16 December 2018 Other Voices

The Christmas Story: The Sleeping Princess and the Seven Consultants

The famous fairy tale is modernised for the 21st printing industry. Gareth Ward, as is his tradition, puts a printing twist on a seasonal tale to enjoy along with mince pies, a glass of cognac and a pinch of salt.

Once upon a time. It’s the way all fairy stories begin, especially those collected by the Grimm Brothers in central Europe, now Germany, in the nineteenth century. This modern version of the story takes place in the same region of unexplored forests where lurk bears, witches and all manner of psychologically dark dangers. Specifically our story takes place in the region where the area covered by forests is expanding daily and where they all look like football pitches. This is the famous Two Sides Forest.

The Two Sides Forest covers much of Printmoneyland, a country which had once flourished but that had fallen on hard times since the arrival of the digital plague. At its centre is Litho Castle, a huge edifice built of stone, which is home to the Koenig and in the outbuildings, his Bauer. The Koenig had a daughter, famed for her black hair, red lips and fair complexion. I know this is a Freudian cliché but she really did look like this and because of her black locks she was known as Jet which when shunted together with her forename Inga, became Inga-Jet.

By now she was growing up into a fine looking very beautiful princess, but she increasingly rubbed up against her stepmother Koenig’s second wife Heidi. Heidi was exactly the composite Hag, Hexe or Witch that populate these dark and gothic tales and as obdurate as any of the local mountains, hence Berg was fixed to her forename, but you get the picture.

Heidi represents the old order, the old analogue ways of working based on barely controllable organic interactions and mechanical operations, where great skill is needed to create high quality printing. This set of skills had made the inhabitants of Printmoneyland exceedingly rich. It had been a happy place where every Printer, as the inhabitants were called, could drive a Porsche, charge what they liked and deliver whenever suited them. Those days had long passed, the Porsches had gone, customers now demand next day delivery at tiny margins and the Printers were starving. Not a happy place. Where were we? Ah yes.

Once upon a time, a King lived in an elegant castle with his striking looking Queen and very beautiful daughter. The Queen though was becoming increasingly jealous of the beautiful princess. She was still powerful, unequalled in cost effectiveness, quality, productivity and versatility. Queen Heidi delivered the most beautiful print in the land, no question.

So she asked her magic loupe. “Who is the best print process princess of all? And every time the loupe would answer that for dot shape, smoothness of graduated tints, versatility of substrate, sharpness and repeatability of reproduction, nothing can ever match Heidi. The Queen would walk away reassured.

But one day the magic loupe answered instead that Princess Inga was fairer: offered a larger gamut, was more predictable and repeatable. The print folk were growing to love her. The Queen was not happy. She flew into an emulsified rage: Inga-Jet would have to go.

She summoned Howard Peregrin, the royal huntsman, and gave him orders to take I.J. to the middle of one of the most remote football pitches in the Two Sides Forest, cut her heart out and bring it back to the Queen. Heidi, however, did not realise that H.P. loved Inga-Jet. He could never kill her, but had to take here to the middle of the forest or the Queen would have forced an awful punishment on him: marriage with Xerox.

So when they had walked deep in the forest crowded with newly planted saplings, H.P. told Inga to run away and never return to the castle because the Wicked Queen wanted her out of the way – permanently. Inga-Jet should concentrate on the wide format folk, decor and ceramic tiles in neighbouring Industrialprintland, where people would welcome her gladly. But she should stay away from Printmoneyland. In short the Princess was banished into exile, what the locals called being sent to Drupa, where dreams go to die.

She was left sobbing. So much investment had been lavished on her and she had no future in her home it seemed. Inga-Jet would never print magazines, brochures, colour books or catalogues where everyone had agreed she had great promise. H.P. took a Lego brick back to the Queen claiming it was a printhead, a vital part of Inga-Jet’s heart, and proof that the Princess was no more. “I did not know that Lego made inkjet heads, you learn something new each day,” said the Queen, who consulted her magic loupe for reassurance. The magic instrument reassured her that Heidi was the only game in town again.

Meanwhile deep in the forest, the Princess was very lost. There was no guidance for what she should do now, nor where to go. One signpost said Textiles, another Large Format, yet another pointed to Labels and Packaging and then there was Printed Electronics. It was so so confusing. She sat down and sobbed.

At this point we welcome into the story the little people, the dwarves, elves and other magical people that populate the deep forests of western culture. This accounts for the complete lack of ethnic diversity they exhibit. Modern life has little need for these fringe fairy folk so, by and large, they have disappeared from modern life. The last remnants of these peddlers of magic are called Consultants.

Instead of digging out the mountainside for gold and gems, the Consultants conjure great wealth from reports which tell companies precisely what they want to know and to confirm what they already know they know. This means they are paid more to produce another report to confirm another idea. The accuracy of the report is irrelevant. It is a device to unleash more wealth for the Consultants. Each will sell for a bar of gold or fistful of gems.

As in the traditional fairy tales there were seven of them. We would like to call them Grumpy, Sneezy and so on, but these names have been copyrighted by the Disney Corporation and while the character attributes remain, we have to call them Sean, Ralf, Barney, Simon, Laurel, Marco and Neil.

