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Down with digital, up with print!

A “renaissance of print” may be happening in the wake of a technology backlash


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I blame Craigslist for the pending collapse of the newspaper industry. The once thriving print media giants have given way to online news consumption, eBay and social media. Magazines have gone digital. Celebrity bloggers have more notoriety and name readership than forgotten traditional journalists. Online marketplaces and auction sites have destroyed any need for newspaper classifieds. The yellow pages are dead or on life support.

Digitally Disposable

Today, more than 62 percent of Americans get their news on their phone and know headlines long before the 6 o’clock television broadcast. Mailboxes are replaced by inboxes filled with email offers and spam. Twelve-inch record covers that showed painted visual representations of music were shrunk to four-inch compact disc inserts and eventually to non-visual mp3s and streaming services.

In today’s disposable digital world, headlines are frequently scanned but stories never read in their entirety. Although digital can target an exact audience better than traditional print ever could, the size and character limitations for digital advertising have really limited the ability to message your audience in the same way.

According to data from comScore, as published in the Wall Street Journal, the total amount of time spent with digital media in the U.S. has increased by 49 percent over the past two years. Let’s face it, we scan headlines or images on a device averaging four inches tall with type in 8-10 point—Far from a perfect medium for telling a story or persuading a potential buyer.

But how did we get to this passive consumption of information? And, where does it leave the state of print today?

A Brief History of Print and the Digital Rise

To understand this, we must take a quick peek at the past. Some of the earliest forms of storytelling were best expressed thanks to the invention of the printing press. Invented around 1440, it brought mass distribution of news and entertainment to the masses—a major shift as most major cities had two main newspapers and that’s it. With the wide distribution of magazines, circulations were at their highest in history, giving readers more options yet perhaps, less attention span to absorb all the news now available to them.

Overtime, print media gave way to digital distribution and it had an impact on the print industry as a whole. For instance, it affected how much direct mail people received in their mailboxes. The number of magazines on the shelves and the size and page count of dailies decreased as online versions became widely popular—offering more “space” for content that regular newspapers couldn’t physically hold.  

While the opportunities for online content were “limitless,” society’s capacity to read everything online wasn’t. Suddenly, digital content became content that was merely scanned—Giving rise to the attention economy, where human attention is treated as a scarce commodity.

Long Live Print

Today’s prolific consumption of digital media, however, opens doors for traditional print. The print industry can “strike while the fire is hot,” as they say. Now more than ever, today is the best time to use print.

As our mailboxes receive less and less mail, good direct messaging to the right audience will stand-out in a pile of mail. Odd sizes stand out even more, since most people get mail in the form of bills and letters, relatively the same size.

What can we call this shift in information distribution? Perhaps the “renaissance of print.” There’s a backlash to technology. The vinyl record is a great example. It has rejoiced in a production comeback nobody could have predicted. According to a recent NBC News article, the Recording Industry Association of America reported that “vinyl sales are up 52 percent from the first half of 2014 to the first half of 2015 — or from $145.8 million to $221.8 million.” There is a consumer shift in information consumption preferences—digital has had it’s day and now, print is ready to be embraced again. 

So how can your business capitalize on this “print renaissance?” Have an interesting and memorable business card. Augment your digital media buy with print ads or posters when and where it makes sense to match your strategy and desired audience. This holiday season, send real cards or a holiday gift with a concept that will be remembered. Some thing that says something about your brand’s core values. Something entertaining. Something that will be remembered long into 2016 instead of forgotten with a finger swipe.

Sometimes, it’s nice to unplug and engage with an actual book, magazine or other printed piece. The landscape is so uncluttered today, quality printed matter matters. The moral? Today, there is a shrinking landscape of print. Hence, quality messaging and design in the medium has a higher likelihood of being noticed. And with all the electronic spam and clutter, sometimes, the “old school ways” are a welcome addition to your marketing arsenal. Nothing will stand the test of eternity, but printed media on average has a 75 percent better unaided brand recall than digital—Just sayin’.

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Randall Erkelens

Randall Erkelens is the creative director at Philosophy Communication, an award-winning, full-service marketing and public relations firm in Denver. Erkelens has more than 27 years of experience inspiring creative excellence. He oversees creative strategy and output for clients, manages the firm's creative staff, leads brainstorms and secures new business. Throughout his professional career, Erkelens has led campaigns for notable brands including Blue Moon Brewing Co., Mastercraft Boats, Dr. Pepper/7-Up and at Philosophy Communication, SOL Lingerie, Sub-Zero Group and Smashburger.

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