2 brains are better than 1 - can I borrow yours please?

Hi all - After printing for over 50 years and being a member of British Printing Society for 21 of them, I ran for election to the national executive this year and was elected unopposed as Councillor. I also tallied an impressive number of votes for President of the Society for a dark horse who has never served on its national executive, but not enough to oust the President of 7 years standing.

Our Society’s problem, which I need your brains to address and help me to resolve, is that for 21 years our Society has been in decline, having in that time lost its Commercial Section and its Block & Artwork Library, and very nearly not having enough members left in the Publishing Group to form a qorum at last year’s annual general meeting.

In those 21 years we’ve gained 3,360 new members, but we’ve lost 5 existing members for every 3 new ones we’ve recruited, current membership having fallen from approaching 2,000 21 years ago to barely 400 now. At that level there’s a serious problem of finding enough officers to run the Society, and of consistently being able to generate adequate input for our monthly printed magazine, as we now have only a handful of members left under 40, and the average age of our predominantly letterpress printers is now over 65.

That’s the nature and extent of the problem, which others appear to see as insoluble or to have no idea how to address - other than the real stroke of genius which the national executive adopted and attempted to implement at the end of last year, which is to abandon our traditional objects of association. These say that the Society’s purpose is “to unite full-time, part time and hobby printers in friendly association.” The national executive decided, WITHOUT ASKING THE MEMBERS FIRST, that we’re not going to do that any more!

That may be a significant clue as to where the root cause of our Society’s problems lie, but what I badly need your help with is in developing the details of a strategy for the British Print Society’s renewal and revival, as a Society which all small printers will want to join, and none will want to leave.

I have my own ideas about this, but would appreciate your adding yours too, either openly here or privately by email.

Many thanks in anticipation
Tony Adams
Branch Secretary and Organiser, and
Councillor on the national executive of the British Printing Society

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Mr. Adams,
I took a look at your website and from a young persons perspective you might want change the look of it. You can do this without losing the class or feeling of the society, just look at what Briar has done with its site. I know some suppliers I always want to buy from because their sites and publications look so good and I always want a chance to visit their site and I can’t wait to receive their newsletter. I also wanted to ask if there was a rival printing society. This might be a problem if they seem more appealing. Also organization is a big key within your problem. Other than that everything seems to be looking good. I would join but the ocean seems to be in the way.
Hope it helps a bit,

I’ll take a crack at giving a few coments and ideas. After reading your letter and looking at your society’s website one thing that stands out to me is a real and perhaps over-emphasis on organizational structure. There is the Executive Council and various “sections” along with local “Branches”, etc. Of course this involves elections, electioneering, politics, administration and all the other things necessary to maintain such an organizational structure. And it’s clear that this structure is falling apart as you indicate.

Those activities typically keep the focus on maintaining, improving, or otherwise feeding the organization though only actively involve a small percentage of the total members. Aside from being a member of a local Branch or going to an annual event, things that seem to in a decline based on total membership and lack of general interest, what is there to attract and keep the average individual member? And what about those who aren’t near or can’t otherwise participate in a Branch? Is the totality of their involvment limited to receiving a newsletter; sometimes sending away to borrow a book; and the expense and scheduling of going to an annual meeting?

I think if you looked at the website for the Amalgamated Printer’s Association there are some suggestions that present themselves. That group offers initially a level of exclusiveness by limiting their membership; they offer each member a membership number which the member can then use as an indication to others that he belongs to such a group with certain standards of membership; they require participation from each member with annual and mandatory Bundle mailings which provides motivation and interest and a heightened sense of belonging as well as a way to see what others are doing.

They too have an annual event but overall it strikes me that their strength and focus is not on their organizational structure or with services and events that can never generate full participation of all members.

Anyway, these are just some off-the-cuff comments and I’m not a member of either group and don’t pretend to know all about them but I hope they may prove helpful.

Rich P.

Many thanks for your advice and comments so far.

There isn’t a rival society to BPS at present, though there are other UK societies that specialise in specific aspects of printing - but it could easily happen - it certainly did with hot foil printing when that took off in the UK.

BPS was founded 63 years ago and is still primarily centred on a monthly printed magazine, so it is a bit old-fashioned in some respects.

What I was hoping for was not an analysis of what we are doing wrong - that is all too obvious to me, if not to our national executive - but your ideas, suggestions and comments on what you think our Society could and should be doing that it doesn’t do at all currently, to make it into the sort of printing society that all small printers would want to join, and that none would want to leave.

Comments on what we need to do differently are welcome too, of course, but I was really looking to you to suggest ways in which we ought to expand on what we already do for small printers.

Some members make their own paper too, though I’m not sure how often. Is there a national papermaking society in the UK - or local groups - or should we be encouraging this as well as getting our act together as a printing society?


Mentioning the distinctives of the Amalgamated Printers Association was intended to give some ideas regarding what kinds of new and interesting incentives and opportunities your organization could or should be doing.

Rich P.