Right, now they had come across Inga-Jet and their eyes lit up. They could consult about the discovery, its beauty, quality, its applications, or environmental impact for many years to come. They tugged at her until the Princess looked up. “You must come with us, we will keep you safe,” said Simon, the grumpy one. “I’m not really a consultant, I’m a journalist, you know,” said the smallest, bearded one. “Do shut up Barney,” chorused the others.

The took the Princess back to their cottage and pressed her into sweeping up, preparing meals and beds and generally looking after them while they set about their crucial work writing reports about what they had found in the depths of the forest.

Marco set about explaining the way production was about to change; Sean bashed out why packaging would never look back; Simon was writing about the different ways to form a drop of ink; Laurel wanted to make a standard for counting the environmental impact, Ralf looked into new supply chains; Neil prepared a series of presentations; and Barney was wring a 2,000 word magazine article “because I’m a journalist”. “Shut up Barney!”

Then Inga-Jet asked innocently: “Which is the best print head.” The cacophony was instant. One argued for Fuji Samba, another for PageWide, here Xaar, Kodak, Ricoh, KM or Kyocera and for three hours the consultants threw words, insults and not a few household objects at each other without coming close to consensus.

At the same time that this was happening in the deepest recesses of the forest, Queen Heidi decided one again to peer into the Magic Loupe. “Sorry Heidi,” it said. “Inga-Jet is not dead. H.P. has misled you. The seven consultants have rescued Inga-Jet and she is becoming stronger each day. Her print is now the most beautiful.”

This enraged the Wicked Queen who vowed to put an end to this upstart Princess herself. She grabbed her things and dashed to the consultants' cottage. She wanted to put Inga-Jet into a machine so expensive and slow that nobody would ever buy one.

“You are wrong,” she screamed at the consultants, “look at the price of the ink!”

“That doesn’t bother us,” said the consultants.

“How about the productivity? Inga-Jet is too slow.”

“Not a problem.”

“Inga-Jet can’t print on any paper.”

“It will soon. Go away Heidi, you’re finished”.

The Queen screamed another ear piercing screech that generally indicated a plate change was underway and ran back to the castle to concoct a potion to rid Printmoneyland of the scourge of digital and restore its good fortunes before anyone had ever thought of digital. Deep in the dungeon and late into the night, she came up with LED UV. It was promising, but not the answer. Push to Stop was cute technology but not for everyone. Closed loop colour management failed because litho is about variables. Then she found the answer. She would get rid of InkJet once and for all with a poisoned apple.

Again this is a well used trope, but even queens can lack imagination and even digital princesses can fall for old tricks. And when Heidi turned up disguised as an old crone, Inga-Jet duly opened the door and accepted the apple, took a bite and fell down as if dead.

When the consultants returned from giving pointless presentations and keynote speeches to gatherings of confused Printers and suppliers, they were horrified to find their meal ticket, as they had already thought about Inga-Jet, seemingly dead. The old litho process seemed to have triumphed after all.

The beautiful Princess was placed in a glass casket, the sort used to display Sinclair C5s and other examples of technology that never quite made it to fulfil its promise of transforming the world.

And there she might be still, but for the roving eye of everyone’s hero Lord Benny Landa. The Prince of Digital Printing came riding by and fell in love with the princess, sorry, process. He could see that the problem lay in printing with water directly onto a sheet of paper. If instead the image could be printed to a heated belt, the water removed and the image transferred to the substrate, the princess, sorry process, might deliver on its promise to vanquish offset printing. Mind you, he had promised this 25 years before and offset was still around.

Prince Benny lent over and gently kissed the Princess, a move which in real life would result in a prison sentence or severe questioning from the authorities, but which in a fairy story dislodges the piece of apple, awakens the Princess and enables her to sit up sharply, throw her arms about her rescuer and declare her undying love for him.

“What about us,” chimed the consultants. “We got you to where you are, show some gratitude.”

“Well,” she answered, “you are just consultants, you tell us what we know already, get everything else wrong and demand vast fees for this. If something doesn’t turn out as you predicted, it’s because the timing is wrong, because Printers refuse to recognise your genius, or suppliers fail to deliver. Besides you should try the housework sometime, not force guests to do it. I don’t need you any more.”

This left the problem of Heidi and her father Koenig. He was no problem and gave his permission for the match, demanding that Inga-Jet provide the laminated flooring for the wedding ceremony, the ceremonial banners and the wedding dress itself. As for Heidi, she had been secretly undergoing technology reassignment, sneakily turning into a digital company while still creating the huge, heavy and expensive industrial presses that had always been the mainstay of the family’s fortunes.

And the Printers of Printmoneyland began to realise that they too had to change; that they would need to become digital themselves. And all of them did so, heralding a return of riches to the kingdom as digital channels withered away. Once again the streets were paved with gold, the banners with a new opaque white ink, and everything that could be printed was indeed printed. Printers became fabulously successful. Don’t believe me? This is, after all, a fairy story.

Gareth Ward

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