Print is not dead: but why?

booksvstablet Part of my self-imposed job in printing is to stay on top of various web articles and blog posts that detail aspects of print, be it tips or hints to prepping a file correctly, or the history of print, or some aspect of how print can still have an impact on the branded message.  Lately I’ve been seeing posts and articles on why print is NOT dead.  I have been “preaching” this gospel for months now, sharing anything that I find with followers on social media, as a means to compel them to spend their marketing dollars on print or lately, direct mail.


I read 1-2 articles a week, written from the standpoint of trying to convince the reader with statistics that say consumers react better to direct mail, or that such-and-so publication is going back to print.  And according to the Direct Marketers Association, print – particularly direct mail – is having a growth and is proving to be a very strong and powerful media source of presenting a business’ brand message.

But in truth, I think there is more to it than that.  And I rarely see blogs or articles that go into a more emotional reason for print and it’s continued growth – slow growth – but growth nonetheless.

652I DO see it as a growing emotional need for print.  For the tactile feel of paper, for the sense of permanence that paper can bring.  If you are even moderately active on Twitter (I would put myself in that “moderate” category, with 99 followers and nearly 250 that I follow), you find that messages move quickly, and if you do not stay on top of it, they’re gone.  Facebook at least gives you notifications, but even those are filtered.  Google+ gives you some indication of missed posts, but you still have to hunt for them.  Social media moves fast, and we are beginning to move fast with it.  Paper creates a sense of slowing down.  You can receive something in the mail, and it can sit for 2-3 days before you get to it, but it’s still there.  And you can hold on to it, which allows you to review it repeatedly.  Social media and web pages don’t do that.  Unless you bookmark a web page, or copy it to your desktop, it can be lost unless you Google it.


A wood 4×5″ field camera, popular now with fine art photographers.

Perhaps, too, is that as we become more inundated with electronic devices, from our smartphones and tablets, iPhones and iPads, smart TV’s, Netflix streaming of “House of Cards” – that we are now becoming a society that depends on these devices too much.  Perhaps we are now responding to this inundation with a desire to return to the normalcy of the printed word or image.  To illustrate my point, as digital photography has all but eliminated film photography, there is a resurgence in the art of large format and special process photography (ironically there are Facebook groups dedicated to these special disciplines).  Artists use these old-style cameras that require 4×5″ film, special processing, and instead of PhotoShop, a darkroom with an enlarger, trays of developing and fixing solutions and water rinses – all to create something that, to them, is artistic.  I applaud these artists and their work.  But to me, it illustrates the growing desire by our society to not allow ourselves to become overwhelmed with electronic devices, and return to the creativity of our minds.

I think eventually we’ll find the balance between the ease of life that we’ve found through the mobile world of tablets and smartphones.  But I think books, magazines, and marketing materials will find themselves growing again as the millennials, not wanting to be pigeonholed into a specific demographic, will begin to find ways to use print in new and creative ways.

Connect with John on Google+Twitter and LinkedIn.


About John Prothero

John Prothero is a print professional with over 30 years experience in the print industry. Starting out as a driver delivering jobs, he worked in bindery, proofing, plating, traditional prepress (camera and stripping), scheduling, job planning, job management, account management and digital job production. His skills also run in the area of blog authorship, social media management, and lead generation and qualification of prospective clients. John is also a contributor to Rhode Island Creative Magazine, a digital publication that highlights the creative spirit of the state of Rhode Island. You can read their online issues at
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9 Responses to Print is not dead: but why?

  1. Make Something Mondays says:

    Great article. I agree with you 100%. Love that pic of the camera too!

  2. Katherine says:

    John you nailed it. Everything online is “easy” in this quick fix society. Where’s the fun and challenge in that? Print will always have a place because it’s a skill craft, as Deborah said,

  3. Les Csonge says:

    Room (and benefits) for both 😉

  4. CMYK says:

    John ! I agree 1000 % ! Now if you can just get the ‘Guru’s’ (i.e. Kathrein O’Brien and Frank Romano) to quit trying to make Print like the internet and just capitalize on Prints Strength, I think the recovery would happen sooner.


    • Katherine says:

      With all due respect, I don’t think anyone is trying to make print like the internet. That’s impossible. What people are doing is helping printing companies understand that the internet isn’t out to destroy them. The either or attitude helps no one in the industry.

