The year started with the news that the country’s highest paid printer, PMP chief Bob Muscat, didn’t come back after the Christmas break. Muscat took charge four years previously, and his tenure saw the PMP share price plummet from $3 to 40c, while profits disappeared and plants closed. His departure came only two months after he sacked his print director and sales and marketing director for poor performance.
Meanwhile the country’s biggest sheetfed printer Penfold Buscombe opened its new Sydney super site, with a ten-colour Heidelberg Speedmaster taking centre stage. The new site was effectively a consolidation of three Sydney printers; RT Kelly, Mockridge Bulmer and Concord Communications. Penfold Buscombe continued the trend in the new century for commercial printers to go to long perfectors, the eight, ten and 12 colour sheetfed presses.
Industry identity Peter Carrigan came back to front of house, taking charge of GSA, the new prepress business at Print and Pack, itself renamed Intergrafica Print & Pack over the Christmas break, in line with its global parent. Carrigan was installed as general manager of GSA, which will distribute Fujifilm prepress products, to begin with.
IPP took the Fujifilm account from CPI, which also lost Hostmann-Steinberg inks to Ferag. The supplier merry-go-round saw CPI become an agent for Agfa prepress, and later Hartmann inks, while Ferag continued expanding its portfolio, and went on to become supplier for Lüscher CTP. Supplier moves also saw Electronics for Imaging (EFI) buy Best, and later PrintCafe, as part of its ongoing strategy to become a major player in prepress, ultimately to become a likely challenger to Agfa and Creo.
Stability in print still exists though, highlighted by City Printing Works, the Rockhampton based company, which celebrated 100 continuous years in the trade this month. The printer is now in the hands of the fourth generation of the Anderson family. The company was founded by Andrew Anderson in 1903, with his three sons Bill, Jack and Dave taking over upon his death in 1957. They then passed the business onto the next generation of Andersons, Bruce, John and Eric, and now Andrew’s great-grandson Warwick is in charge.
PMP led the news this month as well, with the company appointing former New Zealand All Black rugby captain David Kirk to lead its team. Kirk led the Haka singing Kiwis to victory in the first rugby world cup back in 1987, but leading PMP out of its current morass may not be so easy. His cause wasn’t helped by PMP announcing it was closing its Hawthorn plant with the loss of all 87 staff.
This year’s National Print Awards were the first for 20 years without evergreen Syd Thompson. Alf Carrigan is the new chairman. Big winners were the Hanna Group, PMP and STS Creative, who picked up seven, six and five awards respectively. Lilyfield Group, which had just put in the country’s first web-fed ten-colour Heidelberg Speedmaster, using the new Cut-Star technology, won the Agfa Award for most creative use of photography. Adelaide company van Gastel Printing took the Heidelberg excellence in craft award for its job on Shades of Ochre, a collection of South Australian landscapes.
Three years after it was shown in concept form at drupa, Heidelberg launched its NexPress digital colour printing system onto the Australian market. Two new companies, both connected to strong Heidelberg printing houses, signed up for NexPress; Pongrass Digital in Sydney and Impact Digital in Melbourne. Heidelberg has high hopes for NexPress in the company’s battle with Xerox, HP and Canon for digital colour printing supremacy. In the same month Fuji Xerox launched its DocuColor 6060 digital colour printer, superceding the DocuColor 2000 series, which had proved highly successful in Australia.
Proving that Australian talent isn’t just confined to the sporting arena, two Australian students were awarded gold in the Agfa Graphic Arts Contest. Competing against 1000 students from around the world. Sarah Birks from Ballarat University and Andrew Koch from Southbank Tafe in Queensland had to design a folding box, a tin can label and a round sticker for a promotional giveaway on the theme of ‘The Time of Your Life’.
Down in a windy Melbourne the nation’s label and tag manufacturers were holding their biannual conference, on the theme of Staying Alive. With the Bee Gees’ song blasting out each morning the Latma delegates were already in ‘70s mood for the annual dinner dance, which had the industry’s finest parading in their flares and cheesecloths on the Saturday night. Record numbers at the awards ceremony saw local small label operation K&G Labels become the surprise winner of the best of show prize, for what the judges described as a ‘flawless’ label.
Newest recruit to the ranks of Australian print salesmen was no less a person than the PM. Little Johnny H put a bid in for Australia to gain the contract to print the new Iraqi currency, necessary now the threat to the Melbourne Cup, cold beer and the nation’s volunteer beach lifesavers, Saddam Hussein, had been ousted, and his image was no longer wanted on the Iraqi banknotes. Clearly our esteemed leader’s sales skills could benefit from a PIAA print sales course though, as his bid was not successful.
