Remember the article that appeared in the daily version of our newsletter a couple of weeks ago? Despite it being aggregated content, the piece managed to piss a lot of people off. It was written by a Patch editor in California...Patch is the AOL-backed effort to produce community Websites in about 17 states. Anyway, the writer lamented that she wanted to see the catalog go the way of the 8-track tape and the Yugo. (I think Patch would like to see newspapers join that list.)
One of the charges that the writer made—and it was really intended to be a light-hearted piece, not a scathing indictment of print—is that catalogs are not eco-friendly. Well, I'd had it by that point and flipped over my cubicle desk, sending pens, notepads, Diet Coke bottles and my Jesse Williamson figurines crashing to the floor. These brainless goofs who spout off about how we should consider the environment before printing something out, and wondering how many trees died in order to produce a so-and-so. (Answer: 25 so-and-sos equal one tree.)
And so I fired off an angry rant to the writer, Genevieve Suzuki, chastising her line of thinking and pointing out that the paper industry plants more f#&*! trees than all of the tree huggers in California combined. I railed at her about how paper is a renewable resource and the most recycled, that it is responsibly and scientifically harvested, and that acres of land aren't clear cut to produce millions of copies of Hustler
magazine. It is a mail list issue, not an affront to nature, when people receive catalogs they do not want.
But, after the nitroglycerin kicked in and all of my vitals returned to normal, something occurred to me: This perception of print and its impact on the environment is the printing industry's fault. It's the publishing industry's fault. The mailers. The paper people. All of us! For shame! (Picture a finger-brushing-over-finger admonishing, if that helps.)
The conditions are ideal for anti-print sentiment. The economy still stinks, so the media are awash with tales of how people are downsizing their consumption, their homes, their bellies, you name it. Greening is everywhere and the psychological value of going green, I truly believe, is leaps and bounds ahead of the actual good that such initiatives provide for the environment. I constantly wince when I hear "green" and think of the George Carlin comedy bit
about our impact on the earth, which helps to restore my sanity.
Electronic continues to make inroads; the digital book market share, for example, is fast approaching 10 percent. Newspapers are fighting the good fight, but they're still taking a beating. The perception of print—accurate or not—is one of an antiquated technology. To quote Family Guy's Peter Griffin, "I'd rip a phone book in half, but for the life of me, I don't know anyone who uses one."
Given the mass perception, have we reached the point where the truth no longer matters? To that, I say no.
As purveyors of the print gospel, we should be front and center when it comes to educating people about the truth behind print and paper consumption. Finch has sponsored forestry tours the past few years, and though they were preaching to the choir given their audience, I learned a great deal about tree harvesting and the science behind it when I toured the company's upstate NY land in August of 2009. Damn, I thought, if someone who supports print as much as I do can be so enlightened following a 30-minute tour, imagine the good that can be done if we take the word to the masses?
Perception does matter. The road to irrelevancy is paved by indifference. If we continue to sneer at the great, unwashed masses and their lack of enlightenment, we have no one else to point fingers at but ourselves as society continues to divest itself of printed materials—magazines, books, newspapers—in favor of digital alternatives. We don't need to be conceding ground in any markets at this juncture.
We all know print is beautiful and necessary; all we need now is a message and a medium to spread the word. A crafty point person is needed to assemble a pro-print campaign for television, newspaper and the Internet. Especially TV. Maybe use Pazazz's Warren Werbitt as one of the actors. His Printing's Alive
YouTube videos are rousing, but the only people seeing them are in the game. Take tree huggers on these Finch tours and let them see, first hand, the truth behind forestry management.
The general public needs to be aware of the critical role that print plays in our daily lives. We can't keep taking a beating in the court of public opinion. How are we going to encourage colleges and universities to continue offering printing and graphics programs when an entire generation of students are going to regard print as dead?
The resources are there, both financial and intellectual. The organizational arteries boasted by the associations are already in place. We need to cross-pollinate these associations and create a pro-print marketing monster. It needs to be memorable, funny, informational and enlightening. But, most of all, it needs to reach the masses.
Look, we've had various campaigns in recent years from different factions—the Print Council and its "Print Delivers initiative," International Paper and its recent Go Paper. Grow Trees," effort, among others. But like the printing industry itself, these campaigns are too fragmented. We don't have our cannons pointing in the same direction at the same time. The anti-print troops are lined up along our borders and they're picking us off one by one.
Bottom line: Printing's greatest enemies have little in common, yet they are all 'on message.' The printing, paper, mailing, etc., folks are looking out for their own interests, but it's high time for a little big picture perspective. We must unite for a common purpose.
We've been telling each other, for about the past 10 years, that print isn't going away. Now, someone else needs to hear it.