heavily in its relationships with the paper mills.
  • The Designer’s Guide to Inkjet – CSA has published a designer’s guide to inkjet written by Elisabeth Gooding and Mary Schilling. It’s a very interesting book and is worth a look for both designers and production people. Particularly useful are the descriptions at the end of some chapters that describe how the principles in the guide were applied to the production of the book, which was produced on a Canon Océ ColorStream 3500. The internal book block was printed on Cham Inkjet Matte Coated 90 gsm PromoPrint P and Inkjet Matt Coated 160 gsm PromoPrint P was used for the cover.

  • Packaging in CSA’s present and future – CSA’s activities in wide format have brought it into the packaging arena because of flatbed products (like those from the Arizona family) that can be used for corrugated box applications. InfiniStream, the continuous-feed liquid toner technology demonstration shown at drupa, will ultimately bring the company into the folding carton packaging market, but the progress on that device has been relatively slow, and it is unlikely that there will be a significant number of installations in the U.S. anytime soon.



Monday, February 23rd, 2015

The wind flowing through your hair (yours, not mine) as you descend Mt. Lemmon either on a bike or in a nifty convertible or the roar of the rapids as you maneuver the canoe through the white water. Pretty cool feelings if you’ve ever done either. Is that the same feeling you get when describing your new business sales process? Yeah, that’s what I thought.

While it may not be a fair comparison, humor me. When you think of the acceleration or velocity of your sales process, and if you could change anything about it, what would it be? What might be in the way of change? It might be the overall vision or leadership, or perhaps it’s a people issue. Maybe the plan is not as tight as it could be. In most endeavors the key is execution, how are you doing there?

In a dynamic, quickly changing marketplace the answers to these questions can be daunting. The answers can be even more elusive if we don’t heed Peter Drucker’s advice and ask the right questions. Leadership, vision, people, the plan, and the discipline of execution. Grade yourself on these issues, or better yet have a peer, or another business leader grade your efforts. This is hard work but can be very rewarding when you begin to isolate the areas that are holding you back from accelerating your sales process. If you’re interested in an objective opinion let’s set up a time to talk. Share your plan with me and I’ll tell you what I think.


Thinking Ink: Canon Solutions America Celebrates its 2nd Anniversary

Thursday, February 19th, 2015

About a year after Canon Solutions America (CSA) announced that it was exploring the idea of forming a user group for its production print customers, it has announced a name for the group and the date of its first event. The group is called the thINK Customer Community and its inaugural event, the thINK Customer Conference, will take place September 8th to 10th in New York. The thINK Customer Conference will overlap with Canon’s Expo (the once every four year showcase of Canon technologies).

Though thINK is described as a “Community of Canon Solutions America Production Print Customers,” the focus is clearly on inkjet, with JetStream and ColorStream users as the core of new members. thINK’s advisory board is made up of some of the best known Canon/Océ customers and includes Bob Radzis of SG360, Dave Johannes of IWCO, Mark DeBoer of Darwill, Andy Gerry of Intersections, and Art Manzo of GlobalSoft Digital. Two Canon Solutions America executives, Francis McMahon and Eric Hawkinson are also on the board as non-voting members. Radzis, Johannes, and DeBoer were at a press/analyst event that Canon Solutions America hosted last week at its Florida headquarters to celebrate the second anniversary of its birth, when the components of Canon Business Solutions and Océ North America where combined to form CSA.

Check back next week for Part 2 of this recap!

[FREE Infographic] The World Gone Mobile

Wednesday, February 18th, 2015

According to Nielsen, smartphone share in the United States has grown from just 18% in 2009 to 62% of all mobile phones in 2013. And between July 2011 and July 2012, the number of mobile web users grew by 82%.

Did you know that 75% of Americans admit to bringing their phone with them to the bathroom?

It’s time to start developing an effective marketing strategy to target this growing mobile audience.

Start by downloading your copy of “The World Gone Mobile,” FREE for The Digital Nirvana readers.

Click here to learn more interesting and useful mobile facts and to download and share this fun infographic!


