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Commentary & Analysis

Is Print Dead, or just Unconscious?

By Carole Alexander March 10,

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: March 10, 2006

By Carole Alexander March 10, 2006 -- Taz Tally says the end is near. Howie Fenton says it's never going to die. But I left their "Is Print Dead" debate at GOA/Xplor thinking the real answer is that print may be drifting in an out of consciousness. The Internet is easier, faster, cheaper and has new capabilities. But are these the only criteria? Tally takes a long-range look of about 15 years. He asked, if you were talking to your investment advisor, "would you invest in print?" An effective start. Tally questioned how something, in fact, becomes obsolete. His answer was that it happens when "something else comes along that is faster, easier and usually with new capabilities." He applied these ideas to the change in transportation from horse drawn carriages to the vehicles of today. He points to the change in communication from smoke signals to telephones to cable/Internet phone and music from records to CDs and downloads. The technology that is undoing print is the Internet. In a comparison between information on the Internet vs. print, it becomes apparent that the Internet is easier, faster, cheaper and has new capabilities. But are these the only criteria? Tally says that "print is past its prime and just hasn't been challenged until the Internet." A big factor in the retention of print is the baby boomer generation who is still attached. "But generations X, Y and Z are totally digital," he explains. Tally thinks the paperless office was premature, but we are close now with digital photography input, DAM (digital asset management), small terabyte storage and the Web for distribution. "The big and only holdback," according to Tally," is monitors. When the display issue is resolved, print will disappear." "The iPod is just the start," Tally continues. Print replacements already in place include online training, online forms, e-contracts, mapping and the PDF revolution. "The iPod is the beginning of downloaded books and images. The Google books and library project, MSN and Yahoo will be the new publishers. When the display issue is resolved, print will disappear. The iPod is the beginning of downloaded books and images. The Google books and library project, MSN, and Yahoo will be the new publishers. Howie Fenton's position is that print isn't going to die and is evolving. "Demand for traditional products is slowing, but others are growing," he explained. "On demand printing is growing by 16 percent. Variable data and direct mail are increasingly effective. Color pages are growing." Meanwhile, he pointed to the fact that the Internet will have its problems, such as less attention being paid to email due to excessive spamming. As opposed to being a total competitor, "printers are using the opportunities of the Internet for ordering, estimating, proofing, templates and job tracking," Fenton defended. He emphasized that studies show that cross media marketing (multiple kinds of media) produce the best results. That includes print. "75 percent of everything printed has a sales and marketing opportunity," Fenton added, " There has been a shift in ad dollars from TV to print and other media. Variable data, in particular, gets through the swamp of advertising." 75 percent of everything printed has a sales and marketing opportunity. Ad dollars have shifted from TV to print and other media. Variable data, in particular, gets through the swamp of advertising. Fenton pointed out that not all technologies were totally replaced, but are still around. For instance, "TV did not replace radio. Radio still has priority use, for instance, in the car." This brings us to ask which applications will survive regardless of the Internet. Packaging? Special substrates such as foil? If radio survived because of the auto, where will print survive? Both Tally and Fenton agree that there will be a resurgence in reading. But Taz says it will be online and Howie says it will be in print. So it seems to come back to the display. Is it pie-in-the-sky to think we will ever have a display that functions like paper--the convenience, lightness, and low cost? How long has this been a dream? I am thinking that we use multiple printed documents in our homes in many locations. Books by the bed, newspaper in the kitchen/den, telephone directory by the phone. Will we be carrying this display around and use it for everything? Or, will we have multiple displays in different locations? Does every family member have their own display? Are the displays sitting all over the house? Or, are we carrying them with us in a display holder on our body? How will it be large enough to offer ease of reading, but small enough to go in the pocket? Does it "fold" and go in the pocket like paper? Or will our eyes evolve to view small screens? Tally and Fenton agree that there will be a resurgence in reading. But Taz says it will be online and Howie says it will be in print. Another concern is that documents, such as newspapers, are often more than a searchable bunch of articles. In the paper version we have the editor's opinion of the importance of topics. You may start to read one article on a page, but then see another that attracts your attention. But you would not have searched for it since you didn't know it existed. Searchability can lose the editorial eye. Also, advertisers will not benefit from displays that are too highly searchable. They count on print to force you to look at their message while getting the info you are looking for. With a smaller screen, not enough can be communicated unless you click for more info on an ad. Looking not 15 years out, but in the near future, the monitor that will replace papers seems a long way off. I agree with Fenton that meanwhile, "printers must add value. They need to survey customers, have focus groups and determine what their customers need and provide it." This is a good time to make changes before the ultimate monitor gets here. It's a good time not to be unconscious.

 

 

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