I recently sat down with Keith, our Head of Publishing as part of our interview series 'Tapestry Talks'. Keith has been with Tapestry for over thirty years, and has seen first hand the changes in the pre-press and print industry. His keen eye for detail and strive to deliver a publication to perfection are some of the key reasons why we've worked with reputable clients such as Dazed for so long. Read on to find out more about Keith's story and why the management of reprographics is best left to the experts.
To begin with, could you please explain reprographics to me as if you were explaining it to a 10 year old?
The definition of repro is very very different from thirty years ago when I first started. I guess you could say that today, reprographics is taking a designer’s layout, a photographers imagery and making sure it prints as closely to how they envisioned it.
Starting at the very beginning of your career, what was your first ever job?
My first ever job was as a camera operator when I was 17 - back then everything was film and analogue based. Typesetters would output galleys of text, pasteup artworkers would cut and paste all of the text into pages for us to then take a negative of, clean up and expose onto a plate for the presses. The jobs were much dirtier back then - making plates, cleaning out the machinery... it was a pretty messy job and not a Health & Safety officer insight.
Had you always wanted to get into the print industry?
Well I left school and originally I was going to sixth form to try and get into computing. I went on holiday during the summer and came back with glandular fever, which meant I spent five months recovering and didn't manage to make sixth form, so I was kicking around for a few months thinking 'What do I do?'. That was when the junior opportunity came up. It was at a place in Holloway and I'd heard of it through my wife who was a typesetter there.
How did you end up progressing from the camera operator role?
I’ve got a fairly inquisitive mind, and the camera operator was one of those jobs where you’ve got something to do for an hour, then you were waiting around on someone else, so you’re sitting around for an hour. I was given a book called ‘The lithographers manual’ and I would read about images, half tone dots, highlight bump exposures, screen angles, vignettes and other exotic processes. I thought “right, this is quite interesting” and then started playing around with the camera. I got more and more involved in complex work and picked it up – I wasn’t really trained but just went with it.
So it began self taught! And what was your next role after this?
I then moved on to Mullis Morgan [which later joined forces with Tapestry] as a hand planner after progressing from a camera operator. If we’d have looked at what we did then, we’d think a computer would never be able to do this. Then within three or four years, the high end systems were churning out work quicker than we could. These cost around a million pound a piece, some serious amount of investment required. We were one of the first London companies to embrace all of it. Apple, Photoshop and Quark then came along, and all of a sudden anyone could do it on a £5k machine, rather than having to invest £1m. It was really exciting times.
I can imagine – Was this at the point when technology really started to take off?
Well you could say it started first with typesetting. Where once it was just the lines of text output for artworkers, new page composition systems from Compugraphic and Linotype enabled typesetters to output fully finished pages albeit without images. A little later Linotype, Scitex and Quantel Paintbox brought high end hardware and software programmes that worked with images, then the late 80’s - early 90’s saw Apple Macintosh, Quark Xpress, Pagemaker and Adobe Photoshop bring it to the masses. Suddenly things became much quicker to do, and so much more accurate.
It’s crazy that everything was done by hand.
Yeah, there was so much more you had to be aware of. So many technical things to know and if you got it wrong it was very costly.
It wasn’t as if you could just press undo.
Haha, no definitely not, no ‘Command Z’. Once it gets to press, it’s a lot of money. For The Sunday Times covers if you kept them waiting you’re being charged £1000 an hour. You just had to try your hardest not to make mistakes.
Can you remember your first complete publication?
Yeah, the first real prestige piece of work I would say that I remember was The Sunday Times Magazine covers. If you were given one of the covers to work on, well, it was a very prestigious thing to do. It was great to see it on the shelf somewhere and say “I did that”.
Did you manage to keep a copy?
Not that one no, I ran out of room but used to collect the stuff I was involved with quite religiously.
I guess if you were to collect every publication now there would be tonnes?
Yeah too much now, and you realise there’s only really relevance to me from a personal point of view. You may look at it and think, well that’s just an advert of some cruise somewhere, but to me it represents a time when technology was just starting to have an impact on the industry as a whole.
Looking ahead to the future of print, what are your thoughts on the phrase that ‘print is dying’?
I disagree to that. There are some elements of print that will never go away – you’re not going to go in and buy a tin of baked beans if it doesn’t have a label on it. From a packaging point of view, print is always going to be here. There of course is a move from printed materials into electronics materials, but perhaps this is where I’m old, but it’s just not the same. You don’t have the same satisfaction handling your phone as you would a magazine. Whatever it is you read, even if you can get all the content online, there’s just something about reading it from a book. There’s no denying that print is certainly changing - we hit saturation about 15 years ago, but to summarise, no I don’t believe it’s dying at all.
Is there a particular advert or magazine you hold a certain pride for?
