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Print is Dead, Long Live Print

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Asking whether print is dead is a non-starter these days. It’s like asking whether the Pope is Catholic. It’s almost a rhetorical question that doesn’t need to be answered.

I was recently reading a discussion in a design forum that asked this question anyway. Some interesting and surprising themes emerged from the discussion. Here are a few:

  • When given the choice, young people prefer to read on paper. According to research and a Webinar by Sappi, a leading global paper company specializing in coated fine paper, 69 percent of 18-24 say they actually prefer to read print and paper communications over screens. In the same presentation, a Sappi representative claimed that catalogues sent to consumers in the mail are 30 times more effective at making a sale than email sent to inboxes.
  • It might sound shocking but print is still the most effective medium for driving sales. Coca Cola recently admitted that social media “buzz” had no meaningful impact on short-term sales. The same research found that print ads were the most effective medium for driving “per-impression” sales with TV second and digital display third. This surprising finding was glossed over by the Ad Age writer who scooped the story, which buried the mention of print at the tail end of a paragraph at the tail end of the article.
  • Marketers agree that integrated, multi-channel media campaigns garner the best results. Why? Because different media serve different purposes and elicit different responses. Print is a tactile medium with high production values and does a very good job of stimulating an emotional response, say one of desire, on the part of the reader. Digital on the other hand, is more utilitarian and rational so to speak. It’s is an easy and low cost way to provide additional information. Many marketers and economists these days would argue that emotions are what trigger consumers’ buying decisions, not reasoned cost-benefit analysis. The two media together are likely to drive the sale with print (and TV) stimulating the desire and digital facilitating the transaction.
  • Digital marketing is easier to forget than printed materials. One person noted that she tends to forget about the sales at her local grocery store that are sent to her by email but makes a b-line to the seafood counter when she sees a printed ad.
  • All else being equal, the higher barriers to entry means that print is more trustworthy and credible than digital. The proliferation of spam and online scams make average people mistrustful of digital. One commenter noted that a number of non-profits are shifting their fund-raising efforts back to print after their online efforts had been hijacked by scam artists.
  • Digital media has clearly taken over consumer publishing, but according to one commenter from the commercial printing industry, print is expanding in the following areas:

– Packaging
– Labels
– Large format posters and signage
– Luxury goods and luxury store targeted direct mail
– Transportation print in airports / subways / buses
– Special event marketing
– Trade show promotional materials
– Artsy fartsy – funky small run design projects
– Business cards
– Rack brochures, take-ones in public transit areas
– Giclees and art posters
– Short run – targeted digital print projects
– Presentation leave behinds
– Non profit marketing and mailings
– In-store displays and promotion
– Movie theater Promotional displays

  • Dovetailing with the last point that print is growing in promotional areas, one designer who recently attended a premier digital event, SxSW, noted the irony of seeing ”brochures, posters, and postcards all over the most digital festival anywhere.”

So print’s not dead yet. It will just be used in a more targeted way going forward.