David Pittman is the editor of Digital Labels & Packaging. In this, Over the Skype session he and editor Morten Reitoft talk about the importance of both tradeshows, trade media, and how sometimes trade media’s importance is maybe slightly undervalued.
As with all our ‘Over the Skype’ interviews, quality is limited to bandwidth, web-cams, and ability to literally LIVE mix the conversations. However, it works, and with Over the Skype, we will bring you more than 20 exciting people, and angles on the industry as it is right now.
This is Morten, from INKISH.TV and this is actually almost the final day I have of all these episodes of Over the Skype, which is the format that we have chosen to do while we are under lockdown and quarantine and all the bad things due to the coronavirus. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t talk to people, fortunately. So I have today got a visitor from the UK. To be more precise, just outside London. And when I invited him to participate, I said to him, and it was not because I wanted to suck up to him, but it was because I honestly believe that he’s one of the best editors in the print media industry. So welcome, David Pittman. That is a difficult one to continue on, isn’t it?
Yeah. Well, thank you for the kind words, Morten. It’s nice being appreciated. But yourself too, we’re all in this together. We’re all working to the same goal. So good work on what you’re doing with INKISH and with these video chats.
Thank you. I didn’t even ask for a return of the appreciation. I called you and asked for, or I wrote to you and asked for, having this Over the Skype interview because you have, is it about a year? A little bit more than a year ago that you took over the editor role of your magazine.
Tell a little bit about who you are and what magazine you are representing. You are from Whitmar Publications, of course.
Well, I’m David Pittman, in case you didn’t know my name. You probably know my face, which I’m not sure whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’ve been a trade journalist writing for B2B magazines for over a decade. Been nine years now since I joined the printing industry, label and package printing. And then just over a year ago, I moved from looking at narrow-web technologies, and their involvement in package printing, to taking over the editor of Digital Labels & Packaging. So I focus purely on the use of toner, inkjet, and those emerging digital technologies, the ones that are yet to come. Because that’s quite a big booming and exciting part of the industry, particularly at the moment, I think, is what I’m hearing.
Yeah, and I was just about to say that being responsible for that little-bittle area of the printing industry, I think that can keep you pretty busy. Because if anything is developing both in… I mean, successful for printing companies, it’s label and packaging. But it’s also that digital technology seems to be really growing fast in this segment. So I congratulate you on that role because that must be fun to work with.
Yeah, no. It’s good fun. It keeps me busy, keeps me in a job. It keeps me off the streets, as they say. My wife would tell you I’m not good if I’m not busy. I need to be busy. And digital label and package printing, in all its forms, whether it’s corrugated, folding carton, flexible packaging, more and more, I mean that’s the big one. Obviously, labels is a very well established digital part of the industry and it’s growing everywhere. And there’s so many suppliers, so many printers now using it. My inbox, even at the moment, when we’re all at home or out of the office, everyone’s still going. So the engines are still rolling on with digital family.
When you look into the business, let’s start from a business perspective, and you look at into the business, of course it makes sense to work with digital because mass customization, personalizations, short print runs, and I was just about to say that in the beginning it might have been on the compromise of quality, but today even quality is not an issue anymore, right?
This is true. It’s mentioned to me many times that quality. And I remember when I first joined though, I went to a press conference and they were matching flexo and offset quality. But now, they’re talking about we can surpass review. The reality is that it’s very much in the pre-preps and in the artwork preparation. It’s only as good as what you put in. It’s the same as cooking. If you put bad ingredients in, you’ll get bad ingredients out. So if you’re making good spec by what everyone knows, you only put the wine in that you would drink. You don’t-
I’m so happy that you say that, so I can play that back to my wife because she believes that she can put bad red wine in the sauce and make it good. And I say, “How do you think that will happen?”
So, David, as an editor for a magazine working specifically with digital, within the area we just spoke about, how do you keep up to speed? Because I think that you have different kinds of print technologies, you have different kinds of substrates, you have also to take into consideration the approvals when it comes into the legislation of these things. I mean because you cover pretty much everything in your magazine, but also you’re very frequent on my LinkedIn stream, I would say, so.
