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Hamilton--Print - It's Not Dead Yet!

April 2000
The impact of the Web on print was discussed at the recent Seybold conference in Boston. And, if I'm not mistaken, one of the conference chairs—and a fellow Printing Impressions columnist—is of the opinion that print media is now on a downward trend. But is print dead, or even dying?

To be sure, a variety of printed materials will be phased out. Definitely fewer reference materials, for example, will be printed; the information is far more accessible through electronic means.

However, as a character in a Monty Python movie cries, "I'm not dead yet!" Right now, many Internet mavens (new media mavericks?) seem to view the Web and print as competitive media in a zero-sum game. What one gains must come at the expense of the other. There are several problems with this model.

First, it is not a zero-sum game, as the advertising on the Super Bowl demonstrated. Two years ago this revenue stream did not even exist for the networks. But, for that event, the dotcom companies spent staggering amounts of money on broadcast media—and continue to do so in newspapers—because they have the same problem as everyone else in our information-overloaded society: clutter. While such spending will certainly abate as time goes by—and venture capital dries up—Internet ventures will need to complement their online presence with promotions in other media.

Second, as bandwidth opens up, the hot competition will arise between television and the Web. Already, network and cable executives have noticed that their ratings are declining with younger, Web-savvy viewers in the 18-39 age groups. And, with an infinite number of programmable channels and the ability to interact simultaneously with chat groups in real time, the Web is likely to siphon off an increasing number of viewers. The bottom line is that a pure "push" strategy is not going to cut it in the future—irrespective of the means by which a message is delivered.

Finally, the public is just waking up to the whole privacy issue, and it will likely turn into a political hot potato. During a Congressional hearing on privacy, Sun Microsystems' CEO Scott McNealy told people to "get over it," but I don't think they will. Already, companies such as DoubleClick are restricting the types of information they sell.

Where does printing stand in this brave new world? Actually, in pretty good stead. Smearing ink on smashed trees will continue to deliver value, but it will require a new approach, and the Web is a critical part of this. Fortunately, the enabling technologies are now maturing. In particular, digital printing engines with variable data front ends are now commercially viable, which means they actually work well enough that you can make money using them. Databases are ubiquitous, but the missing link—a reliable means of importing and exporting information among different companies—is now beginning to take hold in the form of XML.


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