Monday, February 16th, 2015

If you are presently outsourcing a reasonable amount of business that is not a core market for you, you might want to partner with a company who does focus on this market. Partnering may mean making an investment in the partner company and becoming a minority shareholder. Some items you should consider before making this investment:

  1. Can the company produce the outsourced business with its present equipment and at a cost-effective price?
  2. What will be the makeup of the board of directors? When would management need to seek board approval for capital expenditures, management compensation, or other critical issues facing the company?
  3. What rights would you have to require the company to re-purchase your minority interest and in what time frame? What method would be used to determine the value of the minority interest?
  4. In the event that the majority shareholder would offer shares for transfer or sale to an outside party, would the minority shareholder have a right of first refusal to purchase those shares?
  5. If a sale by the majority shareholder to the minority shareholder was contemplated, how would the revenues that the company is receiving from the minority shareholder be valued?
  6. How would the minority shareholder receive any remuneration on an annual basis, i.e. management fees; dividends; etc.?

These are a few issues that should be pre-determined before taking a minority interest. The more issues that can be negotiated and agreed to upfront, the better it will be for all concerned.


The Nancy Drew

Wednesday, February 11th, 2015

I was watching some early episodes of Seinfeld recently, which were first broadcast in 1991, and what struck me (aside from what a great show it was) was the fairly “archaic” communication technology they (we!) all used at the time. One episode centered around George’s trying to retrieve an answering machine cassette tape (a what?) from a woman he was dating. Another featured George getting annoyed at someone hogging a public pay phone (huh?). And Jerry does a standup bit about how he hates cordless phones because you can’t slam them the way you can corded phones (OK, there are still corded phones…for now). I would imagine that for anyone under 30, watching shows from the 90s is kind of like my generation watching Humphrey Bogart using those candlestick phones from the 1930s and 40s.

A few weeks ago, I was in Barnes & Noble shopping for my niece’s birthday, figuring she was just old enough to start reading Nancy Drew books. (When I was her age, I had been a Hardy Boys boy.) I was talking to the clerk in the children’s book section and she said that there was the original series, but there was also a newly revised and updated series of Nancy Drew books since, she told me, “kids today have no idea what a rotary dial phone or a phone booth is.” Fair point. And if you’re going to engage young readers, it makes sense to make the stories, characters, and settings reasonably contemporary. In fact, the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books were often updated over the years.

As everyone likely knows, there was no Carolyn Keene (the bylined author of all the classic Nancy Drew books) or Franklin W. Dixon (the Hardy Boys books). The Hardy Boys were conceived (as it were) in 1926 by Edward Stratemeyer, head of the Stratemeyer Syndicate, which was the first book packager to specialize in children’s books. Stratemeyer developed a number of popular kids’ book series, including the Bobbsey Twins and Tom Swift, which were all immensely popular. (Indeed, the “Taser”—the name of the electric stun gun—is actually an acronym for “Thomas A. Swift’s Electric Rifle,” named by the device’s inventor, NASA researcher Jack Cover, after his childhood hero from the Tom Swift books.)

The Stratemeyer Syndicate’s books were launched in 1899 with The Rover Boys, a series that chronicled the hijinks of a trio of adolescents at a military boarding school. The mystery-solving Hardy Boys were launched in 1927, and, noticing that many girls bought the Hardy Boys books, Stratemeyer launched girl sleuth Nancy Drew in 1930. All the books, though credited to a single author, were written by a revolving crew of ghostwriters, and sometimes even by Stratemeyer himself.

The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew books were updated a few times over the decades to reflect not only changing technology (like the advent of cars, phones, etc.) but also—at the request of Grosset & Dunlap, the publisher—changing cultural attitudes. Specifically, to remove the racial and ethnic stereotypes that permeated the original editions.

Edward Stratemeyer was a prolific author, said to have penned more than 1,300 books in his lifetime. He got his start writing for a magazine called Good News, published by Street & Smith Publications, which specialized in pulp magazines and dime novels. The term “pulp magazines” or “pulp fiction” comes from the cheap wood pulp-based paper used to print the magazines (in contrast to the upmarket “slicks” which were printed on better paper), and given that these publications tended to include stories that were deemed inferior in quality to “literary fiction,” the term “pulp” came to refer to that kind of content—detective stories, murder mysteries, horror tales, science-fiction yarns, and so forth. Dime novels, as the term indicates, were novels that sold for—wait for it—ten cents (although sometimes more as the years wore on), and the term came to encompass all of what we would consider “mass market paperbacks” today.