Hope not too much.
No, no, no, no. So how do you get yourself updated on all these things?
It’s keeping myself connected with both the suppliers and manufacturers, also the printers. As Digital Labels & Packaging, we have an industry group, which I think we’ve now got 16 members in at the last count, of some, predominantly in the UK, and some present in Europe. We’re growing that further. But they always supply me with as much information as I can need and want about what’s going on in the market, what’s happening in terms of new technologies, their investments, but then also say that suppliers, it’s a steady flow of information. It doesn’t seem to stop. Particularly not, we should have just come out of the Drupa pre-conference, the pre-media conference. Pre-Drupa media conference, which of course would have been three days of us locked in rooms and listening to all the grand, inviting stuff. Now, we’re doing it all over Skype and other electronic tools, and it’s fantastic. But I do miss the smell of ink, the thing you have to touch. Steel. In the steel, is one of my favorite sayings.
Yeah, I totally agree with you because the reason I was asking is because I think that it’s both an advantage and a curse to get all the information also from the vendors because as a media we would like to also be able to look through the marketing conversation. So I was a little bit curious. Is that why you’re having this panel of the print members to dig a little bit behind what is said-?
Yeah. One of the reasons. They provide us with a steady flow of information and contacts and knowledge, as you say, behind the marketing and behind the story. They’re digging deeper. A machine launch is one thing, but when you start pulling at the thread and actually seeing where it goes.
And then, as the OEMs will tell you, I mean you must know, and even I know, countless stories of people that have bought a machine, installed the machine and then gone, “Oh, look what I can actually do the machine. This is not what I bought it for, but this is what I can now do with it.” And I know of one or two very prominent [inaudible 00:08:05] where they’ve rung the manufacturer, done a Skype call, in fact, showed them what they’re doing with the machine on their phone, and at the other end, the engineer, the manufacturing and the technologists have gone, “How are you doing that?” Because once something goes out of beta testing and into the market, it’s released into the wild, the printers and converters start… they get their hands on it and they start tinkering, and they start having a play with it and suddenly you go, “Oh yeah, we can do some really quite interesting stuff.”
That’s funny because I did an interview with [Allen Barsceli 00:08:46] from HP a couple of years ago, and he said, “When we developed the Indigo machine, we didn’t think of it as a machine to print on balloons.”
So I think that what you’re talking about here is basically that the beauty of this industry is that equipment can be built for one purpose, but it can also be utilized for a lot of different things, right?
Totally. Yeah. I mean, that’s the joy of printing in all its forms. Labels and packaging are fantastic but there’s so many new and exciting things you can do and application you can apply to them. And for brands and branding, this is a good thing. And also kind of at the moment it’s quite good because everyone’s looking to maximize their output and what they can use their machine for and the ability for prints actually to have responded in the way it has. With the coronavirus and everything that’s going on, it’s been quite impressive, I think. It’s been outstanding when you see here what’s happened.
Yeah. I must say that every time I go to a trade show and I often meet you in the press room because again, there you’re also active. But I think that is impressive too.
It’s normally for coffee, if I’m honest.
Okay. Yeah. Yeah. But it’s also to hang out with colleagues, right? But for example the label expo, when you see all this amazing equipment, which is, I guess, right down your alley when it comes to some of the things that interests you, maybe not. But David, I was thinking that there’s all these technologies, and all this equipment, and all the conversations and all the media information that you get. How important and how do you think a printer should be able to figure out what kind of equipment is the right equipment for his company?
Yeah, I mean, I’ve always said if you gave me… I’m probably undervaluing, but I’d say if you gave me two, three million, I wouldn’t know where to begin. I wouldn’t. And where do you start? Where do you?
