Should we keep print alive?

I’ve been following a group on Twitter called #helpprintthrive.  It’s a discussion about how can 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 much 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.

Should we keep this alive?

Every morning, I go outside and pick my newspaper only to have ten 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 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.

And 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’ to 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 their clients to know all the great 1 to 1 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 if they 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.  Print has been around for some 600 years and by gosh we have to keep it going another 600.  We bought equipment for hundreds of thousands of dollars if not millions and we have to make the payments and pay for the people to run it … so buy our print. It doesn’t make any difference that maybe we didn’t really think it through when we bought all this stuff.

After all:  “Don’t they come if we build it?”  Unless you have Kevin Costner on staff – NO!

I want to hear some good reasons why I should buy and consume print.  If I’m an advertiser, I want to know why I should spend what little money I have on print, rather on this cool internet stuff that everyone’s into.  As a consumer – why should I go through mountains of paper … and waste my time and mind space on all this junk I don’t care about?  Granted print is better for reading and I like the idea of sitting on my couch and going through the Sunday paper … but that’s just one day, and just one or two papers.

And I’m not even talking about the environmental issues.  And I don’t want to hear about “more print means more trees planted” or the environmental effects of data centers.  I don’t buy it.  You can twist the statistics all you want.  Neither I nor the vast majority of the world buys this argument – true or false.

Well – since I’m not getting any good reasons … I’m going to give you my own.

  1. As an advertiser, I think it would be great to be able to make sure my customers know about things I had to offer, the things that are relevant to their lives.  And I want to make sure it gets to them at a time when they could use it most.  This would be great since I wouldn’t have pay for so much print and postage sending useless advertising to people who aren’t going to buy from me anyway.  Answer me why should I be sending a teenage boy an advertisement for discounted diapers.
  2. As a consumer, I’d like to receive something from the companies I shop at (or even just have visited), to show me that they have actually spent the time to realize I’m an individual – not like my next door neighbor or even my wife or my daughter. And if it was a printed piece that would be cool too, maybe even with a stamp on it – that would be even be best since it’s a lot harder to do and more expensive than just sending out an email or a text.  It’ll show me you care about me and my business.
  3. As a consumer, I’d like to get something on quality paper – paper that feels nice and memorable when I touch it … something I’ll want to keep and not just throw away.  I can’t get that with my screen or my mouse.  In fact it doesn’t even have to be paper, it could be plastic or any interesting substrate with message on it that I can use.
  4. And as an advertiser, I want my printer to realize that just because I want to try new media options, doesn’t mean I don’t still love them and want them part of my life.  And if they even add some of these new exciting options to their ‘bag of tricks’ – I’d be more than happy to give them the first shot. But, just because they don’t want to grow, doesn’t mean I don’t, and in fact I have to – to survive.

I’ve been through the ups and downs of the print industry as much as anyone has.  As an electronic prepress recruiter I saw my open job orders go from forty to zero in just two months time a few years ago.  Yes – zero, as in zero dollars.  Not a five or ten percent decline … but a hundred percent.  But that just the way it goes – life changes and you move on.  Having a business isn’t a right, it’s a privilege.  A privilege that has a finite life.  That life may span over several generations – but it’s still finite.

The world is in a constant state of change.  Our success as business people lies in our ability to navigate these changes and find ways to continually make ourselves and our businesses relevant.  All to often it’s easy just to coast and think we are above it all … but we’re not.

Now I believe that the #helpprintthrive discussion has a lot of merit.  At least it recognizes that the industry’s future needs be to addressed.  But we just need to get past the “wave the flag” mentality and really look at the issues and solutions.  You don’t see the online industry touting itself, just because it’s online.  Why do we we?

If we really want to help the print industry, we need to look past – our past.  The print industry has every bit as good of a chance to thrive as any other.  We just can’t keep looking at our business and it’s value to our customers, and their customers – as being the same as it was yesterday and the day before that.

But that doesn’t mean its value can’t be worth even more.


You can follow me on Twitter @clayforsberg

4 thoughts on “Should we keep print alive?

  1. As I drive around and visit my customers, and as we push our salespeople out the door to develop NEW business, which is their primary job function, I keep saying – there is just a ton of work out there. It is up to us to figure out how to go out and get it. There is this constant undercurrent we all hear at industry functions that we need to become a Marketing Service Provider, or get involved with Cross media to survive. In other words, become something we’re not. That’s just a way of distracting printing companies from what they need to focus on – and that is becoming better printing companies with more relevance to the markets we are selling into. What printers must do is figure out what they do best and sell more of it. If there is no market for what they are selling then get out, or figure out a different way to sell it. Buying new equipment and getting side tracked into other things does not change the fact that keeping those presses rolling is how to make money.

    1. Apparently you missed the point of the piece. Print has many uses … uses that it’s perfect for. As I stated in the post, however – unsolicited junk mail is not one of them.

      Technology is such that, through intelligent targeting, print can be extremely effect.

      I wrote a piece a few months ago called “What happened to annual reports” for Printing Impressions where I praised to use of print instead of the electronic options mainly in use today with the major corporations.

      I’m all for print, but I’m for smart print … not the same old stuff that was prevalent 20 or 30 years ago. The industry needs to catch up with the times.

  2. Hear, hear! I have been on this bandwagon with printers and the associations that support them for some time. The defensive approach doesn’t work, and the industry as a whole is not at all proactive in terms of articulating the new role of print in a modern media mix. It will never be “business as usual” again for printers. They must adapt to today’s market realities. I just wrote an article on WhatTheyThink, Is there an iPad App in Your Future? It suggests that adding an interactive iPad app as a value-add to that printed brochure will have customers clamoring for more. That’s the kind of thing printers should be looking for to retain customers, grow share and acquire new customers. Thanks for writing this.

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