Commentary & Analysis
Toshiba's No-Print Day is Awkward and Scandalous, But Don’t Let It Divert You from Bigger Trends
The industry's hackles have been raised by Toshiba's No-Print Day, and it's ironic that the company picks a date with some historical importance for print to hold the event. Toshiba's thinking needs to be confronted, but engagement with their audiences is a more important action for our associations and our businesses.
By Dr. Joe Webb
Published: June 18, 2012
Last week’s announcement of Toshiba’s No-Print Day for October 23, with its supporting website and video, was rather scandalous. “Everybody knows” that using paper is “bad,” so the idea of proposing such a day had to seem like a real no-brainer. Just a hunt around cyberspace could provide needed data, and off the campaign went. Now we’re stuck with effects of their sloppiness while they're stuck with their own marketing shallowness. I'm sure it seemed like a slam-dunk daring marketing idea at the time.
The campaign is a great springboard for our industry associations to get into action: now there is a target for our information. Most of the past initiatives against print were from environmental activist organizations that usually get the benefit of the doubt in the mind of the public and the press. After all, who could be against protecting the environment? It's impossible to play offense in these situations, and whenever you play defense you sound like a whiny loser trying to protect selfish interests.
When not attempting to thwart actions of specific organizations with specific actions, such as DoNotMail, association actions were taken against “misconceptions" held by some nebulous portion of the general public. This time, however, a company, and also a supplier to our industry in its shop floor production equipment and in its back offices, has created a shoddy anti-print campaign. Now the industry message has a specific target it can confront: Toshiba. Everyone can love environmental groups. Everyone can imagine the stereotype of the big, evil, multinational companies, who will stop at nothing to make profits, including poisoning the customers who buy their products. Corporate executives are always fighting that stereotype, and trying to walk an imaginary tightrope of correctness. This time, Toshiba could not even put one foot in front of the other, but certainly inserted at least one into its corporate mouth.
This incident is almost like the one in late Spring 2007 where Adobe made a deal with FedExKinko's to supply free Adobe Reader versions with the capability to send documents, automatically, to the closest Kinko’s. At that time, industry associations acted quickly, Adobe’s actions were confronted, and the company backed off.
Last week, the most interesting response was from PIASC, whose director, Bob Lindgren, has been so proactive with the Choose Print initiative. He wrote to his members under the headline “Beyond Absurd.” Since Toshiba is in Irvine, right in PIASC's backyard, it must have been particularly annoying. At one of the PIASC events, a member won an award based on a project they did for the medical division of Toshiba. (Unfortunately, Bob's comments have not been posted online). In another e-mail, PIASC members were encouraged to “voice your opposition to Toshiba's proposed National No-Print Day either by writing a letter or through Social Media,” and then supplied contact information for Toshiba America Business Solutions executives such as Mark E. Mathews, President & CEO, Bill Melo, Vice President Marketing Services & Solutions, and the company's PR contact Sun Choi, (for those who would like the address of the company, it's 2 Musick, Irvine, CA 92618-1631 and the general phone is (949) 462-6000).
The mascot of the program is Tree Birch, who even has a LinkedIn page. (I always feel sorry for people who have to wear those big character costumes, having been recruited to be Tigger at a Bronx Zoo event honoring Winnie the Pooh when I was in college. I don't know if the Tree Birch costume is biodegradable or not, but I know for certain the guy wearing it is. Those outfits are so hot, as I learned, that the prospect of spontaneously biodegrading seems possible... and for a tree outfit, that can be kind of strange.)
PIASC also directed members to the campaign's Facebook page, and it was gratifying to see so many posts from printers on the site (and especially Katherine O'Brien of American Printer who was very active there). Get to the site and make sure you “like” the comments of our industry participants and especially printers. The Print Council issued a release, but the only place I could find it online was here at WhatTheyThink. The Print Council site has not updated its press release page since 2010. No one, at least that I could detect, from the Council was engaging Toshiba in social media. Printing Industries of America did have a press release, which could be found on its site, with the headline “Printing Industries of America Announces Print Will Be Alive on Toshiba’s National No-Print Day.” PIA realized that the release would generate hits, and linked to other documents and pages about the value of print. There was no encouragement of members to engage Toshiba in social media. There was no statement that I could find from NAPL. A search of the NAPL site for “Toshiba” came up with nothing. (NAPL did finally issue a statement on June 20).
The Twitter page for the program was much more active. Print supporters seemed to be outnumbering other Tweeters, with links to numerous resources about print and sustainability, and I saw some PIA folks posting there.