For printers, the key thing is to know what the customer is doing. What your customer needs, wants, both now and also via their relationship, printer’s converse relationship, with their customer, what they’re going to be looking for in the future. There’s industry trends, which of course is what magazines like Digital Label & Packaging, and many other, provides. I mean, you look at the growth in water-based ink jet for flexible package printing. That’s one of the big technology worlds going on at the minute. Or, what would have been going on around Drupa.
Also because of the easy approval for food and for those kind of applications, right?
Yeah, yeah. These things are evolving and changing. So for converters and printers, where they invest their money is very much reliant on kind of what their customers are needing and wanting. I’ve heard stories, a few years ago now, of people investing in machines and they’d heard, I don’t think it was inkjet, but any kind of ink at that time, this is the big thing, I’ll buy one. [inaudible 00:12:04]? Nothing. It’s running at a very low capacity. I mean, I think now that it’s not as true as it was. Printers, I think, are much more astute and aware of the need to be careful with investments and what the ROI is going to be and what the machine’s going to be used for in the end. It’s got to be suited for their business.
So when you look at your role as an editor in this jungle of equipment and technology and things like that, is that something that you, do you see your role as more like providing the information about spots available, or you also see your role as kind of a guidance to say, let’s say, that if you want to go to corrugated, you should try look at this, and if you have a lot of coverage on your corrugator maybe you should look at this or how-?
It’s a mix of the two. More so the former. I view myself and publications in all forms and the media that we use at channels, we’re conduits. We’re there to provide information. We’re there to support the suppliers to help them get messages out to printers, so they know how they’re working for their benefit. Also, to educate the brand owners, have printers working for their gain. We’re there to support the whole supply chain really. And just to kind of feed information and keep the information going. Because you said there’s such a continuous flow of it, you have to stay on top of it. You have to keep people aware of it. And that’s where newsletters tend to come into real value and trade shows. You have the periods in time, once a year, once every four years, once every two years, whatever the cycle might be.
Online websites, our news websites are updated daily. Three, four, five times, sometimes too much. Every fortnight, we send out a newsletter. I know a lot of other magazines send out weekly, and a lot of printers I speak to find these very valuable because there’s like a roundup of the must-reads.
I was, because I think that sometimes media have an… if you look at some of the mainstream media you have breaking news and it’s like… I think that journalists, they have that breaking news are more important than anybody else actually believes, right? And one of the things I also find a little bit in the printing industry, I’ve not been here for so many years, we started INKISH six years ago, but got more bigger and recognized only two, three years ago. So what I see when I look at a lot of the trade meetings is that, especially if you start digging into it, it becomes kind of information overload. And I was just wondering if you see that as something, because everything can be found on the internet. So why do you need media to curd, what’s it called? Curate the information into-
Well, I mean, personally for myself and how I always worked in B2B, I think of it as the Smirnoff analogy, it’s triple filtered. So we receive press releases as everyone does. They go out to anyone who wants to receive it. You can receive a press release. 95% of those are going to be relevant to my market, to the Digital Label & Packaging audience to crank the crunch today audience, as I was writing about 10 years ago, so a lot of that news will get published online.
And then we have newsletters, which is kind of a second filter. So the first filter, obviously things come to be involved. They go past my eyes, I go, okay. Most of it is. Second filter is to newsletters. So you get a better, kind of the key headlines, of what we think the industry should know, and be picking up on, the last maybe two weeks. Then the third filter is for the magazine. It’s for printed publication, but it should be, and are, the gold standard of what we do in terms of providing information to the B2B audience. That’s the greatest key, you need to know [crosstalk 00:16:45].
Yeah. So when you look at your work in relation to how you work, because I think that the reason why press releases are so nice for content and fast turnaround time on a website, is basically because it provides at least the basic information that you need right away, right? And I think that when you put it through the editor’s lens for the second round, for the newsletter, that is also, what’s it called? Urgency to the market or relevance to the market for the audience and things like that. And of course then the third one with the magazine where you work in. Do you work a lot with the… I mean, because one of the things, reason why I find you a particular good editor is because first of all, you’re very productive. That I like. But I also think, and maybe I’m wrong, but I also think that you actually work with the press releases and instead of just delivering them, you actually read them and try to understand them and figure out does it make sense.
