So, where is print going?

The supposed “end of print” actually may be something of a renewal. The paperless trend in favor of digital content that surfaced a few years ago has indeed had an impact on print, but some of the results have been surprising. Invigorating even.

Just ask Phil Riebel, president and COO of Two Sides U.S. Inc. Riebel says that in some ways, the paperless movement has given print a chance to shine. “If anything, I believe the value [of print] is higher because it stands out more than in the past due to all the electronic and digital distractions that surround us and demand our attention.”

Disappointed with digital?

The recent paperless trend had tried to capitalize on the access and perceived convenience of digital platforms. Magazines and other publications started trying out digital versions of their publications as a way to differentiate. Newspapers switched to more web-based content to better compete with the blogosphere that was syphoning off revenue. Schools and businesses looked at ways to cut down on material costs with iPads over brochures or books. Marketers have experimented with email blasts and online delivery, with mixed results.

And to be sure, these mediums are valid competitors – ones that are not going away. But publishers and marketers are finding they aren’t the slam-dunk delivery platforms they may have thought they were (spam filters, anyone?).

There also have been some unintended consequences. “I think the switch to digital is having some major social impacts that we still don’t quite understand,” Riebel says. “From an educational point of view, I am not sure it’s for the best. Reading on paper may be better for deep understanding of text, compared to clicking and browsing using an electronic device, which offers so many distractions. Writing on paper is also beneficial for learning and memory compared to typing.”

Studies show that the value of print is as strong as ever. “The value of print today is just like yesterday,” says Thomas R. Wright, senior director of advertising and design for Neenah. “It informs, through the element of touch. It can lead to persuasion. To me, going paperless is going digital with reference material. Any print material that does not need to deliver emotion can and is going digital – some spaces faster than others depending on demographics. But resource information can sit in the cloud and be endlessly updated.”

Patti Groh, director of marketing communications at Sappi, says print also carries with it an element of trust. “People continue to not only believe what they read in print, but to expect an element of print to introduce them to new products and services, especially those at the higher end of the price spectrum. Luxury brands find that the heavy weight of a tactile piece of paper with beautiful imagery and smart copy is a key element in influencing buying decisions. It is dependable.”

What’s really more renewable?

Indeed, the idea that digital delivery is more environmentally friendly than print can be misleading. “The so-called benefits are usually only a perception with no evidence backing them up,” Riebel says. “For example, a recent Danish study showed that e-billing is more costly than paper bills because many people were ignoring their bills and not paying them. Hence the company spent more money chasing after customers via customer service calls, in order to get the bills paid. So they went back to paper bills.”

What many consumers may not realize is both paper and electronic have environmental impacts. “The impacts of the electronic world is actually growing rapidly and, today, the carbon footprint of the ICT sector is already twice that of the print and paper sector…and continuing to grow,” Riebel says. “My key concern is the vast amount on non-renewable resources ICT uses, especially with things such as metals from questionable sources like rebel-operated mines in the Congo.”

Meanwhile, paper has unique sustainable features, such as renewability of its primary raw material, high levels of recyclability (65 percent and up), high levels of renewable energy use (biomass) and it stores carbon for its lifetime. Well-managed forests also are key to helping our planet deal with climate change. (See “Sustainable” sidebar on page xx.)

“We can manage forests properly and also get the environmental, social and economic benefits of doing this,” Riebel says. “How many products do we have that can accomplish this?”

The future of print revealed

Ask the card carrying members of the printing services industry about the sustainability of paper, and they will tell you the truth as they see it – print is not going anywhere.

“The future is ever-changing, so it’s hard to be sure how paper and print integrate with technology,” Wright says. “The only certain item in my mind is that fiber and bits will become closer, each specializing in delivering information in the most optimum way.”

And because print provides a personal experience with a brand, it often offers a very different experience than other channels. In a technological era punctuated with emails, tweets, status updates, smartphones, tablets and texts, print craftsmanship and permanence matter now more than ever. Consumers are rediscovering the importance and meaning of carefully crafted, tangible objects, including print.

“There’s a reason we shake hands when we meet someone,” says Bart Robinson, senior VP of marketing for Mohawk. “Touch is powerful and it’s key to a personal connection. When we create a printed piece – it is physical, tactile and we engage the sense of touch. Research has shown direct mail marketing campaigns are 28 times more effective than email campaigns alone. In this digital age, haptic perception is a key differentiator. Printed materials provide permanence and an impact that digital information alone cannot replicate.”

Seek and you shall find that the future of print and paper is full of excitement and new technology. Print is the substrate that brings brands to life through technologies such as Image Recognition, Augmented Reality and Near Field Communication. “It has been, and will continue to evolve into a specialized, high-end experience,” Groh says. “There will be less of it, but it will continue to grow in its ability to deliver impact through its unique characteristics that make it stand out from the sometimes noisy, busy messaging around us.”

In the end, the debate about print’s sustainability will rage on, a discussion of which Robinson says only has one real outcome. “Without print, there is no tactile record of history. Without print, there is no value. Technology is important, but all it takes is one critical crash on your computer for digital memory to be destroyed. Touch is the most powerful human sense, and would be eliminated in a paperless society. Print is here to stay.”

Sustainable

Paper companies are committed to good forestry practices – their businesses depend on it. One way is by supporting third-party forest certification programs, such as the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI) program. “Forest certification applies a rigorous, science-based standard of responsible management to working forests and ensures that it’s followed through independent third-party verification,” says Jason Metnick, senior VP, customer affairs, Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

Metnick says that forest certification is on the rise. For example, from 2007 to 2013, forestlands certified to the SFI Standard in North America increased 75 percent from 138 million acres to more than 240 million acres. Following are some other interesting notes:

  • Certification matters – More than 240 million acres/100 million hectares in North America are certified to the SFI Standard. The Standard promotes sustainable forest management through 14 core principles including measures to protect water quality, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, species at risk and forests with exceptional conservation value.
  • A more aware consumer – Consumers are becoming more environmentally aware shoppers. Programs such as SFI help identify products for them, with on-product labels for both certified sourcing and COC claims to help consumers make responsible purchasing decisions, according to SFI. From furniture to copy paper and pizza boxes, you can increasingly find the SFI label on a wide range of items for home, office and everyday life.
  • Big names are involved – The SFI Forest Partners Program, founded in 2012, links market leaders to forest stakeholders to strengthen forest practices and procurement across the supply chain by promoting certification. Founding Forest Partners – Time Inc., the National Geographic Society, Macmillan Publishers and Pearson – made five-year commitments to increase the amount of certified forests by working with landowners, manufacturers, distributors, customers, conservation groups and government agencies to promote forest certification.
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