lettering printing Thoughts on lettering

Newspapers, printing, the future – it’s rosy (but not as we know it)

I have been involved in the newspaper industry since I was about 20 – that’s, on and off, 3o plus years. When I got a job in what was then known as Fleet Street (even though the paper I worked at, the Financial Times, was beyond that area, up near St Paul’s cathedral) there was a printing plant and shop in the basement and sub-basement. The FT was still, and this was the mid to late 1980s, being set letterpress. I subbed copy using a typewriter and the copy was then Linotyped by another person, who was a member of a separate Trade Union and, quite possibly, used a fictitious name, such as Mickey Mouse. Abuse was rampant; I remember being told by my senior colleagues how one year there was a strike and the journos managed to get the management to up wages by some staggering 30 per cent; or was it more?

Daily Telegraph
Daily Telegraph building in Fleet Street, London, early 1990s. [copyright John Pitt]
Then came computer-setting; the unions were broken by a bloke called Eddie Shah in London who started up a newspaper called Today; which eventually led to Rupert Murdoch taking the Times/Sunday Times/News of  the World and Sun to Wapping. I have an old  colleague who was on the picket line there. It was not a happy time. Murdoch won.

But that is now history. Very recent history. My history. Now the newspaper business, indeed printing on paper, faces its greatest battle. One which it will lose. Just as calligraphers on vellum lost to Guttenberg; just as Smiths Corolla typewriters lost out to IBM.

This blog is inspired by an article by John Lanchester in the London Review of Books. This is the link – but I doubt if you will be able to access it as it is for subscribers only.

Assuming you can’t, or can’t be bothered, and without permission from LRB, these are the guts of the piece:

“A recent OECD report, The Evolution of News and the Internet, makes the picture clear.[*] Between 2004 and 2009, the US newspaper industry lost 34 per cent of its readers; the UK industry lost 22 per cent. Since then, the speed of the downturn has increased. In the last 12 months alone, seven broadsheet titles in the UK have seen their sales decline by more than 10 per cent. In the US, in the first six months of this year, the Chicago Tribune lost 9.8 per cent of its remaining readers, and the Los Angeles Times 14.7 per cent…

“The global flagship of serious journalism, the New York Times, lost $74.5 million in the quarter to March 2009, and accepted an injection of $250 million in cash from the Mexican telecoms billionaire Carlos Slim; it emerged that the paper was carrying $1.3 billion in accumulated debt. And it is one of the healthier US newspaper companies: the Tribune group, which owns the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune, had already gone bankrupt. In the UK, Times Newspapers lost £87.7 million in the year to June 2009, having lost £50.2 million in the previous year. These figures are not, by industry standards, especially bad. It was mayhem out there…

“A persuasive looking analysis in the Business Insider put the cost of printing and distributing the New York Times at $644 million, and then added this: ‘a source with knowledge of the real numbers tells us we’re so low in our estimate of the Times’s printing costs that we’re not even in the ballpark.’ Taking the lower figure, that means that New York Times, if it stopped printing a physical edition of the paper, could afford to give every subscriber a free Kindle. Not the bog-standard Kindle, but the one with free global data access. And not just one Kindle, but four Kindles. And not just once, but every year. And that’s using the low estimate for the costs of printing…

“So this, I think, is the future of newspapers. Their cost base will force them to junk their print editions. (I know some people would like a luxury product, only-for-nostalgics print version, but it’s not clear to me how the economics of that would be made to work.)…”

If you have got this far, he is absolutely right. Where I live a man drives round in a clapped out Toyota Hiace at 6am each morning and throws out a cling-film wrapped newspaper onto my driveway. Where’s the economics in that?

Instead I can turn on my iPad and source news from all over the world. The fact that I don’t have an iPad is no impediment. One day I will. And then I will not need print anymore. The printing presses can go; the distribution vans can go; the blokes who operate the printing presses will go; and the bloke who drives the battered Toyota? Well, he’ll be on his iPad at 6am…

It’s only a matter of time – certainly before the next decade is out. Maybe 5 years.

This is probably what those calligraphers felt like when they heard about printing from movable type. “It’ll never take on,” they scorned.

Let us not bury our heads. Let us take it on.

Comedy lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework Typographic ephemera typography

Cricket and Typography

Please forgive this moment of indulgence. I live in Australia but am English by birth and, though I am now fortunate enough to have dual nationality, when it comes to cricket and especially the Ashes, I cannot but cheer for England.

Today, at five minutes to twelve noon, here on the east coast of Australia, England retained the Ashes series by an innings and millions of runs. Now I understand that for readers who, a) do not follow cricket. b) do not understand the dread rivalry between these two countries in this sport, this post will come as something of a dud.

However, I took this screen grab of the moment the Ashes victory was flashed on to the scoreboard at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. It is not the greatest of pictures (I took it with my camera pointed at my TV) but for me it is priceless. And the reason it is here? Well. What typeface is that?

Thoughts on lettering

The e-book revolution

The e-book is here. So are apps. The question is how to link the two, thus creating a community where information is shared. This article from the FT addresses that issue, while pointing to the very real problem of app only sites where links are not created, as in Murdoch’s plan to create an app only newspaper. This is an issue that goes back to the very beginning of printing in Western Europe. No less than the 15th century we are at a crossroads – do we write or do we twitter? And who decides what is legitimate information when all of us have the ability to be communicators; or, in the language of the 15th century, printers. Now we all own the means of communication. Do you feel scared? Or empowered?

Humour lettering Typographic ephemera

Sad signage

When you look around you see many signs out there that should have been replaced years, decades ago. This is an example on a block of flats/apartments not far from where I live in Australia. Obviously put there when the units were first built and then forgotten. If I had the will I would get a ladder and pull it down myself. It is an insult to the typographic sensitive spirit!


Arabic calligraphy – video

Click on this link to be taken to a short video on Arabic calligraphy I stumbled across on The Guardian website the other day.


Humour lettering typography

Gentle reminder – typography poll ends soon

The typography poll ends at midnight, December 31. Thank you for those who have voted so far.

For reasons beyond me the sans serifs still lead.

Grateful thanks to the Bodoni voter and I intend to post a piece on Bodoni in the next few days.

As for Comic Sans. Well, that must be a joke.

Elements of Lettering History of Lettering lettering lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework typography

Fournier and Perpetua, a clarification

Thanks Marvin for pointing out that the titling shown on an earlier post about Fournier is actually Perpetua.

Here’s the proof: the pages taken from a Monotype specimen catalogue. Fournier of course follows the tradition of squared serifs, whereas Perpetua (by Gill) followed the Roman Trajan tradition with serifs that mimicked the action of the hand held chisel.


Smallest Christmas Card

A seasonal offering. Follow this link which explains how boffins at Glasgow Uni used nanotechnology to produce what they claim as the world’s smallest Christmas Card, including lettering.


lettering, typography, alphabets, stonework typography

Something for the Christmas weekend

A battered card from my collection. Text by Ian Hamilton Finlay. The artist unknown. Seasons greetings and may 2011 bring joy.


Typographic ephemera

Seasons greetings