For me, that’s key. I mean, for a while I’ve been charting out the line of I don’t post press releases, I publish news. Online we receive press releases but often it will be the third, fourth, maybe even further down the story, the paragraph, when you actually get to what actually is important. And then that obviously becomes the headline. And from writing and constructing the headline and the opening paragraph, the who, what, when, where, why. They’re key. And that’s what we need to elevate. So my role, I very much find, is kind of bringing to the fore, is filtering out another filter, an earlier, a pre-filter filter, if you will. And what actually is new here. What’s key, what’s important. What do the industry need to know and what’s going to carry the industry forward? We’re talking about narrative, for me. Building online. So news is so fast, it comes, it comes, it comes, it’s happening, it’s gone. Today’s news is tomorrow’s chip wrappers.
Yeah, that’s true.
I do like food. I’ve mentioned that a few times.
I like the references so I totally concur with you on that one.
But that’s why we have to kind of create the value online for the DLP, Digital Label & Packaging audience, in terms of giving them narrative and understanding and it will help them build up their knowledge as well as mine. For me, if I wasn’t doing it, I would find it very hard. As you said, it’s so much information. If you don’t do it, you lose track of where you are and the threads disappear and the story moves on without you. So if you’re editorial, I’d try and stay on top of the two and the story while also creating news.
One of the reasons I also was asking is because, as you may know, INKISH, we do not do very much about techniques and things like that. We’re different from that perspective. And then I couldn’t help to try and be in a technical editor’s role a couple of weeks ago doing an article about the new Canon iX series. And that was actually quite fun because I could take something… because I used to work as a commercial printer myself. So I could take that and put it in perspective and see what is it good for the customer, what is it good for the printer, what is it good for the owner of it. And I thought that, “Ah, that’s a great way. That’s the way we should be done. That’s how I want to do it.” And then last week I got a really good press release from Technol, and I understood everything they were saying, and I understand the application totally.
And then I was trying to figure out if I was actually able, with my knowledge, to rewrite that into a story with a narrative that was enlightening a little bit more than a press release. And it is so damn difficult, right? And that’s why I also really admire your work, and also other editor’s work, because to take all that information and actually make a new narrative and actually understand the real value for the printer, I think that is where the media really plays an important role.
Yeah, absolutely. That’s key to what we, I believe, what particularly business to business trades, media, the role we can play, is providing a really high value to the industry for knowledge sharing. And, as you say, it then feeds back into why people are buying machines. And it’s often an intangible because I’m sharing knowledge and passing knowledge along. What people do with that knowledge, is up to them but in the long term, we’re building the industry’s knowledge base so that when they come to look at the next generation technologies and maybe look to make investments, they’ll go, and then they’ll suddenly remember what they were… Something that… It will be in the back of their mind that they might not go over with that in PrintWeek, in [inaudible 00:22:23] in Digital Labels & Packaging, in Digital Printer in, Labels & Labeling, in Label & Narrow, wherever it is.
In fact, not intensional. It’s owed to us. We’re all doing the same thing. We’re all in the same kind of pop together kind of helping build a narrative around the industry and I think we’re all doing an excellent job. And I think the industry benefits from the fact that many of the editors have been in the industry for either beforehand or, just is as I have, for a decent amount of time. And you start building up knowledge, as you say.
But your example, I mean, I can remember when I first joined Labels & Labeling in 2011, I think it was 2014 maybe ’15, I joined as package printing editor. The magazine was moving, trying to broaden into package printing, into the narrow web package printing side. There’s about three, three and a half years, I wrote a feature and I wrote it without having to refer to any kind of documents or technical-
Wow. So that was the level it take to get there, right?
It was something like, “Oh no, I’ve just done that without having to… Oh no, I’m one of those people now. Oh no.”
