The Internet has been buzzing with reports of the demise of printing. The book industry in particular has been all aflutter about The Kindle, The Nook, and iPad. Are they right? Have electronics finally won? Is printing dead?
I am old enough to remember all of the predictions of a paperless office. Computers were supposed to eliminate the need for paper. Instead, printing flourished at a time when the era of paper was sure to be over.
It is different this time. Although I think it is too early to write off printing, I do believe that the boom we saw with the advent of computers won’t repeat. The business climate has changed, not only for now, but also for the future. There are several reasons for this:
- Direct Mail Advertising has been wounded–not fatally, not yet.
- The first arrow to strike was postal charges. Unfortunately, the post office has a blind spot when it comes to pricing. They don’t understand that there is a direct correlation between rising prices and declining customers. The higher stamps cost, the more people turned away. The US post office has been the greatest friend email could ever have.
- The second arrow was the Internet. Websites provide options that ink on paper can never duplicate and at incredible prices. Electronic advertising has eliminated much of the need for media. No paper. No ink. No presses.
- The third arrow was the recession. Companies of all sizes hunkered down behind walls of cash refusing to spend until the customers were ready to buy. The customers, of course, having lost jobs, having had salaries decreased, and in a tightening credit market find themselves unable to buy. It’s what is known as (with apologies to our neighbors south of the US) a Mexican standoff. Where were the easiest places to cut their budgets? Printing, particularly direct mail.
- The fourth arrow is book readers. Book readers are coming on strong. I myself, love books. I have a well-stocked home library, but there are books I can get free and others that I would like to be more portable. I, the defender of printing, will get a reader for myself. Actually I already have one in my iPhone, but every book bought electronically is a book that isn’t printed.
- Form Printing and Envelopes have taken one to the chest.
- Nearly everyone uses on-line forms to pay bills, buy something, or get credit. It’s quick, user friendly, and no one has to buy a stamp or wait several days for delivery.
- The changes is bill paying greatly reduce the need for envelopes. From the millions upon millions of envelopes purchased by the financial industry alone to a bare trickle.
- Catalogs, Newspapers, and Magazines are dropping dead in their tracks.
- Pundits warned us of the paperless office, but they didn’t tell us about the paperless home. Who could have predicted a family breakfast scene without the father figure sitting behind the daily news? Oh sure, we still have many of the same magazines, but their page counts are down to half or more. And their sell price has gone up. They raise prices and just as surely decrease buyers.
- Catalogs are experiencing the same problems as magazines. It costs too much to mail, so they reduce their page count. The point where catalogs split from magazines is the Internet. Newspapers and magazines have served for hundreds of years as paid information sources. Information on the Internet has been free. People expect the Internet to be free and therefore they are unwilling to pay. Catalogs never had, and never will have a paid subscriber base.
I could go on, but I think you get the idea. Printing has changed and many of the changes are permanent. All that being said, I’m optimistic about the future. There are innovations introduced all the time to make printing, better, cheaper, and faster. The Internet for all its puffery and bluster has been proven to be less effective than direct mail as an advertising medium. Yes, you can get a great CPM (cost per thousand) but there is such a massive overwhelm that customers have learned to tune the advertising out. If you want a buyer to pay attention to your message, put something in their hands.