I have been fortune of late to work on a wide range of print projects, either placing and managing the print myself, or via clients. In fact I have had more print in the last 18 months than in a long while. Thus upturn in print has got me thinking about commercial print, and the direction it is going. Despite many, mainly digital, commentators predictions of gloom, it appears that Print Isn’t Dead. So much so that there is now a printed magazine called exactly that, Print Isn’t Dead (I have issues three and four!).
Yes, it is true that newspaper sales are down, magazine sales are down, The Independent newspaper (and the Dandy comic) have gone digital only. It is also true that sales of Kindles and other e-readers are growing rapidly. Most magazines now offer an online version and a wide range of apps have greatly increased the options on our phones and tablets. However, all that said I still believe that print isn’t dead, or dying, and that commercial print still has a positive future.
But why? I hear you ask. Isn’t this the mad ramblings of a luddite stuck in the past? Far from it. I genuinely believe that printing and therefore commercial print has something to offer that is a viable alternative to digital content and can co-exist with the growing digital universe. I’m not entirely sure that Trinity Mirror launching a new newspaper, or Johnston Press saving the iPaper is answer either. I believe that it is about reader experience and alternatives. Printers, publishers and creatives should look to what print can offer which digital cannot.
First of all there is the tactile. There is something almost primal about touch, no sniggering at the back, and a Kindle, or an iPhone, may feel great but it will always feel the same. A magazine, or a book, or comic will feel different to the touch and raise different memories and feelings. This simply cannot be achieved digitally. Of course smell comes in to this too, I warned you about giggling, the smell of a dusty book or the new ink smell on a newly opened subscription magazine also raises memories and sensations that digital is not capable of.
This is why many publishers are looking to improve the look and feel of their magazines. Flimsy weekly colour glossies are very much at risk from the digital world. While high end square bound, mainly quarterly but sometimes monthly publications have something different to offer. A sense of occasion, something to consider keeping or collecting, something that feels special to the touch. Such publications use a variety of paper stocks, all of which invoke different feelings when held.
There are also added extras included too, not the giveaway gifts of yore (which still exist) but, for example bespoke covers unique to each reader. Both Wallpaper Magazine and Print Isn’t Dead have both used this idea and the result is something better than a personalised image popping up on a screen.
While there has been a huge rise in the sales of digital comics, not webcomics which are a different beast entirely, there is still something satisfying about opening and reading the printed page. Then, of course, there are the collectors who would feel short changed if their comic long boxes were replaced by an external hard drive. They would lose the pleasure of browsing and exploring the collection tangibly in the real world.
Which brings me neatly on to point two. The internet has improved massively since my early days in the mid 90s and there has been a marked improvement in search, in suggestions based on your likes, suggestions based other people likes who overlap with yours, suggestions based on purchase history, and suggestions based on location. However despite the ironic name of ‘browser’ it is still very difficult to browse the internet. At least in the traditional sense.
Look at the Argos catalogue. The website allows you to search through all the products they sell but only the printed brochure allows you to flick through all the pages and perhaps have you eye caught by something you would never have considered. Most news websites are curated. The ‘lead’ news articles are selected for you and placed in easy reach. There is a directory structure which allows you to delve deeper but you have to know what you are looking for. Compare this to flicking through a real newspaper, especially a broadsheet. How many news articles catch you eye which you wouldn’t have known to look for and which your interests settings wouldn’t have covered can you stumble across. The nature of printed materials encourages readers to flick through more than the digital interface. And this is coming more prevalent in e-marketing.
Which I of course my third point for this article. Ignore spam, go on I know you can. Ignore unsolicited emails and unsolicited leaflets forced through your door. Now, aside from that the likelihood is that you also receive a lot of solicted mail. Numerous enewsletters fill your inbox with alarming regularity. All neatly personalised for you, all with news articles, special offers, deals, updates and more. It’s too much. If we have email on our phone we may open them all and close, intending to read later. Equally we may have a news folder somewhere where we put all this incoming information. With the best intentions of going back how often do you find date sensitive material has lapsed by the time you finally go back to look? Be honest. Things get missed.
Now, compare that to a package coming in the post. An envelope arrives with a logo you are fond of and familier with on the outside. The company has invested in good quality paper and the package feels good in your hands. You are more tempted to open it and see what’s inside. And inside is a personalised mailing which may have the same information as an enewsletter but is now already in front of your eyes. If there are vouchers that can be detached we now go on automatic and start removing them, and putting them away. We are thinking more about this package than the similar enewsletter already.
This is particularly obvious with store card vouchers and mailshots from companies offering high end goods. Although it works on a personal level too. Are you more likely to notice a fancy wedding invitation delivered by post or an event added to Facebook? Honestly? Which makes you feel more special?
This is at the core of my first article on the Crossroads Faced By Commercial Print. Printing has a future, in the special and unique, in the quality and tangibility, in the variety of options. The question is, how will high street, and other commercial printers face up to these challenges? Well that’s the challenge I’ve set myself for the second part of this article…