We’ve been hearing it for years now: “The print industry is dying!” “Nobody reads hardcopy anymore!” “Everything is going digital!” Can I just say one thing? Enough already! Print is not dead, nor is it going anywhere in the future. Yes, e-book reader sales are up, social media has taken over (virtually) every facet of our lives, and companies are making millions with online advertising. However, this doesn’t tell the whole story behind the current print industry. This article provides just a few of the many ways the print industry is thriving, and will continue to survive the doomsday predictions in the era of digitization.
One of the most important factors to examine before assuming that the print industry is suffering a slow death is e-waste. E-waste may not be something that everyone is familiar with or considers when they purchase a new cell phone, computer or tablet. E-waste, or electronic waste, is discarded material that contains any electronic component, such as a cell phone.
While many people assume that paper is the main culprit behind the destruction of our forests, consider this: e-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in America and only 12.6% of e-waste is recycled. Moreover, it takes 530 lbs. of fossil fuel, 48 lbs. of chemicals and 1.5 tons of water to manufacture one computer and monitor. Print is green. Electronics are not.
Aside from environmental factors, studies show that print materials stimulate our brains in ways that digital formats cannot. For example, a recent study from Temple University shows that while digital ads are processed faster, consumers engage with paper ads for a longer period of time, and the physical ads cause more activity in parts of the brain associated with value and desire.
Print is also much easier to process because it requires 21% less cognitive effort than digital media. Look at hypertext and multitasking for example. When reading online we frequently have multiple windows open, email alerts, stock quotes, social media updates, etc. With these distractions we often make micro-decisions about whether to continue reading or whether to follow the hyperlinks. Print lets us escape these distractions and allows us to focus on what we’re reading.
In addition to the increased ability of our brains to focus on print, there is also the good old fashioned aesthetic qualities that come with this medium. For most people, print is personal. It provides a way for the reader to really connect with what they are reading and have a more positive feeling generally when they decide to put that book or newspaper down. There are no feelings of anxiety about whether they need to check their email one last time, or see if there is breaking news. We can just finish the chapter, set the book down, and be content and reflect on what we just read. This is a comfort quality that is often overlooked by the naysayers of print media.
Look to the Facts
Believe it or not, people still prefer print over digital. According to the Pew Research Institute, in 2016 approximately two-thirds (65%) of Americans read a print book. By contrast, 28% of Americans read an e-book, and only 14% listened to an audiobook. And while e-book readership increased by 11-percentage points from 2011-2014, there was no increase over the next two years. Moreover, while nearly four-in-ten Americans read print book exclusively, only 6% are digital-only readers.
Given all of this, it would be a mistake to claim that print will always dominate readership. Indeed, I remember when analysts predicted that e-books would overtake print by 2015. Making such rash and general statements is unwise. However, to those that still claim that the printing industry is dead, just look at the facts. And I suggest printing those facts out and reading them away from your computer. Chances are you’ll retain more of the information, and have a better experience doing so.