That’s a bit like asking who your favourite child is! You take different things from different projects. My love for print is magazines, so it would definitely be a magazine. The first launch I did was for The Times Saturday Review magazine around 1992. When you work on a launch of a magazine and spend the next five years on it, you see it grow and it’s a bit like a child, it really is. We’ve worked on magazines before where it was a nightmare working with the team, it felt like they were working against you. So, every week we would get an issue out and think ‘I don’t know how we managed to do that’, and took immense pride in it purely for getting it out to press in spite of the people that were producing it.
But the one that stands out to me is Another Man. We’ve just sent issue 28 to press. I used to be proud enough to say I’ve done every single page of every issue but the past 3 or 4 have involved others working on it. I’m 4 magazines short of the full 28 on my bookshelf at home.
Surely you’ve got to keep a copy of each of those issues? That’s insane.
Yes definitely. I’m really proud of the magazine and have seen it change over the past 14 years. Although it’s not necessarily the sort of magazine I would buy, because I’m hardly fashion conscious, I enjoy it for the quality of the photography, writing and design, which is why magazines won’t die – people enjoy them from cover to cover.
What are your thoughts on the increase in independent magazines?
I think some of the independent mags out at the moment are really good. I guess they’re freer in a sense that it’s done more so for passion and love rather than the monetary side of it. Some of the really good ones started from fanzines that people have created purely to share with like minded people. Someone I know created a football fanzine, it was just a little thing. He only printed 150 copies or something but then went to sell it out the front of the grounds. It was a publication purely made out of the love and passion for the club and for the fun of it.
One of the biggest problems for independent magazines though is distribution – the cost to generate, repro and print the content is all manageable and within the cost of the magazine. To send to the States could have you paying almost 70% of your cover price for distribution.
Presumably the smaller independent magazines are likely to do their own repro in house?
Yeah, they pretty much have to.
And what’s the benefit of outsourcing to a repro house like us then?
Because, there is a certain skill from thirty years of experience and understanding. Of course, there is a cost for it to come to a company like us – clients pay for the work we do, and they pay for our time and our materials. They could do it in house and employ someone to do it themselves. They could buy a proofer and do that, but in the same way, you could cut your own hair!
That’s very true, I’ve definitely tried that before!
Who knows, if you’re a uni student, skint and living off pot noodles, maybe you would! It’s down to circumstance. This is a phrase I’ve used on a number of occasions: Once that ink is committed to paper, it’s now history. Any mistakes in there, big or small, are now going to be seen forever. I’ve seen a cover of a leading magazine where they’d spelt the cover star’s name wrong. All of a sudden, you’ve got something that is so badly wrong now. For all the years of experience and understanding we have, if you can afford to do it, why wouldn’t you? You can also save putting the stress and strain on your own staff this way.
I suppose in a way it’s better for them to hold us accountable, rather than their own staff should anything go wrong?
Exactly. And if they just concentrate on what they’re good at, then bring in experts like us to do what we’re good at, then it’s going to create a good product at the end of the day. With the high level of technology today and programmes such as InDesign and Photoshop being so easy to use that anyone thinks they can do it. Providing everything goes right, I suppose anyone can do it. But it’s as soon as the smallest thing goes wrong, then without the knowledge it’s hard to get yourself straight again.
Before we wrap up… when you’re not at work, what do you like to do in your spare time?
I can’t sit down really at all, so I enjoy cycling and running and wherever possible I will walk somewhere. It’s nice to not be staring at a screen, although I still have a hankering to work in computing and do have one at home I spend some time on. Too late to pick it up now though, the kids these days are insane. There is so much technology out there that I wouldn’t even know where to start with it all.
Very true. And if you’re not big on sitting down and reading, do you not subscribe to any magazines personally?
Unfortunately, I don’t, no. I don’t have an awful lot of time to sit down and read them. I feel quite bad that I don’t subscribe because I feel like I should. I know time sounds like a really lame excuse. I used to subscribe to a lot of magazines but they ran out of content really quickly. Some of them would pad themselves with content purely to make it bigger and started to lose the whole reason why the magazine started.
I guess you technically read every issue cover to cover of Dazed, Another Man, AnOther etc..
Haha yeah, I just don’t pay for them and get it for free instead! But yes I do, Hole & Corner as well. I really like Hole & Corner because it’s so well put together. It’s so well written and photographed that you could pick it up and even if you’re not interested in something, you’d read the piece till the end and come away from it thinking “that was actually interesting!”. Although if I was going to subscribe to something now though, it would probably be a fanzine of some sort.
Thanks a lot for your time Keith, really appreciate it.
If you’re not familiar with the reprographics work our Publishing department carries out then you can see the range of publications we work on here. Being a repro house since 1972, we also provide reprographics to brands and advertisers through our Press Advertising and Artwork departments.
Written by Mia Palmén