Why Should We Keep Print Alive?

I’ve been following a group on Twitter called #helpprintthrive. It’s a discussion about how the printing industry can, well, thrive.

I’ve spent the last 20+ years in the printing industry…and I’m as much for keeping the industry viable as the next person, but I’m starting to have second thoughts.

In discussions I’ve had with many people in the industry, I haven’t really heard many good reasons why the industry deserves my support. “You have to support print—just because it’s print.” That’s not good enough for me. And I don’t think it’s good enough for most people.

Every morning, I go outside and pick up my newspaper only to have 10 circulars fall out on the ground, or these days, in the snow. These are generic ads trying to get me to buy something I have no interest in buying or even looking at. And today’s insert took the cake…an empty paper grocery bag with just a logo on it. I’m about ready to cancel my print subscription and just read the online version.

The sad thing is, I’m a customer of most of these advertisers and they know what I buy— but obviously they just don’t care. “Don’t push ‘everything under the sun’ at me just because you are too lazy or inconsiderate to care about my time and attention…and the garbage cans I’m filling up.”

And I’m going to add printers to this rant too. The print industry can’t expect its clients to know all the great one-to-one customization options available—options that focus on effective communication, not print spam. It’s the industry’s job to educate, not just be an order taker. And to printers that don’t offer these options…get with the program.

In fact, I believe a good portion of the blame lies with the print industry. It seems like too many of the reasons to “Keep print alive.” come out of tradition.

Clay's recruiting and strategic consulting efforts over the past 20 years have provided firms in the printing and communications industries the talent and perspective that has enabled them to navigate the constant change they’ve faced. His current company, the bleedingEDGE, provides digital printing firms with 1:1 marketing solutions that enable their small- and medium-sized clients to compete with larger competitors using a cooperative strategy and production model. In addition to the normal 1:1 marketing techniques of personalization and customization, the bleedingEDGE incorporates timing strategies, generational analysis and sociological factors in producing results well above the norm.
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  • http://PatLeBeau Pat LeBeau

    I find it interesting that this author claims the “online industry doesn’t tout itself just because it’s online.” It is a steady drumbeat from their industry claiming the efficiency of social media to stay in touch and blogs for information and opinions (see above) and that this is the future of all things. In fact, they go out of their way to target print as a villain to privacy and the environment (see above).

    I will also set the environmental issues aside, but it is proper and should be expected that the industry stand up for itself. If it had done so early on, maybe we wouldn’t have to change so many minds regarding the environmental impact of print.

    One thing is for sure – anyone who has tried to market exclusively online has learned the hard lesson that “nothing happens until somebody prints something!”

  • http://Les Les

    I have been a pressman for almost 40 years and it has kept a lot of people working and with a good wage, can you say the same for the electronic spam I get every day. Trees are just a crop cut one down, plant three. Can you say the same for plastic computer that are out of date when you buy it? Keep Canada working pulp and paper. Wake up people.

  • http://robreichstein rob reichstein

    We tend to speak and think in terms of absolutes. All or nothing. Truth is, we should talk in spacial coordinates.
    Time and Place.

    I have sold print for over 35 years. Millions of dollars worth of printed products I sold in the old days like technical manuals have yielded to digital distribution. We, as an industry, will never get that print business back.
    So over the years we stayed alive by doing cd duplication, then grew direct mail and purl programs, web to print portals. We found things to print, but we also found revenue streams to compliment them. Unlike most of last century when you could put in a press and sell orders relatively easily.

    But to say that nothing is sold unless something is printed, well that is just inaccurate as well. Billy Mays sold $$ of products without a brochure or mailing.

    Print still has a purpose,
    social media has a purpose,
    and digital delivery has a purpose. I do believe that service providers (printers) need to develop marketing and financial strategies other than faster, cheaper, better, they (we) will survive. The print market is certainly different than it was decades ago, but with a vision it will live on.

    I heard a good joke years back about the last successful buggy whip manufacturer. He made more money selling his buggy whips when he marketed them for “personal use” than he ever made selling to horse owners. I tried to keep it clean but think you get the meaning.

    Time and place.

  • http://BrianR. Brian R.

    Dear Clay,

    After reading your blog and following comments, I’ll try to be brief. Much like you, I have been involved in prepress LIKE….ALL MY FREAKIN’ LIFE!!! I was running 2 & 4 color presses in high school at 15 and when I first laid eyes on a Mac and Laserwriter (which cost over $3,500 at that time) I knew I had a complete printing company called “Me, Myself & I.

