So, where is print going? (The Paperless Tiger - CANVAS Magazine)

The supposed “end of print” actually may be something of a renewal. The paperless trend in favor of digital content that surfaced a few years ago has indeed had an impact on print, but some of the results have been surprising. Invigorating even.

Just ask Phil Riebel, president and COO of Two Sides U.S. Inc. Riebel says that in some ways, the paperless movement has given print a chance to shine. “If anything, I believe the value [of print] is higher because it stands out more than in the past due to all the electronic and digital distractions that surround us and demand our attention.”

Disappointed with digital?

The recent paperless trend had tried to capitalize on the access and perceived convenience of digital platforms. Magazines and other publications started trying out digital versions of their publications as a way to differentiate. Newspapers switched to more web-based content to better compete with the blogosphere that was syphoning off revenue. Schools and businesses looked at ways to cut down on material costs with iPads over brochures or books. Marketers have experimented with email blasts and online delivery, with mixed results.

And to be sure, these mediums are valid competitors – ones that are not going away. But publishers and marketers are finding they aren’t the slam-dunk delivery platforms they may have thought they were (spam filters, anyone?).

There also have been some unintended consequences. “I think the switch to digital is having some major social impacts that we still don’t quite understand,” Riebel says. “From an educational point of view, I am not sure it’s for the best. Reading on paper may be better for deep understanding of text, compared to clicking and browsing using an electronic device, which offers so many distractions. Writing on paper is also beneficial for learning and memory compared to typing.”

Studies show that the value of print is as strong as ever. “The value of print today is just like yesterday,” says Thomas R. Wright, senior director of advertising and design for Neenah. “It informs, through the element of touch. It can lead to persuasion. To me, going paperless is going digital with reference material. Any print material that does not need to deliver emotion can and is going digital – some spaces faster than others depending on demographics. But resource information can sit in the cloud and be endlessly updated.”

Patti Groh, director of marketing communications at Sappi, says print also carries with it an element of trust. “People continue to not only believe what they read in print, but to expect an element of print to introduce them to new products and services, especially those at the higher end of the price spectrum. Luxury brands find that the heavy weight of a tactile piece of paper with beautiful imagery and smart copy is a key element in influencing buying decisions. It is dependable.”

What’s really more renewable?

Indeed, the idea that digital delivery is more environmentally friendly than print can be misleading. “The so-called benefits are usually only a perception with no evidence backing them up,” Riebel says. “For example, a recent Danish study showed that e-billing is more costly than paper bills because many people were ignoring their bills and not paying them. Hence the company spent more money chasing after customers via customer service calls, in order to get the bills paid. So they went back to paper bills.”

What many consumers may not realize is both paper and electronic have environmental impacts. “The impacts of the electronic world is actually growing rapidly and, today, the carbon footprint of the ICT sector is already twice that of the print and paper sector…and continuing to grow,” Riebel says. “My key concern is the vast amount on non-renewable resources ICT uses, especially with things such as metals from questionable sources like rebel-operated mines in the Congo.”

Meanwhile, paper has unique sustainable features, such as renewability of its primary raw material, high levels of recyclability (65 percent and up), high levels of renewable energy use (biomass) and it stores carbon for its lifetime. Well-managed forests also are key to helping our planet deal with climate change. (See “Sustainable” sidebar on page xx.)

“We can manage forests properly and also get the environmental, social and economic benefits of doing this,” Riebel says. “How many products do we have that can accomplish this?”

The future of print revealed

Ask the card carrying members of the printing services industry about the sustainability of paper, and they will tell you the truth as they see it – print is not going anywhere.

“The future is ever-changing, so it’s hard to be sure how paper and print integrate with technology,” Wright says. “The only certain item in my mind is that fiber and bits will become closer, each specializing in delivering information in the most optimum way.”

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