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Commentary & Analysis

Where has all the printing gone?

Frank Romano January 19,

By WhatTheyThink Staff
Published: January 19, 2004

Frank Romano January 19, 2004 -- The printing industry has lost some volume of print. When the Public Printer says that half of all federal information is now distributed electronically, the result is that half is no longer printed. The state of Wisconsin saved $23 million by putting their public information on a website in PDF form. The Intel annual report urges readers to use the website so they can save on printing. When we print a short-run on-demand job, we have reduced the volume of print that may have been printed in longer runs with some volume discarded because of obsolescence or lack of sales. Every day we are all exchanging e-mails, PDF and Word files, and more. Our society and our industry have lost some of the volume of all paper-based communication: • Lost to e-mail (effect on direct mail, stationery and envelopes) • Lost to PDF (effect on book and report printing) • Lost to other file formats (effect on report and inter-office communication and reproduction) • Lost to websites (effect on catalog, publication, transaction, and other informational printing) • Lost to CDs (effect on documentation, catalog, and other printing) • Lost to e-books (effect on book printing) • Lost to other media (effect on magazine and journal advertising) • Lost to on-demand (effect on long-run printing). These losses have been hidden by a sluggish economy and the growth of non-print ancillary services, which have increased revenue for printing firms but have hidden a decline in ink- or toner-on-paper revenue. This is confirmed by paper and ink manufacturers who report reductions in paper and ink for printing. The questions to be answered are: Can we quantify that loss and determine how long it will continue? Can we discover reasons for some of that volume to return to paper? It is said that change is not the problem; it is the transition between changes that is the challenge. How might the printing industry transition to a new world order where there may be less print? Or, will the lost print return? Why is it important to quantify a possible loss of print? Because, if we know where the lost print went and why it went, we can develop strategies to possibly get it back. Twenty years ago, print had no real competitor. Today, it has several. Marketers have to decide where they spend their ad dollars. There are now more media than ever before, and marketing budgets do not increase just because there are more media. We cannot hide from the fact that there has been a change in print volume, and the economy is not entirely to blame. Our feeling is that most of the material that will go into other media has already gone and that we are seeing a stasis—a balance or equilibrium—of print and other forms of communication. Please offer your feedback to Frank. fxrppr@rit.edu



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