Thursday 29 January

Why it’s print and digital, not print or digital

As print specialists we are constantly assessing the value of our medium in the new marketing mix. With digital technology having changed the landscape dramatically, where does print fit in?

There’s no denying that print has faced the perfect storm in recent years; competing technology; equipment efficiencies creating overcapacity; short run demand requiring new business models; consumers need for instant gratification; the recession and so on. But the enjoyment from my perspective is watching how the industry has adapted to the changes, to embrace the technological advancements and to ultimately provide a service that is still incredibly relevant to consumers and businesses alike. To put that into perspective, the industry is still worth a staggering £14.1 billion per annum.

A few years ago there was a trend for large brands and publishers to move away from the printed medium. I’m sure there are instances where that strategy has paid off, but I am aware of many instances where brands have turned back to print after seeing the negative impact of eradicating it from the communication mix. One such example is Newsweek, which is is one of the largest weekly news magazines in the US, second only to Time magazine in its popularity. In December 2012, it issued a ‘final’ print edition, with an iconic black and white cover that featured the historic Newsweek Building in New York, which represented the height of the publication’s power. It seemed a fitting monument to its decline.

However as it turned out, that wasn’t the last printed issue. A print version of the magazine was re-launched in 2014, and has proven to be a viable, profitable format, currently limited to the US, but with plans to launch in Europe and the UK soon. It is print resurgent.

So why would these brands be moving back towards print when intuition tells us that the world is becoming more and more digital?

Going digital seems to make perfect sense but despite this, print still holds the upper hand in a number of ways. A study by Dutch News Media and GfK in February 2014 helps provide some insight. It showed that print media has by far the highest return on investment. Newspaper and magazine advertising claimed the top two spots, providing an ROI that was more than double that of television advertising.

This has been supported by subsequent research that has demonstrated that over 80% of people have never clicked on an online advert, which is an incredibly high percentage.

Probably like me you treat that kind of research with some scepticism or even cynicism so let me rather draw on my own experience and perspective on the industry to give a more verifiable version of just why print is so enduring.

For me the marriage of print with digital is perhaps the most exciting development in recent times

One of the earliest instances of this was the use of QR codes, which helped to transition customers from the physical print piece to the online content through a scan of the code with a smartphone. There was a lot of hype about this innovation and whilst there have been some interesting applications (the Tokyo subway example springs to mind, where a supermarket branded up the platforms and consumers were able to scan products and add them to a shopping basket); I’m not entirely convinced that the hype has been lived up to yet.

More advanced applications of a similar concept, using image recognition instead combined with augmented reality enables customers to bring products to life on their smartphone. Check out Aurasma for some great examples of how this is being put to use in the real world. I think this application has more legs and at the moment we are only scratching the surface of the possibilities.

For some years now it has been possible for consumers to turn their Facebook timelines into a keepsake physical book but recently I became aware of a company that is doing a similar thing, but it enables you to combine information from Whatsapp, Emails or Facebook conversations. The concept being that you can immortalise the most important dialogues in your life. The trouble with digital is that it’s like a waterfall, information is being exchanged at such a rapid rate and what seems relevant today is totally forgotten tomorrow, but what about the things that we would like to look back on at some point in the future? Print is still the best way to frame and hold onto those special moments and I don’t imagine that any amount of digital advancement will ever change that. Have a look at memeoirs.com to find out more.

All of these advancements are inspiring and show how wonderfully print is managing to marry itself with technology to keep it relevant, but the reality is that the single biggest change to the way print is being consumed is that it has moved online and combined with advancements in the efficiency of print technology, it has become democratised. Once upon a time print was the exclusive preserve of large corporations who had sufficient marketing budget to make use of the medium. However nowadays the costs for basic communication materials like business cards and flyers have gone so low that businesses of all shapes and sizes are able to make use of this medium.

Our business, Exaprint, was one of the first movers into this space and our significant growth in recent years is the best indicator for me to prove irrefutably that print is still relevant and the advancement in digital technology is a great enabler for making this medium one that will be with us indefinitely.

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