The fact is, printed communications continue to have widespread appeal, even as the digital revolution takes hold. Recent research reported in Science Daily shows that newspaper readers overwhelmingly prefer paper – 89 percent of the total amount of time readers devote to newspapers goes to the print edition, versus four percent for online and seven percent for mobile formats.
The same can be said for book readers. Pew Research Center recently found that 65 percent of Americans had read a print book during the previous year – more than double those who have read an e-book (28 percent), and more than four times those who have listened to an audio book (14 percent).
Even though CNN reports the average American adult spends more than 10 hours a day consuming digital media, research supports the fact that that people are naturally drawn to print. Below are four reasons why:
According to Daniel Dejan, print and creative manager for Sappi North America, the volume of digital communications consumers encounter daily is astonishing.
“I often refer to it as a tsunami,” he said. “And there are no boundaries with digital communications. Anyone with a computer and access to Wi-Fi can upload. So, we have this plethora of information, data, communications, video, music, opinion and rumor.”
In addition, printed communications undergo a review process before they reach consumers, giving them credibility. “If I write something that is going to be printed, there’s a copy editor – or it has to be approved by legal,” said Dejan.
Jay Sheffield, account executive for Continental Colorcraft, attributes some of print’s staying power to new eco-friendly solutions that consumers – especially younger generations – value.
“People are getting more interested in what a brand stands for and how it impacts the environment,” he said. “So, we get more requests to print on recycled media, and we only use soy-based inks. Most of the papers now are FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified.”
Dr. Gillian Hayes, a Kleist professor in informatics at the University of California, Irvine, emphasizes that it is the flexibility of print that makes it so valuable to consumers.“You can print something and set it on a table, and that table can be inside in the dark or outside on a boat, and it will work,” she said. “And you can take out any pen or pencil and make notations, and that will also work. Digitally, we are just not there, yet.”
According to Marcie Obstfeld, president of Power Promotions, print remains in demand today because there are so many applications for it.
“There is a way to imprint virtually everything,” she said. “It may be some sort of attachment to a product, but now our answer to clients is almost always ‘yes.’ This is made possible by the different techniques available now, which can create everything from edible imprints to tiny prints on the side of your eyeglasses.”
Print also offers a measure of security that digital lacks. “Pilots are moving to iPads and apps for their maps and avionics, but they still use printed logbooks and other documents because it is safer to have that paper as a backup in the air,” said Hayes.
Investing in print delivers big pay-offs for brands. Direct mail and brand packaging can provide a significant return on investment. Consider the perceived value of print for brand packaging with such brands as Apple and Nike, for instance.
While consumers are drawn to the depth and relevance of print, Dejan explains that our connection with the medium goes well beyond form and function.
“Print stimulates our senses,” he said. “A perfect example of this is how we have recorded the scent of printing. If you close your eyes, you can recreate the smell of a library, or a bookstore, or textbooks when you crack them open. It is an important aspect of our relationship with print, as is the sound of paper – how newsprint sounds when you are turning the pages, versus a magazine. These all contribute to a strong reader experience that is not recreated in a digital environment.”
In addition, a wide range of specialty finishes is mind-boggling. According to Dejan. “There is a lot of research being done now involving retinal scanning on how the eye is attracted to the special effects of printing. Pearlized inks, metallic inks and foil stamping are not duplicated readily digitally, and they capture the consumer’s attention.”
What truly separates print from digital is the sense of touch. “We have learned how to produce beautiful coatings with a soft touch, as well as sandpaper – everything from very, very light imprinting to heavy effects,” said Dejan.
Research also shows the more unique the print is, the more likely it is to find its way into digital channels. “Brands are trying to draw customers in to be loyal through social media; everyone is talking about it,” said Obstfeld. “One way you get more bang for your buck is to get an image of your printed product on Pinterest. If it is an interesting and unusual image, it will get retweeted, it will go viral, and have wider appeal.”
It appears that print is here to stay, much like the invention of the lightbulb and the wheel. However, don’t overlook the impact digital experiences is having on consumers today.
“You see this best in kids,” said Hayes. “They are born into a world of touchscreens, and that is how they see the world. They walk up to a big screen TV and touch it. They try to swipe paper books. They struggle to see the differences.”
Digital experiences also impact older generations, she adds. “We expect higher fidelity graphics in print today and interactive experiences. All these things work within an ecosystem, though; they work together. We tell our students to think about the whole ecosystem when they are designing because there is going to be a role for all platforms.”
Dejan notes, “If it’s a question of looking for data or information, then digital communications play a very important role. But if I want you to have a deep understanding of, appreciation for, and relationship with my company, brand, product or service, I want you to read ink on paper because you will remember what you have read, and you will value it.”
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