Another colourful character hit the headlines, but for all the wrong reasons as Theo Skalkos sought to out-manouvre creditors as his 40-year-old Media Press empire went down the tubes. Ironically Media Press had only moved into the old Diamond Press site a few months before the company keeled over. It seems swimming pools and print companies are not a good mix. Skalkos was the nation’s primary publisher and printer of ethnic news and soccer papers, and also ran ethnic radio stations. An old style paternalist the 70-year-old had a hands-on role in every aspect of his company, which served the best moussaka in Sydney in its staff canteen. However with debts in excess of $10m creditors were likely only to receive crumbs.
On the equipment side MAN Roland and KBA sought to outdo each other with the launch of new very large format sheetfed presses, Roland flying in printers from around the world to see its new R900XXL press, available in sizes up to 1350x1850mm. Meanwhile KBA, which was gifted the large format market when Roland switched to unit production in 1995, matched the biggest Roland press, and weighed in with the biggest of all, the Rapida 205, which can print on sheets of 1510x2050mm.
Australian Printer reported that PrintEx, held in late May in Sydney, had surpassed everyone’s expectations, with record crowds and strong sales providing a much needed boost to a beleaguered print industry. The three day show attracted some 10,000 visitors, and remarkably many had come with their chequebooks open. Of the 186 exhibitors virtually half (95) were first timers, highlighting the rapidly changing nature of the print industry as it moves from analogue to digital working. Key themes were digital workflows and CTP, particularly for the medium and small printers.
During the show the equipment suppliers association GAMAA and the PIAA announced they had resolved their differences over the next PacPrint, and signed a deal to produce the next show, in 2005. Inevitably, despite the earlier histrionics of the PIAA, GAMAA did assume control of the next show, with a five person to three breakdown on the PacPrint board.
Another fillip for the industry came in June with the news that the RMIT had won funding for the country’s first print industry specific degree course. Under the guidance of former teacher and retired Heidelberg ANZ chief Howard Dare the university course will offer a business angled degree, which many feel is sorely needed in the industry. If all goes according to plan two dozen students will begin the course in March 2004.
Continuing the trade show theme Australian Printer presented the drupa 2004 Roadshow, held in Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland, where drupa director Manuel Matare and the head honchoes from the top dozen equipment supplier companies gave presentations to printers on how they saw drupa 2004 shaping up.
Congratulations were in order as well esteemed prepress house David Graphics celebrated its 50th year in business. Remarkably the company is still owned and run by founder Alan David, who even more remarkably still has the same secretary, Adelaide Merlino, that he started out with in 1953. The company has survived fires and floods, and now operates out of three sites, in both the commercial and packaging markets. Known as an industry pioneer, David Graphics has been in the vanguard of new technology application throughout its history. At the end of November though the company was engaged in a battle with the tax office, and had gone into voluntary administration as a protective measure.
Book printers were also celebrating, as the long awaited Harry Potter sequel sent the nation’s children into a frenzy. An incredible 750,000 hardback books were printed for the first run, easily the largest book job in the country’s history. Author JK Rowling is assured of Christmas cases of the finest Australian wines from the muggles at McPherson’s and Griffin Press, and you may or may not like to know she became $200m richer on the day of the book’s worldwide launch.
Making a name for himself on the Australian print scene is Canadian Volker Wagner, who moved here a year ago and ever since has been buying up print companies and consolidating them under the Teldon Print Media name. This month’s purchase of Bradlee, Luxton and Dunn, comes hot of the heels of the previous four, although unlike the others this will remain as a separate operation. Devoutely religious Wagner is thought to have mobs of print company owners rushing to his door looking to offload their businesses to him, seeing him as the answer to their prayers.
IPMG, the country’s biggest privately owned printer, came under complete control of the Hannan family, as long time 50 per cent owners Fairfax family sold out. No-one knows the price Michael Hannan paid the Fairfaxes, estimates vary between $150m and $300m. The two clans had owned the company since 1985.
New web offset printer Webstar, which only began operation 18 months earlier, installed its third web press, a 16pp MAN Rotoman. The new press joined a MAN Polyman and a semi-commercial Goss Magnum, and had been bought as the Polyman had reached full capacity. Webstar is a part of the trans-Tasman Blue Star Print Group, which comprises a dozen print related operations.