  5. Larry Edwards says:

    I think you must have your head buried in the sand. Printing Impressions published an article about a year ago and predict 95% of all magazines and newspapers will no longer be printed. Most will be offered digitally. 60% of the commercial printers in Colorado have gone out of business over the past 6 yeas. If print is not disappearing than why have these printers gone out of business? I sold printing paper for 40 years. I talk to many of my friends who are currently selling paper and they are starving. There are only about 20 printers left in the state who are worth calling on them. One of my friends told me he was making $250,000/year 12 years ago and in 2013 he earned $35,000.

    • jprothero says:

      Larry, I think print as whole has its own microcosms, where one area such as Colorado is feeling a definite downturn, here in Southern California, it’s growing. But having been in the industry for 30 years myself, and coming from a place that lost one client which impacted a huge amount of revenue, I can see how the industry has drastically changed. Noland Paper, LaSalle Paper, Nationwide Paper – all gone. I too have seen big shops go under, small shops get larger, and Consolidated get bought out by RR Donnelley! But I do believe that my point of the blog was not specific to the future of print, but the EMOTION of print, and how things have cycles and even print, although in a severely limited form, will remain. I cited the resurging interest in large format photography. Another example: I’m sure you can remember the first LP you bought, maybe The Beatles or The Stones. And then along came cassette tapes (I won’t go into 8-track here), then CDs, and when CDs came out, LP’s took a huge hit. But look at what’s happening now: LP shops opening up again. You can purchase turntables again. And it’s not just the “older” generation getting into it, it’s the millennials, and their desire to have something more tangible than a Tweet, Pin or Facebook post. They want that tactile feel. Granted, it won’t be done on 40″ presses ordering 250K sheets of parent size paper. But it will be on a smaller and more targeted scale.

  6. Great piece John…Like you I work for a marketing services business delivering multi-channel communications for large corporates, reducing complexity, optimising spend, time to market and quality, but just the other side of the pond in Europe ( Larry I agree the landscape is changing, but Johns point is, print is, and still will be around for a long time, but in a more targeted fashion. What you have described in Colorado is happening globally, where supply outstrips demand. The saturation (Supply) is simply down to a mature industry, suffering the effects of new marketing techniques, costs saving opportunities and changing consumption habits (Mobile etc) where digital marketing has quite rightly taken a big chunk of the marketer / corporates wallet.

    However watch this space, I don’t know about you but I’m getting tennis elbow deleting all the online promotional traffic I wake up to every morning. With the rise of multi-channel I believe we’ll see an increase in the usage of print being incorporated into the communications mix. The blend of print into multi-channel campaigns will take shape through personalisation and clever calls to action. For some reason, and probably partly down to the rise of Marketing automation and digital marketing, the print channel has been neglected at the mercy of an apparent need / claim for a greater degree of measurement in campaigns, which I totally understand, as marketers (including me!) need to show the board a ‘return on marketing investment’ (ROMI). I also appreciate the degradation of the print channel / traditional direct marketing is due to marketing budgets contracting and NOT down to results…i.e. marketers just cannot afford the cost of print and postage, even if it shows a higher ROMI! However we have one client that has completely abandoned online and moved back to traditional DM as an acquisition channel, as the results far outweigh the additional cost.

    However let’s be clear, there are a number of ways you can measure print campaign effectiveness, and integrate a number of meaningful ‘call to actions’. I believe we’re at tipping point due to the saturation of online that the re-emergence of print will make an inevitable appearance in 2014. I also believe this will happen as the competitive advantage of organisations being ‘early movers’ online is starting to plateau; therefore Marketing Directors are revisiting traditional channels to engage. I’m not saying that the GDP of print will start increase globally, just an increase in the utilisation of print due to competitive factors. The amount of print I receive today has reduced significantly over the last 5 years, where the ubiquitous pet killers dropping through your letterbox (also known as catalogues) have virtually disappeared. Print is still alive and kicking and for the smart marketer I believe an opportunity exists to utilise print communications, either in isolation or part of a wider multi-channel campaign to get those all important ROMI numbers.

  7. Reblogged this on ayeshakmustafaa and commented:
    Good news for the lovers of PRINT! Printer says it is NOT DEAD!

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