Print is Dead / Long Live Print!

book

Is web publishing killing print?  (And yes, I’m aware of the irony of this post being published online).  I feel like this question crops up every time a new e-reader hits the market or a major newspaper goes through a series of layoffs.  As an avid bibliophile and self-professed book sniffer, maybe I’m biased when I say I have trouble believing the web and digital technology is killing off the printed word.  Or maybe I’m just in denial.

As someone who’s worked in the printing industry, yeah we were nervous when smart devices came out, boasting apps that would allow an engineer or contractor to look at CAD files, and even annotate them, without having to lug around a 2ft. roll of paper.  Well, we thought, there’s no need for printed plans anymore.  What are our other options for revenue?

It turned out, we may just have been overestimating our customer.  When it came to viewing layouts on a 10” screen versus a full-size plan sheet (typically 22”x34” or larger), engineers, contractors, and the guys in the field preferred having a physical roll set of plans.  They were easier to read, easier to mark up, and you didn’t have to worry about dropping it and having the screen crack.  We still found ways to expand our humble print shop, offering more services to our clients – such as construction site signs, decals for hard hats and vehicles, etc – should the day ever come that printed plan sets were no longer needed.  We found a way to have our business coexist with emerging trends.  And that’s what I think will happen – and maybe is happening – with printed and digital media.  Amazon is opening brick-and-mortar bookstores, attempting to reconnect with their roots by selling books.  Skeptics may say the online retail giant’s latest move is nothing but a ploy to get people to buy their (Amazon’s) gadgets or convert the masses to Prime Members.  But in an interview with Recode.net, Amazon Books chief Jennifer Cast insisted the Amazon Books move “is about creating a new – and old – way  for people to discover books.”

This discovery of new things via “old” methods is why I don’t think print will ever truly die.  Despite our gadget obsession and our need to have something right at our fingertips, look at all the “old” tech that has made a comeback.  Vinyl records is a good example.  True, music stores seem to be shrinking as more and more people download their tunes to whatever device is the flavor of the month.  But stores that were once nothing but wall-to-wall discs are compensating.  Go to any music store now and you might still find a small selection of compact discs – but what’s even more surprising is the amount of vinyl that’s taking up space where CDs in their jewel cases once stood.  In addition to appealing to vinyl loving hipsters and record aficionados, music stores are bringing in the pop-culture and geek crowd as well.  Walking into an F.Y.E. feels like walking into a physical version of ThinkGeek.com – there are shirts with Star Wars characters, Marvel action figures, Doctor Who posters.  These stores are finding ways to coexist with digital technology by offering something that cannot be downloaded – an experience.  I think it’s that experience of opening a book or magazine or newspaper, holding it in your hand, feeling its weight and thumbing the pages to see how far you’ve left to go is what will keep print, maybe not exactly thriving, but alive.

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