Why Print Persists

A book, e-reader, and coffee mug on a table

The death knell of print has long sounded. Roger Fidler, then the director of the Knight-Ridder Information Design Laboratory, predicted in the 1980s that the future of news was on the Internet. He thought that companies would ditch the expensive printing press for the unlimited free frontier of the web. In 2020, Ikea stopped printing its famous furniture catalog in an effort to increase digital accessibility.

Yet, print continues long past its predicted demise. Every bold vision of our future from Star Trek to Battlestar Galactica envisions a metal-filled, screen-rich tomorrow, with nary a printout insight. If the world of tomorrow has no printers, why do we still feel the need for print?

This question received great focus at this year’s HP Power of Print Analyst Event. Even with an uneven 2020 for print companies, Tuan Tran, president of Imaging, Printing & Solutions at HP, emphasized print’s resilience and staying power.

A large part of why print persists is that it's still effective, despite all predictions to the contrary. The rise of digital media also saw the rise of new advertising. Many media outlets leapt at the opportunity to squeeze every dollar out of this new potential for advertising revenue, cramming every webpage with banner ads, popups, and paid sponsorships.

But after one too many intrusive popup ads, people started reaching for their adblockers and renewing their newspaper subscriptions. A study conducted by the Scarborough Research Firm found that, for the 51 largest U.S. newspapers, the print edition reaches 28 percent of circulation areas, while the digital version reaches just 10 percent.

Print offers one of the last refuges from the distractions of modern life. So many other facets of life are digital. You go to work to type on a computer all day or watch your coworkers through Zoom. You come home to watch TV and then go to bed. An alternative outlet from staring at a screen all day becomes all the more precious in a distracting world.

Print also offers a way to rest your eyesight. According to Harvard Health Publishing, staring at digital screens causes you to blink less, which increases eyestrain. Taking the chance to lessen eyestrain with a printout offers variety to your day.

A physical printout also boasts the ability to take notes and make highlights directly. A lot of digital software tries in vain to replicate the simple act of taking out a highlighter or jotting down a few thoughts. Yet, the ease of direct notation is unparalleled.

Then, there is the way print enables arts and crafts. Digital cannot capture the feel of drawing, folding, and manipulating paper to make something new. Demonstrating the art of papercraft, Evelyn Chia recently broke the Guinness World Record for the fastest time to make 1,000 origami cranes, clocking in at 9 hours and 31 minutes.

Digital formats can't replicate the classic, cozy feel of Print media. The aspiration of many a young bookworm is a rainy Saturday afternoon spent curled up with a good book in one hand and a steaming cup of tea in another. Many Hallmark Original Movies, the seasonal classic for comfort and cheer, have a main cast member with the dream job of a small-town bookstore owner.

Print has survived so far, but there will always be questions for the future. I believe that print will continue to survive and adapt in ways that will surprise us all. In 2015, the demand for coloring books skyrocketed to the point of 12 million coloring books sold. The trend returned in 2020 when people searched for something to distract them from lockdown boredom. Before 2015, most people wouldn’t have predicted that coloring books, of all things, would be a trendy gift item.

The technological advances of print surprised even the most seasoned veterans. In the last 10 years, the rise of multifunction technology caused fewer printers, scanners, and copiers, in the office. At the same time, Cloud Software offers a new frontier for print technology.

“It’s nothing new that a printer can scan, fax, and copy, and do all those things," Tyler Martindale, Cartos Suite Manager at In Time Tec, said. “But the way we’re finding through the Cloud, the ways to integrate and use those things, is different than it was 10 years ago."

Cloud Software provides a chance for print to evolve and adapt to the modern age. Multifunction printers allow for digital app stores to offer printer apps to improve printers. Improvements like authentication for ensuring who scans or prints what documents. Workflow digitization has helped printers remain by improving existing office life.

“The reality is, every time we’ve predicted that print is going to die, there’s always a new reason in the workflow that output is needed,” Martindale said. “I don’t think that’s going away anytime soon.”

The future of print is bright, thanks to print companies continuing to innovate and exceed company expectations.

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