Enough already with the print is not dead

Instead, let’s talk about all the great things that print is  

As I sit to write this piece, struggling for inspiration and wisdom, I check my LinkedIn news feed for some quick diversion and I’m caught by a post boldly proclaiming that print is not dead. The post is hopeful and colourful and offers up twelve truths to back up its claim.

Here are some:

Print is easy to process because it requires 21% less cognitive effort than digital media.

84% of Americans retain a company’s name when they receive promotional gifts with a company’s logo on it.

60% of consumers make a brand their first choice when it engages their senses

Print is available in large or small numbers, can be made in any format and has no creative limits.

Print is accessible because there is no device, WIFI, username or password required.

Print is everywhere – at work and at home. It helps us be productive, informed and entertained.

Print is personal – 61% of consumers feel more positive about a brand when marketing messages are personalized.

Print is unique. It can create an entirely unique print experience for every recipient on your list.

Print is a team effort – the industry [in the U.S.] employs more than 400,000 people.

We all love print 

I don’t mean to be crabby, but I can’t tell you how tired I am of stories like these. I know why they get produced. I know the creators mean well and they believe in and love this industry. I’ve even put great effort into producing stories like these myself, all the while shushing that small squeak in the back of my mind berating me for preaching a fake feel-good message to a choir that desperately wanted to hear one.

Unfortunately, messages like these have no basis in reality, do not accurately reflect what assails this industry, and do nothing to reverse the difficult trends we all experience every day. For one thing, I don’t know what most of these “truths” mean.

If this is the only type of defense we can mount for the industry, then print truly is as good as dead. Because, even though I haven’t done an exact study, I can predict that 97.3% of consumers and other print users and buyers don’t make their decisions about print based on these factors.  Can you imagine going to your clients and telling them to buy more brochures because print is a team effort? Or because print is everywhere?

Resolutions for 2018

I have some propositions for going forward. First, let’s stop saying print isn’t dead. It just puts us on the defensive, and that’s never a good place to be. We’re only talking to ourselves when we do that anyway. This is a still a big industry, showing tremendous resilience under bruising conditions. We – well, you – create beautiful work that still mesmerizes people. Some of it is even profitable. And print technology is expanding its applications to areas that weren’t conceived of ten years ago.

Second, let’s admit that some print is indeed dead. We can all name products that have died or face imminent demise. Foremost, print as a communications tool has a diminished role. That’s not likely to change for several reasons, including evaporating marketing dollars, convenience and costs.

For example, I just listened to a podcast that bemoaned magazine closures and pointed to the tactile feel and smell of the printed pages as reasons to stop the carnage. I get it. But publishers aren’t shuttering printed publications because they want to or because readers don’t enjoy the tactile experience. They are closing them largely because marketers have shifted their money to digital channels. Marketers don’t make decisions based on tactile attributes. They want that mystical ROI and proven conversion rates.

Readers are leaving other printed products behind for convenience. Looking up a phone number on my iPhone is significantly easier than using a phone book. An app is better than a printed map.

But consider that a significant number of people still prefer to read printed books instead of their electronic counterparts. Some of those readers are young people who are otherwise glued to their phones.

So, third, we should develop a clear-eyed understanding of how people consume print so that we can react and sell it accordingly. And that is very difficult indeed, because we live in an age of extreme fragmentation, contradictory trends, innumerable studies, consumer attention spans that are measured in seconds, and a media/communications/marketing landscape that’s changing at the speed of light. It’s almost impossible to make sense of it all, but, the only way to sell print is to make a business case for it.

Let’s promote a print industry that spans beyond print as a communications tool. We all know that inkjet has opened up vast, untapped applications and markets. Textiles, décor, 3D, industrial, packaging – these can now be claimed as printed areas. It should be easy to show ROI or make a value proposition for these products. And it’s a strategy that puts the industry on the offensive.

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