The Printing Industry Once Again Misses the Point

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.

Tom Marin is the president of MarketCues, a national consulting firm. Tom serves as a senior advisor and change-management consultant with 35 years of experience. He has worked for some of the world’s largest corporations, as well as middle-market firms. Tom's focus is to plan and drive strategy shifts and strategic growth programs in the printing industry and a diverse range of market areas.
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  • Paul Gardner

    Tom, Good point, and thanks for the clarity!

    But much of the trouble for traditional printers stems from a lack of understanding, that not everything that’s printed is about communication.

    While constructing the original Map of Print a few years back, my partner, Duane Michaelis and I came to realize that there are two other arenas in which printing plays large; Decoration and Fabrication.

    Although the Traditional Printing Industry continues to shrink, printing is alive and well, and is being practiced on a massive scale by people and organizations that would never think of themselves as printers – often with devices not likely to be found in a traditional printing company.

    And often producing printed stuff that is not primarily intended to communicate a message.

  • Brooke

    I have to disagree Tom. The issue at hand is not which is better, print or digital. The issue is the paperless campaigns claim that somehow, going paperless saves trees. I have seen more than one tweet state that if they took the "save trees" comment out of their materials, then the printing industry would have no beef. There is no problem with them promoting their products and services, however when they choose to villainize another industry in the process by using false claims… well, let the hashtag takeover begin.

  • Deborah Corn

    Brooke, I totally agree with you and appreciate that comment more than you will ever know! VIVA TWITTER! :)

  • Werner Rebsamen

    Thanks Tom, great article. We should all be most grateful for the digital age.
    Now, all thanks to easy to use computers and software, we print and bind more books than ever before. Yes, traditional titles (300’000) take a hit with e-publications. But take a look at the annual 3 million + titles published of non-traditional titles and you get the message. Those are only the ones registered with the Library of Congress! With other word, there are many more. Add to that photo books, which are mostly hardcover bound. Hardcover, short-run machinery supplier’s business is so good, they have a hard time to supply the demands for their products. It’s an exiting age. Sorry for all those who complain "things are not like they used to be." All I can suggest to them is – wake up and join the progress!"
    Werner Rebsamen, Professor Emeritus RIT

  • Marcus Ginder

    A very succinct and balanced observation of the print industry… and the opportunities that come from embracing change instead of fighting it.

  • AccuGuy

    Its not one or the other, but both that are needed in today’s market.

  • Michael Jahn

    you might enjoy reading this analysis – it was not Google doing this in the first place – it was Hello Fax.