    Then, 1994-1998 rolled by and technology advanced as did the graduates of the same art school I attended in 1980-82. My first email account at Yahoo only required 4 digits and life was good. I was making about $100-125 per hour as an Apple Authorized VAR & with my graphic background, every print firm in S. Florida was more than happy to pay me for my time and expertise.

    Today, I struggle to get accounts for business cards and kick myself every day for not learning coding. Not DreamWeaver or some GUI interface web page builder, but real coding. I understand this blog is paper vs. digital print and a lot of points are valid, ecology, R.O.I, etc.,

    I put it this way and in no disrespect to our female counterparts, but one thing I have always said is that “PRINT is the second oldest profession known to man”, we all know the first, but after that was done, the client had to pay, engraved coin, paper money, some sort of tender was exchanged.

    Print is going down, but for those of us who do value the feel of a fine paper, or the quality of an 8 color job with varnish, embossment and custom fold. The “feel’ of digital is cold, callus, here today gone tomorrow. When I get a nice printed piece I like to feel it, touch, smell….tangible is always preferred, but dying slowly. We now live in the age of information and it never stops making me giggle when I overhear an art or creative director say “What do you mean, “What’s a Pica”? Every clown male or female carrying a Macbook thinks of themselves as an “artist” but very few understand why they call the space between lines “leading.”

    Print is not dying, it’s simply being transformed, into what you ask? Only the future can tell, and the future is now!

  • http://PierceMorris Pierce Morris

    Clay, I agree with many of the things you are saying. To keep print alive for any other reason than that it is needed and wanted is poppycock. No one has ever been able to keep an industry alive “just because it’s always been around”.
    If technology comes along to replace it, it will be replaced!

    However, you make a couple of observations that I don’t agree with.

    Advertisers place those circulars in the newspapers, mailbox, handouts for one reason–they must work. Just because you might not look at them or buy anything as a result thereof, somebody must be or the companies that pay for them wouldn’t waste their money. When the day comes that they are not paying dividends, no doubt they will vanish, and they might just do so.

    Any time I look at an ad, be it on line, a circular, a mail piece or a cursed popup on my screen, I assume some one is interested even if I am not.

    I’ve been at printing for 57 years and I hope it goes on forever, but if not, so be it.

    By the way, most of my books are read on iPad.

    Pierce M

  • http://GeorgeP George P

    I think Brian has it right: “Print is not dying, it’s simply being transformed, into what you ask? Only the future can tell, and the future is now!”

    When you see what is on the horizon with printed electronics and inkjet capabilities, the mind starts to wander. I’m not sure where traditional print will be 20 years from now, but I may be watching a TV that is made out of printed wallpaper or wearing an REO Speedwagon T-shirt printed with inkjet. Either way, I’d still be happy to come home to some good old direct mail…provided the USPS hasn’t driven itself into further disrepair.

  • http://CarolArnold Carol Arnold

    I have a suggestion to make for #6. The one that talks about advertisers that want to foray into other mediums and wouldn’t mind the help of their printers. How about a mail campaign in support of their Social Media plan? ListAbility has a list that starts with known, active social networkers on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Tailor that to target people interested in the product you are promoting (no diapers for teens). Now you are ready to send a printed message for your client that can help drive traffic to their social sites.

    Printers stay in the loop with the print and mail work, and advertisers see you as partners that they can work with.

  • http://ChuckGehman Chuck Gehman

    Very good piece. Yes, the mindless flag waving must stop. It makes the industry appear silly and weak. There has been a steady migration of formerly print applications to other technologies. That’s just progress. There will continue to be many wonderful and exciting applications for print in the future. There just won’t be as many printing companies.

  • http://randywilliams randy williams

    As a paper salesman I guess i take offense to the fact that you think the paper industry is twisting the numbers when it comes to trees planted and the value that goes with that. As someone who has been to many paper mills, I have seen first hand the process and if that is how you feel about the paper industry you should feel the same way about all farming because that is what it is today. I guess I could turn that right back on you and say that your opinion of why print should stay alive is a twist to make it sound positive from your perspective.

    I do not care to be argumentative and I am in full agreement that I want to see print stay alive. I have another reason and that is that it still employs a lot of good people, we have become way to results driven and if something does not have a 100 percent impact on everyone that touches it then to some it is not worthwhile. If that were the case we should not have car lots but only places to order them as we need them and only to our liking. And the same with clothing stores and on and on.

    In truth I think educating people on the positive impact papermaking has on the environment may be a good way to help bring print back.