In the early 1990s, many publications switched from traditional printing to desktop publishing. Desktop publishing brought a lot of functions in house that had previously been performed by printers. One result was that editors gained more control over their manufacturing process; another was that publishing companies saved a ton of money. The job of "printer" as we knew it virtually disappeared.

You are asking: What has this got to do with me?

Delta's latest move on distribution costs -- a $1 surcharge per fare component on each domestic ticket that is not booked through its SkyLinks Web site -- is being perceived by some as another attack on agents. In reality, a $2 or $4 or $6 price differential is not going to send droves of travelers to the SkyLinks site, but a clear line has been drawn in the sand.

Look at where that line is drawn. On one side is a distribution avenue that costs the airline as close to nothing as it has ever come. On the other is everything else, especially tickets that incur the CRS fees that are seemingly caught in an endless upward spiral.

The transition to desktop publishing didn't happen because some evil entity decided to kill all the printers. It happened because somebody invented computers that could "do publishing" faster and cheaper. Nor did the airlines invent the Internet.

We know that if technology is there, it will be used. It is disingenuous to think that airlines can or will refrain from encouraging a distribution method that is having an impact on retailers of every stripe.

In the wake of the commission cuts and Delta's latest move, some agents again urge turning to some branch of the government for relief. That's not likely to stem the inexorable tide of technology.

Does that make you obsolete? If you see yourself as a seller of airline tickets, yes. But if your customers perceive that you are selling something that they can't find on a Web site, you have a future.

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