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The timeless appeal of print gives it a future digital media can’t touch

The timeless appeal of print gives it a future digital media can’t touch
Renee Yardley
April 15, 2019

Print’s unique qualities – physical presence, visual impact, reader-friendliness – remain unmatched.

Nothing competes with the tactile pleasure of thumbing through a well-printed magazine, or the comfort of curling up with a great book. Serious readers, like college students, concentrate best with print. Data-driven direct marketers rely on impactful print materials for strong ROI, knowing consumers understand what they read in print better than that read on screen. And recycled post-consumer paper adds to print’s appeal, aligned with society’s growing embrace of environmental responsibility.

Building on these strengths, forward-minded printers, publishers and marketers are leveraging new technologies and fresh ideas to create attractive new print markets and products. 

Print materials and electronic media are best seen as complements. One of many examples is the nearly 15 percent increase in sales of paper maps and atlases in the United States in 2018, at a time when just about everyone navigates using GPS, Google Maps or Waze. Even the best apps just can’t beat a paper map for big-picture understanding of a trip to the countryside or another country.

Promising trends in the mainstream book publishing industry, and with millennials

The numbers show that people across North America are continuing to buy and read print books. According to Pew Research: “Fully 65 percent of Americans have read a print book in the last year, more than double the share that has read an e-book (28 percent) and more than four times the share that has consumed book content via audio book (14 percent).”

The headline of a Media Post story on the subject nutshells these trends – “The Comfort of a Good Book: Sales Rise as Consumers Seek Cozy Escapes” – suggesting that books help us get away from it all without leaving home. Some trend-watchers believe many people are reading more printed books as a way to cut back on their screen time, and frequenting independent bookstores in search of personal contact rather than online community. 

Millennials also read printed books: the Pew Research study indicates that 80 percent of the 18- to 29-year old age group read a book in the last year, more than any other group.  And a research study of 300 university students showed a full 92 percent preferred print to various digital media (e.g. mobile, tablet, e-reader, laptop) for serious reading, because print helped them concentrate best.

Growth in the niche book market, enabled by digital printing technology

On-demand book printing is one of many market niches where digital presses enable the cost-effective production of high-quality publications. Flash Reproductions in Toronto invested in a Konica Minolta AccurioJet KM-1 UV Inkjet Press, the first of its kind in Canada, to produce short-run high-end projects. “Reproduction quality is comparable to or even better than offset, and inkjet is so efficient since we save on set up time,” said President Rich Pauptit, whose company marks 50 years in business this year.   

As digital press sheet sizes increase and press speed continues to improve, the gap between conventional commercial offset presses and digital printing will narrow in time. 

Pauptit says Flash uses Rolland’s post-consumer recycled paper for both digital and commercial offset printing because the company is committed to circular manufacturing and because the products print so well.  “Rolland paper has environmental credibility and the quality that blows our clients away, so we’re proud to present that work. Quality printing has always been a niche, but we see that niche growing.” 

Fast growth projected for digital inkjet and toner-based printing 

The total global market for inkjet printing in graphics and packaging applications is expected to grow at nearly 10 percent a year in the 2018 to 2023 period, to nearly US$110 billion, according to research from Smithers Pira.

The 2019 State of the Industry Report, prepared by Printing Industries of America, identified production inkjet as the second-fastest growing processes in the field, surpassed only by digital toner-based print.

And as part of the ongoing evolution of the Rolland portfolio of papers for dry toner, liquid toner, and inkjet printing, the company has introduced Rolland HiTech Inkjet, an inkjet treated version of the popular Rolland HiTech digital grade. It gives printers the flexibility to maintain the same look and feel offered by the digital version of this popular product as they transition to newer inkjet presses. 

With digital inkjet printing quality improving and becoming more affordable in the commercial and in-plant print markets, Rolland is working with OEM’s to make sure our inkjet line of papers continues to provide excellent quality and runnability while still pushing the limits of environmental papers.

Boutique print magazines are driven by passion and quality 

Boutique print magazines covering special interests like architecture, interior design or cars make up another growing niche for Flash Reproductions. Print runs are generally 10,000 to 20,000 per issue. This generally calls for offset printing, where Rolland has a full line of commercial recycled papers; inkjet is reserved for start-ups.  

