Quick Printing
August 2005
The most important occupation
Every industry depends on printing. Here
When I heard about Graphic Monthly’s 25th anniversary issue, it didn’t take me long to choose a topic. It’s what I call The Most Important Occupation. Why? Because printing is what every industry depends on to exist.

Not everyone understands how important our work is, and printers often labour in obscurity. After all, when was the last time you saw a movie about a printer, or heard a song about printing? One Christmas I searched in dozens of catalogues and every department store in town for one of those illuminated Christmas village buildings that was a print shop. I saw more than 150 occupations represented by those little structures, but no print shop. I think printing is so central to our lives it’s taken for granted. Here’s how I try to change that perception.

I make your job possible
When I meet a businessperson who asks me what business I’m in, I have a standard reply: “I am a printer, and I’m the guy who makes your job possible.” This often generates some interesting conversations which usually end with the other person saying something like “You’re right, I never thought about it like that before.”

Once at a party I met a doctor described as the “only brain surgeon in Fargo.” I smiled as I shook his hand and said, “Nice to meet you, my name is Mike Stevens, I am a printer, and I’m the guy who makes your job possible.” I’ll never forget the puzzled and slightly disdainful look on his face as he silently walked away. Well, about an hour later, he worked his way back over to my side of the room, tapped me on the arm and asked, “Would you mind explaining to me exactly how it is that you make my job possible?” I smiled again, and said, “Sure, I’d be happy to. You see, doctor, I print the textbooks you read in medical school. I printed the diplomas that hang in your office, the charts in the hospital rooms you visit, the prescription forms and labels, the appointment schedules, the insurance re-imbursement forms, and even the cheques and currency your patients use to pay you.”

At that point, Dr. Chuck Koski looked at me with a big grin and said, “Stevens, you’re OK, can I buy you a Perrier?”
Of course there are more subtle ways to remind people about printing. When my first child was born, I tried hard to think of a good name for a printer’s daughter, so we named her Paige. And the license plate on my truck reads: Ink 4U.

I am a printer
Some years ago, when I won the Printer of the Year award in the U.S., I called my acceptance speech I am a printer and it’s where I first shared my thoughts about the importance of printing. Please forgive the American perspective. These truths apply to any industrialized nation. Here are the highlights of that speech:
“I am a printer. Printing is the most important occupation in America. There is no industry more significant, nor any job more important than printing. Without printing, America as we know it would cease to exist.
“Everyday, printers transform ordinary ink and paper into powerful vehicles for communicating ideas. When I start my printing press, I become a guardian of liberty and democracy. Our founding fathers knew that freedom of the press would protect us from tyranny.
“I work quietly behind the scenes at print shops in nearly every small village and large city across America, serving business, education, finance, healthcare, religion, and government. I print the business forms, books, currency, newspapers, bibles, and maps that make the American lifestyle, as we know it, possible.
“Great inventions like electricity, automobiles, radios, televisions, and computers have changed the world…and while there are many important industries and jobs, none can claim the universal preeminence that printing can. Every other industry depends on printing to exist.
“I am proud of my work, and I am humbled by the responsibility to uphold the values and traditions of our great nation.”
I am a Printer.
Mike Stevens is one of North America’s most successful small printers. He owns Express Press in Fargo, North Dakota. Starting with sales of $10,900 a month in 1985, volume now exceeds $250,000 per month. You can reach him at mikestevens@expresspressusa.com or visit www.expresspressusa.com.
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