In My Opinion: Neil Braidwood: Gone, the Golden Age of Scottish printing

THE other night, I dreamt that I found a Linotype machine in my garden. You know, one of those things used in the newspaper industry, where you typed in the copy on a keyboard, and it translated the text from molten lead into ‘hot metal’ slugs of words.

When inked up, thousands of newspaper, book or magazine pages could be printed from these lead lines.

Official trailer from ‘Linotype: The Film’ on Vimeo.

And so it was, for decades, until the desktop publishing revolution, and eventually computer to plate (CTP) technology finally led the way in the printing industry.

Now, what made me dream of such a bizarre and outdated museum piece? Well, it was last week’s news that Montgomery Litho Group was poised to go the same way as Linotype. On hearing the news, I was worried. MLG was one of the last B1 printers remaining in Scotland (B1 refers to the size of paper that the machines can print on) and the larger the paper, the more economical a job can be.

Thank goodness, then, when I read yesterday that the company had been saved (at least in Glasgow) thanks to a management buyout being led by former production director, Janette McAllister – saving 76 jobs.

Other print firms, however, have not been so lucky.

Just 20 years ago, there were over ten B1-capacity printers in Scotland.

Now, we have three including the new McAllister Litho Group, the other two being J. Thomson Colour Printers based in Glasgow and Ivanhoe in Musselburgh, East Lothian.

That is sad for the industry as a whole.

Just what is it that has caused such a decline in the Scottish print trade, while printers ‘south of the border’ are flourishing?

Four years ago, PPA Scotland commissioned research that revealed there were 700 magazine titles published in Scotland – so who is printing them?

As a publisher of magazines, my company, CMYK Design, demands quality from a printer. That’s pretty much a given these days as the kit printers use is so sophisticated. Many are computerised, but the skill of the operator is still essential. There is no excuse for poor quality.

Customer service is important – admitting fault for example, or going that ‘extra mile’ to get the job done on time. Building relationships and understanding the needs of your clients goes a long way to setting you apart from others.

Adaptability is crucial. While some printers stood still, others invested in digital, or fulfillment and mailing.

Price, too, is a factor. You need to compete, yet remain profitable. Charging too little might bring in custom, but it just isn’t sustainable in the long run.

We may never know what caused Montgomery Litho Group its difficulties. But one thing is for certain: Scotland will never see its Golden Age of print again.

RIP: Alna Press, Bartholomews, DJ Clark, Dorset Print, Gilcomston, Litho Print, Nimmos, Howie & Seath, Holmes Macdougall, Pillans & Wilson, Scotprint, Summerhall, Waddies, Woods of Perth, etc.

Neil Braidwood is head of CMYK magazine design and publishing company. He is also vice-chair of PPA Scotland.