You’re a nerd now, right?
Yeah. Kind of buffs. One of those now.
Yeah. It’s funny that you mentioned this because I think that sometimes the trade media maybe doesn’t get the credit they deserve because the work that you refer to is important. And I maybe get bashed for saying this, but I also think there’s some trade media not as thorough as you are, for example.
Potentially, possibly true. There’s levels and degrees in every part of the industry and supply chain. But as you said, I agree with your point about, I think, where the trade media is kind of an almost forgotten part of it. We’re there. We have been there for a long time, for decades, and we will be here for decades more and-
So we take it for granted. Is that what you’re saying?
Maybe not taking for granted, but we should be held in high regard.
We should be knighted, right? So Sir Pittman and Sir Reitoft.
I’ll take that.
That’s cool. I like everything you said I’m just wondering because… I don’t know how you feel. I think that what fuels me also, to be honest, is that INKISH is my own company, so everything that I do with it is of course also your blood and sweat. And I know that you probably have the same thing though you are employed, but I’m just saying that there might be a slight difference in that owning a media, right? And I still, when I publish an article or share a film or something like that, and I see the number of clicks, that fuels me.
Yeah. Entirely. It’s very much a… I’m, technically, just a millennial. I’m at the very top end of millennials. But I’m very much about social interactions and who’s clicked and who’s liked it. I post a story and then I’ll check the analytics within 10 minutes, 20 minutes, an hour later, couple of days, and where am I and what’s… Which is a good thing because it keeps me in tune with what’s working out. When I release stories out into the wild, you know that some are going to be filler and not killer. Some are killer and they’re great, fantastic. Yeah. We need to look at the HP and it’s V12, their recent product contract. I mean, that was a big, massive, massive amount of reaction, specifically on LinkedIn, which actually is-
Starting to be the most important place to post anything, right? Because, it generates a lot of traffic.
Yeah. I kind of think Twitter has kind of lost its way a little bit in terms of kind of how… It’s a channel we use, and everyone uses but LinkedIn, just by its very nature, allows more interaction, more engagement, people to actually have a bit more personable. Which is what Business to Business is about in that they [crosstalk 00:27:00].
Speaking to people, right?
Yeah. It’s about people. People do business with people.
But with that said, and we agree on that. I can’t claim to be a millennial at all because I’m 52 this summer, but I can at least pretend, right? Well my question was, do you get also reactions when you… Let’s say that you have now sent out a magazine to your subscribers and do you get instant reactions the same way or is that kind of we have put a lot of effort into the golden content and then-
Yeah. I mean, we do get a lot of reaction and obviously it’s changed from what I’ve been taught. It helps. I have been in print for what, nine years now and in B2B for 12, I think about 2007. 13 years. Crikey. But back in the old days when we used to have the ad response cards that were in the back of a mag-
Yeah. I remember this. Yeah. Yeah.
Those things have changed now and our ways of engagement with our audience is slightly different. They’re new channels, but we’re fundamentally not doing anything massively different. We’re still getting reaction, people telling us we’ve enjoyed that with that or requesting more information. I had one the other day, reading a feature, and one of our readers emailed me and said, “Actually, this is a great feature, could you provide me the contact email for it because I want to go even deeper than what we’d gotten in,” seeing we can only go so far and so deep. I’m not a chemist, I’m not a physicist, I’m not an electrician. I trained as a journalist. B2B just happens to be where I’ve found my home and where my heart is is B2B.
Yeah. One of the last question I have for you in this Over the Skype thing is I’m a little curious because the future of the trade media, so say there’s no question that there’s a need for having the information delivered in different platforms and I think that the beauty of being a media is basically that you choose to publish on the channels where people get to your information, right? But revenue wise, I think that the trade media, since the financial crisis, almost every trade media, in all industries, experienced considerably dropped in advertising revenue, which of course influence everything. Do you think that the business models of how you see maybe a combination of print and online and advertising and subscription, things like that market, do you think that is also a viable model for the future?
