The print vs. digital debate raged in recent weeks between the Printing Industries of America (download the open letter as a pdf
) and the founders of Google. Michael Makin is PIA’s President and CEO. His primary arguments are:
- we all need to protect the environment,
- Google uses a lot of energy running its servers, and
- its Go Paperless Initiative requires the use of non-renewable resources.
Great points really, and no argument here.
On the other hand, Google and its partners have seen the technology-transition writing on the wall—or (computer screen and tablets) is probably more accurate. Adding fuel to the fire is the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stating the average American office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper each year. And, according to the American Forest & Paper Assn., in 2010, the amount of paper recovered for recycling averaged 334 pounds for each person living in the United States.
Google and its digital partners developed a website under the name of “The Paperless Coalition.” The website promotes:
- Google Drive – cloud storage
- HelloFax – online faxing
- Manilla –online bill management
- HelloSign – e-Signatures
- Expensify – online expense reports
- Xero – online business accounting
- Fujitsu ScanSnap scanners
But what is at the heart of their argument? Frankly, it seems to be the natural genesis of a conventional analog industry being moved by the market to go digital.
At the heart of the PIA’s problems lies its shrinking membership. What about all of the printing industry employees who have lost their jobs in an industry that has shrunk by nearly 50 percent in the past 20 years? And by most estimates, the industry will continue to shrink and layoff more employees each year.
And what about all of the wholesale service and manufacturing companies that have drastically shrunk their workforces, not to mention the enormous conventional film companies that are no longer with us?
At the heart of the debate is the long-term viability of print. Major books have been written on the subject; we’re not going to decide the printing industry’s fate in this blog post. But it does seem fairly obvious that the market will ultimately decide how much is or isn’t printed, regardless what PIA or Google—or any other organization, for that matter—thinks.
We could look back to the debate that raged when the automobile was first introduced. The horse, at that time, was the primary mode of transportation. The auto industry, led by Mr. Ford, rated its engine in “horsepower” and that’s something that’s continued to this day. Buggy makers were outraged, as were the wholesalers that produced companion products.
One company understood it was in the leather business, not the transportation business. That company was Coach and it continues to do well even today. The company transitioned from buggy seats to leather for trains and high-end automobiles, and a host of other products—such as purses, cases and wallets. Saddle companies, on the other hand, went out of business.
The printing industry has to figure out—sooner rather than later—that it’s in the communications business, not the printing industry, or suffer the same fate of the saddle makers of years past.
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