In reviewing the industry response to Toshiba, I'm concerned that it may have no serious follow-through. Sure, some of the press releases were great, but for the most part the industry did not have the diversity of media that is really required. A press release has to be found on your organization's site, and whoever is responsible for sending it has to be active in promoting it online. It's clear that some of the “Lords of Printing” still don't understand the tactical shift of this media age: immediate action and relentless engagement. Otherwise we become part of the old joke that ends with “... strong letter follows.”
It remains to be seen what will happen in this regard. The biggest point to be made in engaging those who support No-Print Day is that when it comes to environmental processes, there is a tendency to simplify and stereotype and not realize the intertwined relationships and transactions that are wider and deeper than anyone can easily detect. Things are not always what they seem; it’s usually the unseen aspects of complex relationships that are most important.
It’s not just the associations that need to act in Toshiba’s case. It’s essential that any of the companies who own Toshiba equipment, no matter what division they are from, or who print for Toshiba and its dealers, make their displeasure, and the facts, known. If you have Toshiba equipment, make it clear to their salespeople that Toshiba’s actions are likely to hurt your business—and theirs. Ask your distributor to contact Toshiba in addition to contacting them yourself. If you deal with any division of Toshiba, make your concerns clear.
In the end, Toshiba's decision is so greatly out of context, it's silly and unnecessary if not irrelevant. It is a battle they are winning without the need for statistical mischief, and they're not smart enough to know it. As I noted earlier this year (see chart), the inflation-adjusted per capita consumption of commercial print in the US peaked in 1995 when it was $515. The year is important because it was the IPO of Netscape, generally viewed as the event marking the public use of the Internet. By 2011, consumption had fallen to $268. If the shipment trends of early 2012 play out for the entire year, it will be $255, less than half what it was in 1995. In 1995, commercial printing employment historically peaked at just under 820,000, and ended 2011 with almost 460,000 workers, a -360,000 decline.
Why pile on an opponent that's already down? Print is already being muscled out by other media. Andy Tribute had it right earlier this week. On No-Print Day, Toshiba should get the Greenwashing Company of the Year Award.
Historical Trivia about October 23 as No-Print Day
I was scouting around online to see if there was a print-related event in history that would be ironic. There is. In 1760, sixteen years before the U.S. Declaration of Independence, October 23 marked the printing of the first US-produced Jewish prayer books. How fitting that there could be a tie-in between print and freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion, key reasons for our founding, together in one event. Thank you, Toshiba.
But Don’t Let the Toshiba Kerfuffle Divert Your Attention! Environmental Issues are Not the Driving Force in Print Demand Trends
If someone could wave a magic wand and make the environmental issues and perceptions about print disappear, we would still have to deal with the effects of the Internet, social media, mobile communications, decreasing costs of computing, decreasing costs of communications and increasing speeds of those communications technologies. Environmental issues are an important backdrop and a convenient excuse, but the constant changes in communications options are at core trend makers.
The drivers of the declines in print demand are the convenience, lower cost, and widening choices that anyone has to access content. Convenience and immediacy of access are what make digital alternatives to print so compelling, and those two aspects of content access seem to be unstoppable.
Using electronic media reduces immediate costs for the user. Smartphones, tablets, notebooks, and desktops, when connected to the Internet and other networks, save people time and money. The increasing robustness of mobile devices in years to come should be counted on as inevitable.
Content needs to be where consumers and users of content want it to be at a time of the consumer’s choosing. This is a radical shift from the old content structure of content creators choosing the time and place of consumption of their content.
Consulting firm Deloitte Digital posted an interesting chart online recently (clicking it will make it full size). “Digital Disruption” is loaded with curious data, some for entertainment purposes, such as there are 4.8 billion mobile phones and 4.2 billion owners of toothbrushes. (By the way... that's a reminder that old technologies, like toothbrush products, still have upside in companies like P&G and others; it's not just “glamor” electronics). It does get serious, noting 1.2 million current mobile web users, with a forecast that mobile will surpass desktop use by 2014.
The print business strategy has to be rooted in some manner in diversified communications, often in management rather than production. These data offer further confirmation.
A Personal Note: Dr. Joe's Relocation and Other News
This is the last column I will be writing from northern Rhode Island, our home for the last 22 years. We're off to Raleigh NC as these new “empty-nesters” relocate to a better climate for weather and business. I look forward to meeting with many of you in the area. Some of you have followed the adventures of our son, Dan. A few weeks ago, he graduated from Bryant University. Since I was always “frugal,” I would bring airline magazines home after my trips. Other industry folks would mail them directly to Dan. From the time he was eight or so, it turns out he was studying the route maps in those magazines. This interest led to his choice of numerous term paper topics in high school, his choice of major and courses in college, internships, and his employment. He's now in Denver and works for Frontier Airlines. Mom and Dad are proud, and thanks so much to all of you for your hospitality and generous friendship with him through the years.