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Computers Don't Always Make Services Cheaper

February 24, 1991

It is misleading to think that just because designers and desktop publishers now use computers that their services generally are cheaper, as stated in "Desktop Publishing Can Help Slash Costs" (Feb. 1). I made the switch to computers, and my prices have not gone down. Here's why:

First, while it's true that computers speed up portions of the work, that portion represents a minor part of the design process. Research, concept or "thinking" time, copy writing, photography/illustration, client meetings, printing and pre-press supervision are all common design activities, and computers play almost no role in these and other important aspects of a marketing communications project.

Second, the article quoted someone who said the technology "allows us to do things for a fraction of the cost." That misses a crucial point: Who is paying for the technology?

The capital investment required to purchase the computer equipment must be recovered and is appropriately passed on to the customer in the pricing of the service. Otherwise, the supplier is losing money.

Third, computers require more work by designers, not less, because designers are responsible for more aspects of the entire process that they once only directed.

The average computer-based desktop publishing system basically allows designers to bring typesetting functions in-house, so designers become typesetters. Wouldn't you expect them to charge for this service? They made substantial investments in the equipment and the activity requires more time, staff, training, expertise, etc.

The computer is merely a tool to help provide a complex service. The price of the service is determined by the amount of time spent on different activities, the costs involved, profit desired, what the market will bear and, ultimately, the value of the service.

There have always been high-priced providers of marketing communications services, and there are student-level providers. The presence or absence of a computer has very little to do with it.

HAROLD JOHNSON

Santa Monica

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