What was the first dime novel? It can be traced to a frontier tale called Malaeska, the Indian Wife of the White Hunter, written by Ann S. Stephens. Published in 1860, it kicked off Beadle & Adams’ Beadle’s Dime Novels series of books. Stephens was herself a prolific author of dime novels and stories for magazines (she sometimes used the pseudonym Jonathan Slick). Based in Portland, Maine, she was also cofounder, publisher, and editor (with her husband, a printer named Edward Stephens) of Portland Magazine, a monthly collection of literary fiction.

Ann Stephens also contributed to many other publications, including Godey’s Lady’s Book, which—nicknamed “queen of the monthlies”—was the most widely circulated magazine in the pre-Civil War era. Launched by Louis Godey in 1830, a decade later its circulation had risen to 70,000 and, by 1860, had soared to 150,000. It was launched to capitalize on the then-popularity of what were called “gift books,” or literary annuals. Though published monthly, it featured poems, stories, engravings, and other items of interest largely to women. The magazine’s longtime editor was Sarah Josepha Hale, and she used her success as the editor of a successful magazine—she became quite the tastemaker—to champion several women’s causes. She was also a primary advocate for the establishment of the holiday of Thanksgiving, and as a New Englander (born in New Hampshire), she was also involved in the completion of the Bunker Hill Monument.

Today, we may not know the name of Sarah Josepha Hale, but she is known for one enduring work: she was the author of the nursery rhyme “Mary Had a Little Lamb.”

You can probably see where I’m going with this. “Mary Had a Little Lamb” was of course the first thing that Thomas Edison recorded in 1877 on his brand new phonograph. (Whether Buddy Guy’s 1968 version could be considered a cover of Edison’s original is open to debate—well, OK, not really.)

Although the phonograph would have profound effects on modern music (and remember how well it helped the careers of people like Enrico Caruso), that really wasn’t what Edison was trying to do. Essentially, Edison was trying to invent a telephone answering machine.

Patented on March 10, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell’s invention was the first practical telephone. Being so new, it could stand to use some improvements (heck, it still could), and who better than the “Wizard of Menlo Park” to tweak it? Edison set to work improving the microphone or transmitter, so callers wouldn’t have to bellow into the phone at the top of their lungs to be heard (where have you gone, Thomas Edison, a nation of cellphone users turns its lonely ears to you!). Whilst working on this, it occurred to Edison that when you received a phone call, you actually had to be present to get any message conveyed through it—unlike the telegraph, where messages were written down. So he began to think about how phone messages could be recorded and played back later. Noodling with a telephone diaphragm, he found that sound conveyed through the phone could make indentations on paraffin paper (and later tinfoil) that, when transmitted through a second telephone diaphragm, played the recorded sound—those indentations—back. Not exactly high-fidelity, but the fact that it worked at all surprised even Edison.

The idea of recording sound would eventually lead to the answering machine, although it would take until the advent of magnetic recording media for that to happen; the first working means of recording phone conversations was invented in 1898 by Danish engineer Valdemar Poulsen. Of course, there weren’t an awful lot of phones in 1898, so hopefully Poulsen didn’t feel too bad about not getting a lot of messages. Anyway, that’s whom George Costanza can blame.

It occurs to me, I should really call my niece and see if she liked the Nancy Drew book….Dang, the call went to voicemail.


Monday, February 9th, 2015

In a few weeks we will publish our annual State of the Industry Report. The report describes our industry’s performance as improved but still far from “takeoff speed,” or those consistently healthy gains that lift prices and margins. Among the key results:

  • Sales have now increased three consecutive quarters, by an average of 2.4% per quarter, our strongest growth since 2007.
  • At $79.4 billion sales are up 3.3%, from $76.8 billion, in 2011 but down 19.0%, from $97.9 billion, prior to the Great Recession.
  • Prices are still at or below year-earlier levels for 60.7% of the companies we survey and pre-tax profitability is still at or below year-earlier levels for 53.7%. Where profitability is up, it’s most often because of something a company has done to increase revenue and decrease cost rather than moderated competition.
  • Growth is expected to continue at current pace through 2015. Despite recent gains and record consolidation—over 5,000 establishments lost since 2007 and over 9,300 lost since 2000—demand for what we do is still running too far behind supply for growth to be much stronger.

