I returned from my shoot last week in Great Smoky Mountain National Park to learn the very sad news that the finest book printer in the US, The Stinehour Press, had ceased operations. They have been lauded by, among others, the Washington Post, as the finest fine book printer – and by the many printing industry awards they have won over their 50 year run. Their client list included the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Francisco Fine Art Museums, the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Boston, the Norman Rockwell Museum, The Getty Museum, the Guggenheim, the Whitney and the Smithsonian. Publishers included Random House, Little-Brown and many university presses, including Harvard, Stanford, Yale, Princeton and Dartmouth. They have also printed the works for many photographers, and of course Quiet Light Publishing as this is where my book The Lewis & Clark Trail American Landscapes was printed.
We chose them for several reasons. One they were the best. They had shown us proofs on our paper selection using our images to prove they could deliver – even before we accepted their quote. Once we were there we could see first hand why they were/are the crafts men and women of such high caliber. Every one of them was dedicated to our project, from the front office, to production to the pressroom. And everyone had the right to say, wait, we need to do this before moving on – even as we were on press. Their quality and dedication to my book was never ending. And we quickly became part of the family there in their corner of Northeast Vermont. We dined at some of their homes, went to places around town with them and became friends. And I was only one of many hundreds or thousands of books they have printed over their 50 year run. It saddens me that their dedication to publishing has come to an end and that these folks will now be looking elsewhere for work.
One of the reasons they cited for their closing is the high competition with overseas printers. The cost of printing overseas has made it so many publisher’s choose this route. We considered it. And rejected it for two reasons. On price, when considering the cost of travel overseas for the print run, and the cost of shipping finished product back, they were within nickels on the price per book. And equally important – they were here – in the US. I have always thought we should support US companies such as The Stinehour Press when we can. A company which put quality first and treats their employees and customer’s with respect. Besides, it only seemed reasonable to have a book about
America and its history and landscape be printed here.
But in the end, it seems, the cost of printing overseas did overcome them. They mentioned in their press release they could not compete any longer with overseas pricing when they can print books for what their cost for just the paper would be. This can not just be a labor cost problem. I can only imagine what the cost of health insurance for 26 employees and their families must have been. Imagine if that cost was taken out by having universal health care. Maybe then they would be able to stay and continue their craft of making some of the finest books published. And while some may knock me for being nostalgic here, why is it that we always rush for the lowest price on everything? Doesn’t quality stand for something? I realize the digital age has provided a cheaper, faster way to be able to send off PDF’s of a project to printer’s, have them make a few pages of proofs to be ok’d and then print on demand. But do these books give you the same feel in your hands as one which is handcrafted? Maybe the fact that they worked from 6am to 4pm instead of around the clock put them in a different league, personally, one which I admire. (Oh, and yes, if they were in the middle of a run they did finish it – they didn’t just stop the presses until tomorrow). And that meant family was as important in their company philosophy – at least from what we observed in our time in the Northeast
Kingdom. And it showed in their product. Our book The Lewis and Clark Trail American Landscapes, has not only won over a dozen awards, I see it in the faces and hear it in the words the first time someone picks up the book for the first time. Right away they are impressed with the quality. There always seem to be sigh’s of wow, or “hey look at this”, as they show it to someone else. Quality does stand out. It should be what we all strive for.
As Warren Bingham, CEO of The Stinehour Press said in their press release, “These are not good times for American manufacturers. I hope we know the full cost of what we’re buying as a society. When lowest cost is always the determining factor, it might be higher than we think.”
Something to think about. After all, if we can help out Wall Street and their CEO’s when they make unwise structures of mortgages and derivatives, or give huge tax breaks to oil companies making 45 billion in profits – more than most countries gross national products, why can’t we invest in companies worthy of our investment? Companies that care about quality and their employees and customers? Those small companies which really are what America is all about – ingenuity and quality. It is something I don’t understand. It is something 26 people and their families in the northeast now probably wonder about as well.
Yes it is a very sad day for publishing, especially of fine art book publisher’s, but it is also a very sad day for America.
Post Script – When we were at the Stinehour Press we did our first “blog” as a series of posts each day on our website. I will reissue this post today so you can see exactly what it was like to be there. You can find it at www.mackphoto.com/Vermont.html