Yeah, I mean it depends very much on your audience and your company, the company structure. There’s different ways of working, different ways providing content and generating revenue. And I’m very much an advocate of kind of publishing and magazines in their true form. I think they hold a very great value. If you’ve got an advert in a magazine, you’re reaching a very targeted audience. Our readership is very much monitored and managed and loved and curated. And online, great. Gives you great numbers. But at the end of the day, they could be anyone, you could be getting reactions to big numbers, but are these numbers the be all, end all? I’m not convinced. I think some of that is a bit of a race to the bottom. It’s how many numbers can we get? Well, that’s actually the quality.
Yeah. But that is one of the questions why I’m sometimes a little bit concerned because if, I don’t know if you read about it, or read one of my articles about it, but it was like I was not questioning in the business model, but I was questioning the metrics that… Because you have, let’s say that you have something online that converts to what is an extent of ratio that you find great and then you believe that you don’t need the printed media or you don’t need the film media, whatever media you want. Because that is the final conversion. That is the one that counts. I think that it was the Marketoonist that made a story about that. You saw a pair of shoe in a large form display on a bus stop, and you saw it was an advertising, it was on radio and was on television, but the click came from Facebook. So they canceled all the other media.
Because when we talk about the printing industry, I think that a lot of people talking… I spoke to [Beatrice Clos 00:00:32:10] from Intergraph yesterday and we talked about how good or how bad we are communicating the strength of print. Obviously when you talk about Packaging & Label it’s very obvious, but if you talk about commercial print and magazines and with everything that is, I think the industry has not been good enough communicating the real value of print and it was just a common basic, right?
Yeah, no. I think I agree. I agree with that. Print in general. But more generally, I think B2B, we haven’t been nearly good enough in promoting the value and defending the corner of magazines and publishing. And the role we do in the role we serve, we’re viewed in, hopefully, in high regard by people. As we said earlier, should the trade media be held to higher praise perhaps? I’d like to think that. And that ties in with this because the role we serve is fundamental and critical for many B2B magazines that relies on our commercial partners and sponsorships that of course we find new avenues and ways of doing it.
We offer many online tools. There are countless online tools and more everyday emerging. And of course with everyone being at home, it’s fantastic because everyone’s online all the time. The result of that is everyone’s getting swamped. I’ve got the phone, you’ve got your laptop, you’ve got your TV showing the news, you’ve got advertising. Whereas a magazine turns up and you’re looking at… You’re actually, you’re more engaged with it, you’re reading it, you’re physically interacting with it.
You don’t have to convince me, David. I am convinced.
Which is where I think B2B… The physical interaction with a magazine is where massive value is. There’s a loss of… A lot of our readers are on the shop floor. So they get the magazine, get a publication, they’re reading it, and they go, “Oh, well, I’m doing something, let me get back to it.” Something’s broken or you need to come and talk to someone or deal with something.
Whereas if they’re looking at it on a phone, on a laptop or trying to read the newsletters or emails, we know what emails are like. “Oh God, I’ve got another 20.” I mean, my email’s not open at the minute because I didn’t want it binging in the corner while we’re talking. But I know when I turn it on there’s probably going to be 20 or 30, and we’ve been on the call half an hour. I’m going to have… It’s one every minute probably pop into my inbox.
And and even worse, David, is that we get stressful because we know there might be potential breaking news that we have never heard about, right? So I think it’s time to get back to work. So, David, I just want to say thank you very much for joining me here Over the Skype. It was a pleasure to meet you again.
It’s been a pleasure. Hopefully we will see each other physically soon. There’ll be a need. I’m getting a little bit stir-crazy. I’m starting to… I’m missing travel.
Yeah. Yeah, me too. And I remember that when we were sitting on the terrace in Dallas in Goodwill and sharing a beer, that was not too bad, right?
That was okay. It’s okay.
That’s great. Take care and all the best to you and your family as well.
You too. See you, Dave.