E-Devices: Print’s FrenemyJune 2011 By Erik Cagle
An ancient saying attributed to Chinese author, philosopher and general Sun-tzu offers great insight into the attitude the printing industry should take toward digital devices such as electronic readers, smart phones and iPads: Keep your friends close and your enemies closer. But, whether it was a 400 B.C. general or fictional mobster Michael Coreleone who uttered the phrase, one thing's certain: It pays to know thine enemy and, if necessary, put him to work for you.
Fact of the matter is, printing has been under attack almost from the moment that Johannes Gutenberg kicked off the moveable type printing era in the 15th century. Radio, television, the Internet, the George Foreman grill—all the revolutions of the past 100 years—have threatened to steal away print's market share. While each revolution has been met with an evolution of print, the current wave of electronic devices—e-readers, smart phones, tablets—threatens to provide the stiffest test and harvest the greatest market share to date.
The Writing Is on the Wall
But, opportunities abound for printers to leverage electronic alternatives, particularly for clients who want to have multi-channel connectivity with consumers, be it in books, magazines, advertisements, direct mail, etc. It seems clear, or at least it should by now, that consumers want what they want, when they want it and how they want it presented to them. The likelihood of a single platform being recognized as the sacred cow across any segment is highly unlikely; and, in order to appease the masses across numerous platforms, printers need to become adept at as many technologies as possible.
This article will explore three major print segments impacted by electronic devices, with one major exception. A thorough, interesting look at the added value that Quick Response (QR) codes bring to print, written by Heidi Tolliver-Nigro, appeared in the April issue of Printing Impressions (“Value-Add for Printers : Make Money with QR Codes”) and will not be addressed here.
Books: The Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook and the Sony Reader are three of the leading devices in the e-reader space, but by no means are they the only ones. About 10 percent of consumer trade book sales are digital, and certainly much of that growth can be attributed to hard-core readers who are taking advantage of another outlet to satiate their thirst for literature.