Our report also includes the products and processes believed to have the most growth potential over the next three years, keys to print’s future, and keys to winning that future. Its “Ideas for Action” help answer a question every one of us should be asking: Since the industry isn’t going to get us to takeoff speed what are we doing to get ourselves there?

Superbowl Ads Prove Repeated Exposure Works

Wednesday, February 4th, 2015

Encourage your clients to take a lesson from Superbowl advertising. According to Neilsen, when viewers were exposed to a Superbowl ad during the pregame, as well as during the game, that ad scored higher on likeability. Viewers were also more likely to remember the ad correctly.

Screen Shot 2015-02-04 at 10.48.36 AMThat is exactly the response your clients want from their marketing, too. Prime the pump with emails a day or two before a direct mail piece is scheduled to hit or send a postcard alert before the full catalog or mailing kit arrives. These techniques tap into the same benefits of human psychology as repeated exposure to Superbowl ads.

Oh, yes, additional benefits were seen for ads aired both during and shortly after the Superbowl, as well.

If your clients are looking for proof that the extra marketing touch is worth the investment, just point them to the Superbowl. Sure, they’re television ads, but to quote Neilsen, “Because while the venue and audience size changes, the human brain does not.”

The Time Management Centerboard

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

Sailing itself, while detail oriented, is a simple concept. So is Time Management. There is preparation and planning and there’s execution. What occurred to me as I was splashing through Duxbury (MA) Bay in a Marshall 15 is that my sailboat moves when the wind pushes it, but the direction is determined mostly by the tiller and the centerboard. The whole experience is a great metaphor for time management. Let me ‘splain, Lucy….

In order to effectively manage your time (sail your boat), you need to be prepared. You must rig your craft and chart a course by determining what the day will bring. Next, you must prioritize your activities by thinking about what is most important as you sail from one point to the next, skillfully turning your craft using your tiller to control the direction you day will take.

All the while, your organization (or lack thereof) is acting like a centerboard. It prevents you from being blown all over the ocean and becoming scattered and lost. And to make matters worse, the vibrations of the day’s events can act to push that centerboard up and reduce your effectiveness. Even the best laid plans need constant monitoring in order to keep that centerboard moving your boat in its desired direction.

To make the most of your selling day, you’ll need to properly rig your boat and chart an efficient course. Any sailor will tell you that it’s the prep you do while sitting at the dock that makes for a good sail. Without effective time management, you are likely to end up on a deserted island with Gilligan, The Professor, Marianne, Ginger, Thurston Howell III and Lovey. That is that last thing any Skipper wants. After all, it was only supposed to be a three hour tour. A three hour tour.

Pass the Bubbly

Monday, January 26th, 2015

A month or so ago, I was binge-watching on Hulu+ the British comedy panel quiz series Q.I. (Quite Interesting), simultaneously the most fascinating, funniest and, at times, bawdiest TV program on the air (Stephen Fry hosts four British comedians who answer impossible questions about obscure knowledge—right up my alley!). In an episode called “Kitsch,” the subject of Bubble Wrap came up, and I learned that today, January 26, is “Bubble-Wrap Awareness Day” or, alternatively, “Bubble-Wrap Appreciation Day.” (It was started by a radio station in 2001.)

It turns out that there are an awful lot of appreciation days, or even weeks, from the important and worthwhile (Down Syndrome Awareness Week, National Cervical Cancer Prevention Week, World Autism Awareness Day, and various other medical awareness days and weeks) to the frivolous (National Popcorn Day, International Pillow Fight Day, and National Flip Flop Day).

There is actually a 3D Printing Day on December 3, but there does not seem to be any kind of general “Print/Printer Awareness Day.” Perhaps it’s high time we started one—sounds like a job for Two Sides?

We might want to start our appreciation with a 19th-century French printer named Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville (1817–1879), who kicked off a bunch of things that ultimately led to the establishment of Bubble Wrap Awareness Day. (We could probably go even further back, but we have to start somewhere, and these posts are long enough as it is!)

Scott de Martinville was a Parisian printer and bookseller, and amongst the things he printed were science textbooks. Not content with just printing them, he also read them, and sought to stay up-to-date on many of the latest advances in science. Inspired by the latest developments—as it were—in photography, he had the idea of doing for sound and voice what photography did for light and image: capture them. While proofreading a physics textbook, he came across illustrations of how the human auditory system worked. Thus inspired, Scott de Martinville went on to patent, in 1857, the phonautograph, the earliest known device for recording sound. However, while it did record sound, it was unable to play it back, unlike later inventions. What the phonautograph did was transcribe a visual representation of a particular sound. Not intended for home entertainment, it was primarily meant as a research tool for the investigation of sound waves.

