It doesn’t have to be a black or white situation. There ARE clients (like most of the Photographers I work with) that want full control over the process and rendering of their images. Not a nightmare at all, they want a definition of the process. They need the profiles to define the process so they can see and edit the images as they see fit. Lest we forget, we’re just working with big piles of numbers when handling images on a computer. The numbers are either correct or they are not.
There are clients that don’t know a pixel from a pickle and want the printer to handle all the conversions from their RGB documents. That’s fine (and they should pay the printer for that service). You guys do need to educate them not to convert to some totally bizarre CMYK color space and expect you to “fix it”. Then the question becomes, can you deal with tagged RGB and can you educate them to tag the documents.
Photographers are used to standardized processes like E6, C41, RA4 etc. Doesn’t matter what lab you go to, as long as they are pro’s, the conform to standards. There are customers who want Costco to process their film or prints. Both customers have needs that the provider they work with must fill.
Too often, printers (4-color, prepress) doesn’t have the ability to handle both ends of this customer scale and I think that’s a big mistake. Its not too difficult to handle the designer who doesn’t know SWOP from SNAP. The tough part is getting files they can handle (hopefully tagged RGB not some incorrect CMYK recipe). But the color management savvy customer also needs to be treated correctly. That means they DO have a calibrated display, know how to setup Photoshop color settings, rely on a good soft proof and do want to edit their CMYK files in their proper output color space. That means either they or the service provider supply a profile. And again, the profile reflects a process that isn’t a moving target.
I can build a CMYK profile that will produce really good results as long as the provider keeps the process in line. I’ve been burned however with contract proofs that don’t match the press run or processes that deviate from how the profile was original generated (IOW, bad process control). Give me a good profile or control your process and I can build a good profile to produce the right CMYK numbers. But its not fair to expect all customers to drop $5000 on a Spectrophotometer and good software (sorry Steve) and build profiles for a device they don’t own and can’t control.
A client that works with multiple print houses should be provided multiple profile OR all the print houses actually conform to a standard, then they use one. See, standards can work, it’s been successful in the film world (real film or photo) for decades.
Yes, you could work in a common RGB space. That means you never see how the image will really output (soft proof) you never control the rendering intent, and you can’t edit the image based on the output device to appear as you wish. Oh, you can’t proof it in house either. I guess that’s not the worst situation but it doesn’t take today’s technology anywhere as far as it can go. You either care about these issues or you don’t. If you do, then you need that output profile. If you don’t, no worries, hand off the tagged RGB file and be done.