Commercial printer Chippendale rocked the industry, which at the time was struggling with severe overcapacity, by ordering the country’s first MAN Roland 12-colour press, as well as an Roland 500 and Muller Martini finishing equipment. The company itself was tight lipped about the purchase. Meanwhile prepress house Graphus ordered the country’s first basyPrint direct to conventional plate CTP system.
Industry supplier CPI began looking for a new chief exec as Steve Somogyi was appointed to the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority. Somogyi had been at CPI for less than two years, and was brought in as a corporate fixer to halt the company’s sliding share price and trading difficulties. He largely succeeded in both tasks, selling off non-core parts of the company, re-organising the equipment and consumables agency agreements, keeping the key Komori account in the process, and implementing a one stop shop policy. The suits approved, doubling CPI’s share price during his tenure. CPI appointed its chief operating officer Bernard Casell to the role of managing director.
The PIAA released its benchmarking study, which revealed officially that the printing industry was in a less than healthy state. Printers around the country struggling under decimated margins and intense competition were offered various options to turning their businesses around in the study, which was the most comprehensive of its kind in the region.
Highlighting the case that it is not just commercial printers who are struggling leading packaging printer Wadepack closed down its Brisbane print operation, with the loss of 25 staff. All work from the Coopers Plain site was transferred to Sydney. Wadepack’s revenues dropped five per cent in the year, with profit down by 36 per cent.
Prepress people around the country were also mourning a loss, although this was just a name change, as the nation’s biggest prepress operation Show Ads became PMP Digital. Show Ads had been at the forefront of the industry for many years, and had spawned dozens of small prepress houses established by former employees having a go. The new name is to reflect the company’s strategy to operate in areas outside prepress, including digital asset management, digital photography, digital consulting, creative services and digital science.
Show Ads parent company PMP announced it was in the black for the year, just, with a razor thin one per cent $15.5m after tax profit, on a turnover of $1,258.7m turnover. Profit dropped 42per cent, turnover slid by 7.6 per cent.
Prepress supplier Creo announced it was to begin manufacturing its plates, both at a plate factory it bought in South Africa, and under license at other plate making operations. The Canadian giant has been trialling its own plates for 18 months under brown label names. The move will enable Creo to compete with Afga and Fuji on bundling deals, although it throws its relationship with Kodak Polychrome Graphics into question.
Meanwhile rival Agfa was celebrating a perfect score in the PDF shootout at Seybold for its Apogee X digital workflow. Agfa also released a swag of new products for the Ifra newspaper show in Leipzig. The show brought no confirmation of a deal between Heidelberg and Goss regarding their newspaper press manufacturing operations, although the two had been expected to make an announcement in the former East German town.
Print afficienados were delighted to learn that the world’s smallest dictionary had been returned to its original owner, the Brisbane based printer Watson Ferguson and Co. The 364 page dictionary was printed 113 years ago, and is the size of a 20c coin. When produced in 1890 the dictionary was hand typeset in lead, photographically shrunk and printed in letterpress in 28-page sections.
The mystery behind the strange goings-on at Offset Alpine a decade earlier was cleared up, when the Australian Financial Review revealed that disgraced stockbroker Rene Rivkin, together with high profile chums Graham Richardson and Trevor Kennedy, were the people behind the Swiss bank account that owned 38 per cent of the company at the time of the fortuitous fire on Christmas Eve 1993. All benefitted from the company’s share price quadrupling as result of the fire, as did TV presenter Ray Martin, who coincidentally was a character witness for Rivkin at his Qantas insider trading trial. Many more personalities were beneficial shareholders, including the governor general, even Rivkin’s butler managed to snap up 10,000 shares just before the terrible blaze which destroyed the company’s aging presses.
Credit where credit’s due, and a large measure of that must go to Melbourne ‘cross media provider’ D&D, which became the first non-American printer to win the prestigious Benny best of show award. D&D won the award for its own self promotion brochure, which had been produced using the company’s self-developed 12-colour multi-colour process print technique. Owners Drago and Dana Zorec, who started the company in 1977 made the trip to Chicago, unaware that they would get the best of show gong, and a standing ovation from their peers in the US. Congratulations from everyone in the Australian printing industry as well.
And that was the year that was, the print trade started badly, got worse, but by the final quarter of the year was picking itself up again. Print is metamorphosing at a rapid rate, the old is going, the new is coming, and with 2004 a drupa year that rate change will only increase.