(In 2008, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, Calif., did successfully convert a “phonautogram”—“squiggles on paper”—recorded in 1860 to a digital audio file. Not exactly a progressive-rock epic, it was a 10-second clip of a singer, possibly female, crooning “Au clair de la lune.” It is believed to be the earliest known sound recording, preceding Thomas Edison’s “Mary had a little lamb” by almost two decades [Rosen, 2008]).

Scott de Martinville alas never really got the credit he deserved, and Edison is known as the inventor of the phonograph, the first device that was capable of both recording and playing back recorded sound, originally using wax cylinders.

Sound like music.

(In 1996, the band They Might Be Giants recorded several songs at the Edison Laboratory on wax cylinders. One was the great “I Can Hear You,” a look at then-modern communication devices that sounded no better than old wax cylinders. And still don’t.)

The (arguably) first “pop music star” owed much of his success to the early phonograph. Even those generally unfamiliar with opera—and who likely couldn’t name a contemporary opera star beyond maybe Pavarotti (I was only ever familiar with Beverly Sills because she once appeared on The Muppet Show)—will likely know the name Enrico Caruso. Born in 1873, he took the opera world by storm, but what made him stand out amongst his peers was his embrace of new technology: the phonograph. Between 1903 and 1920, he made somewhere in the neighborhood of 290 commercially released recordings, which are still available in modern formats today (go to the iTunes Store and you can purchase Caruso’s recordings—interpret “digitally remastered“ with a grain of salt). Later generations of opera singers (Mario Lanza, et al.) all cite Caruso as their chief inspiration, and in large part this was due to their being able to listen to him in their own homes. Many of his contemporaries in the opera world dismissed the phonograph, believing the quality to be too poor. They changed their tunes—so to speak—once they found out how much money Caruso was making from commercial recordings.

Caruso died in 1921 at the age of 48 (hastened by his fondness for cigarettes). However, he does play a major role in another new technological development, a key one in the history of 20th-century mass media.

On January 12, 1910, part of the performance of Tosca, starring Caruso, was broadcast live from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Broadcast live…on what? Well, it was the first live radio broadcast. It was an experiment conducted by Lee DeForest, one of the inventors of what we know today as “radio” (it was originally called “wireless” but DeForest disliked that term and preferred “radio”). DeForest dubbed himself “The Father of Radio,” and is famous for the quote, “I discovered an Invisible Empire of the Air, intangible, yet solid as granite.” You could say he could see DeForest for the trees. But anyway.

DeForest was embroiled in a variety of patent lawsuits, but he is generally acknowledged as the inventor, in 1906, of the Audion, an electronic amplifying vacuum tube originally developed for use in radio receivers and other types of nascent electronic equipment. The three-electrode “triode” version of the Audion was what essentially spawned the electronic age. Whilst the vacuum tube was eventually superseded by the transistor, virtually all the precursors of today’s electronic devices—TVs, radios, computers, and myriad scientific equipment—used vacuum tubes. The vacuum tube also has a role to play in the final chapter of our story.

In 1957, in a Hawthorne, N.J., garage, two engineers—Alfred W. Fielding and Marc Chavannes—were beavering away on something they hoped would change interior décor as we (or more likely they) know it. They sealed two plastic shower curtains together and attempted to market the result as wallpaper. Alas, the world was not ready for plastic wallpaper. Strike one. (They were probably a few years too early; add a few psychedelic images and it could have decorated the set of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In a decade later.) They then tried to sell it as insulation for greenhouses. Nope. Strike two. However, there was one distinguishing characteristic that eventually made the material a success; in between the layers of shower curtain were small pockets of air. Bubbles, you might say.

Timing is everything, isn’t it, and the Sealed Air Corporation, founded by Fielding and Chervannes in 1960, had time on its side. In 1959, IBM had introduced the 1401, the first in its 1400 series of business computers. It was one of the world’s first mass-produced computers, and still ran on vacuum tubes. It also had other fragile internal components. How to protect them during shipping to customers?

