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Economics & Research Blog

Beware the iPhone: It's a Way of Avoiding Print


By Dr. Joe Webb
Published: September 10, 2008

Okay, I'm a media child of the 1970s, and I remember the Saturday Night Live routine with Chevy Chase that lampooned consumer goods advertising at the time. A husband (Dan Aykroyd) and wife (the late Gilda Radner) are fighting over a can of what looks like whipped cream, with one saying “it's a dessert topping” and the other saying “no, it's a floor cleaner.” Chase, comes in to save the day and says, “no, it's a floor cleaner AND a dessert topping.”

This recent story about the use of iPhone in college classrooms is a reminder that the computer is, at its very core, a computer. The article begins “Abilene Christian University will hand out Apple's iPhone 3G smartphone to two-thirds of this year's entering class of 950 freshmen. Students will be expected to use the devices to brainstorm ideas and get virtual handouts and podcasts during class. Instructors will use them for such tasks as monitoring attendance.”

Some colleges have experimented with iPods over the years, but the iPhone is a far better option because of its superior interface and that it has communications capabilities.

If the iPhone is not a concern, then think about the Amazon Kindle. There have been many reports in the last few weeks of a larger Kindle which Amazon will use to enter the textbook market. Think of it: students can download “books” directly into the Kindle using its cellular connection. But also think of this: publishers can finally kill the used book market. It's not a big leap to change the sale of a book to a leasing or licensing format, and just have access to the book “expire.”

Digital rights management schemes have not done all that well, as the music industry learned. But DRM for textbooks, business, and technical publications may very well be the area that it does.

After months of rumors and reports, Esquire magazine finally published their anniversary edition with an e-paper front cover. If you can't get one, there is video of it online. Of course, computer geeks have already hacked into it.

We are living in amazing times for computer technologies and for print. We've been running forecasting models of the printing industry based on the natural statistical trends already inherent in the industry. We'll finish this year at about $97 billion. One model has us at $60 billion, in today's dollars, by 2018. The other model, which unfortunately has a good record of reliability, has us at $12 billion.

Statistics and models don't determine where our industry ends up. Entrepreneurs do.

iPhones, e-books, e-paper, and others are great opportunities for those who choose to see them that way. The first step is to learn about them. The second step to to introduce the concepts to your customers and find neat ways to use them, with the printing business as a partner. That takes an entrepreneur's courage: do we have it?

Dr. Joe Webb is one of the graphic arts industry's best-known consultants, forecasters, and commentators. He is the director of WhatTheyThink's Economics and Research Center.



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