These magazines are generally an offshoot of a website that targets a market, say architecture, that is not well served by mainstream publishers. The site’s owner builds a community then creates an online magazine, and dreams of one day publishing a print version. If there are 40,000 subscribers online, maybe 10,000 want the print. So the print complements the digital, in a healthy symbiotic relationship.

“These print magazines are in a market segment where publishers are passionate about the subject and readers have a taste for the finer things, in terms of subject matter and print quality,” said Pauptit.

With mainstream magazine publishers, the focus is on segments and special interest groups

Magazine subscriptions are declining at around one percent a year, but publishers are succeeding with special interest publications and in specific segments. For one, free magazines now represent 10 percent of all those printed in the United States, with titles appealing to well-defined groups and demographics. 

By nature, associations appeal to special interest groups. Association print magazines are the second most valuable communications tool in that field, after in-person conferences and networking events. 

Naylor’s 2018 Association Benchmarking Survey underlines the efficacy of well-targeted print communications: “If you want to reach your members with valuable industry information, you should consider the printed word.”

A desire for print was spotted by Heather Lose, Editor-In-Chief of The Tennessee Conservationist, in Nashville, who surveyed subscribers as part of a magazine revamp: 

“Readers told us they want to get away from their computer screens and take the time to read a magazine that feels substantial – and so that is what we are producing. If you are asking yourself, ‘what is the higher purpose of print magazines in the media stream,’ I think our readers nailed it.”

The revamp included producing the magazine on Rolland Enviro® Print, a 100 percent post-consumer recycled paper that is FSC-certified1, printed with environmentally-friendly UV ink2

Produced by more printers than any other product, direct mail offers proven marketing insights

In the 2019 State of the Industry Report, atop the list of the 25 main products provided by printers are 1) direct mail, 2) brochures and 3) pamphlets – produced by 69.6, 68.2 and 64.9 percent of printers, respectively. In other words, marketing materials.   

While direct mail volumes have decreased over ten years, its share of mail overall increased in 2016, the last year for which statistics are available from the DMA (Data & Marketing Association, formerly the Direct Marketing Association). This reduction in clutter has helped increase engagement among consumers, leading more marketers to use direct mail. And the DMA is numbers-conscious: “Costs are high but scale and ROI remain strong when direct mail is delivered to a well targeted audience.”

Other DMA insights speak to all print marketing materials, not just direct mail. First, print is powerful because it is tangible; second, touch makes for a deeper level of engagement; finally, reading on paper rather than on screen promotes better understanding and retention by consumers.   

The DMA also draws conclusions quoted below that speak volumes to all marketers, not just dmailers: 

  • “Powerful creative amped up and laser focused with data is the sweet spot.
  • Data insights combined with the physicality of print: a match made in heaven.” 

All this is yet another example of how new data-mining and printing technologies, along with fresh thinking, are leveraging print’s timeless strengths.

Print retains a special place in a well-balanced marketing mix

Rich Pauptit has the broad perspective of an industry veteran on the complementary roles of digital and print communications, and knows savvy marketers need a mix of the two. He finds it especially interesting to work with clients who have grown up with the web: 

“They are amazed when I put a printed book in their hands – because it is so tangible, so original – yet in many ways the book is so much less technically sophisticated than their web communications.” 

Pauptit also sees clients reserving a special place in their marketing packages for high-impact print materials. “Print seems to legitimize their marketing or corporate messages. These signature print pieces are about communicating stature, while the web is about communicating information,” he says. 

The environmental case for recycling, and for post-consumer paper, is stronger than ever

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, paper and paperboard account for two-thirds of the 68 million tons of municipal solid waste recovered in the United States in a year through recycling, composting, and combustion with energy generation. 

And this recycled paper finds a useful new life in the post-consumer papers produced by sustainable manufacturers like Rolland.

The recovery of paper and paperboard and the benefits of reducing landfilling are making an enormous contribution to the fight against climate change, and prevented the equivalent of 153 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States in 2015, the most recent figures from the EPA. That’s comparable to the annual emissions from some 33 million passenger vehicles, or one in eight of the cars in the country today

So, in addition to maintaining a promising role in the world of communications, print materials on recycled paper are clearly part of a circular economy with a sustainable future.  

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1Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®) is an international certification and labeling system dedicated to promoting responsible forest management of the world’s forests.

2UV ink is exposed to ultra-violet lights during printing, drying immediately with almost no absorption of the ink into the paper, and without releasing VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that contribute to climate change.