According to the Sealed Air Corporation’s company lore, a marketing expert named Frederick Bowers brought the shower-curtains-with-air-bubbles to IBM and it proved to be the perfect material to protect delicate glass and electronic computer components.

And thus was born Bubble Wrap.

In another blow for the printing industry, however, the subsequent popularity of Bubble Wrap for packaging and shipping displaced newspaper for these purposes; crumpled up newspaper had been the previous low-cost packaging material. So it goes.

Since then, Bubble Wrap has become almost a cultural icon—if not for packaging then certainly for the popping of the bubbles. (There is even an iPhone app that lets you pop “virtual Bubble Wrap,” for reasons passing understanding.) Bubble Wrap also played an interesting role in a 2013 study of “cuteness” and the extent to which cuteness triggers aggression (Pappas, 2013):

Dyer and her colleagues asked 90 male and female volunteers to come into a psychology laboratory and view a slideshow of cute, funny and neutral animals.

Researchers told the participants that this was a study of motor activity and memory, and then gave the subjects sheets of bubble wrap. The participants were instructed to pop as many or as few bubbles as they wanted, just as long as they were doing something involving motion.

In fact, the researchers really wanted to know if people would respond to cute animals with an outward display of aggression, popping more bubbles, compared with people looking at neutral or funny animals.

That’s exactly what happened. The people watching a cute slideshow popped 120 bubbles, on average, compared with 80 for the funny slideshow and just a hair over 100 for the neutral one.

Here is how the study was described on Q.I.:

Quite interesting.

At any rate, Happy Bubble Wrap Awareness Day.



Monte Burke, “Wrap Star,” Forbes, April 28, 2006,

Stephanie Pappas, “‘I Wanna Eat You Up!’ Why We Go Crazy for Cute, Live Science, January 21, 2013,

John Potter, “Almost as good as Presley: Caruso the pop idol,” The Public Domain Review, February 13, 2012,

Q.I. (Quite Interesting),

Jody Rosen, “Researchers Play Tune Recorded Before Edison,” New York Times, March 27, 2008,

Enrico Caruso, Wikipedia, last modified December 28, 2014, accessed January 13, 2015,

Lee De Forest, Wikipedia, last modified January 4, 2015, accessed January 13, 2015,

Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville, Wikipedia, last modified September 25, 2014, accessed January 13, 2015,Édouard-Léon_Scott_de_Martinville.

Mo’ and Mo’ Betta QR Codes

Friday, January 23rd, 2015

QR Codes continue to get better. That is, the content on the back end of them, anyway.  I want to share with you the last three QR Codes I’ve seen on products, and all of them were very well done.

Cybex landinge pageCybex Elliptical: The first was on an elliptical machine at Planet Fitness. It was right on the front of the machine by the controls. When scanned, it took me to a mobile landing page with instructions on how to use the machine. There I found information I couldn’t find on the machine itself, such as the max range for incline and resistance. It also provided detailed information on the different workout options which, again, were not available on the machine.

This was a smart use of QR Codes. Does it sell products? Not directly, but it provides value for the gym’s members, increasing their likelihood of using the equipment. Equipment usage is critical to gym membership renewals, so education about the usage and value of specific pieces of equipment is a smart business move.



Otter Box landing pageOtterbox: The second was on the instruction booklet that came with my new Otterbox. There the landing page invited me to sign up for the Otterbox newsletter, which allowed Otterbox owners to “find out first” about new products, new color cases, and any new releases before anyone else. It also offered the opportunity enjoy “random distractions,” such as consumer reviews on hot new mobile apps. Finally, it invited Otterbox owners to become “influencers” by filling out occasional surveys with their thoughts on things like colors, styles, and future case projects.

Again, a smart use of these codes. The easier to make it to sign up for a newsletter, the more likely people are to do it. Great timing, too. What better time to ask people to sign up than when they first buy the product? The placement of this QR Code on the in-box packing materials was a smart choice.



Big Lots landing pageBig Lots: The last one was on the back of my Big Lots rewards card, which allows users to register their cards to earn exclusive deals and discounts. Not fancy, but effective.

These are smart uses of QR Codes that show that marketers are starting to understand how, when, and where to incorporate them. These are different uses than we’ve seen in the past, but perhaps it’s a good thing. Marketers are really starting to figure this out.