Is print really dead?

The digital vs print debate has been raging for a while now, so I thought I'd throw a few of my thoughts into the mix. Like most creatives who've been involved in the industry before the world went digital, I spent my early years as an Art Director working predominantly with print based media. Sure, there were slide decks and multimedia presentations to do but they were the exception rather than the rule and always remained somewhat of a specialism.

Since the dawn of the internet however and especially since smart phone technology has given the masses ever increasing amounts of control at their fingertips, the digital space has exploded onto the scene with a ferocity that's given birth to a plethora of agencies that specialise purely in creating digital marketing solutions. Whilst this is no bad thing, it has led to a questioning as to whether print will still have relevance in a world which is increasingly going digital.

This debate does not just affect issues in the world of design and creativity but more importantly how we as a culture (or species even) will eventually consume all information. I believe print will have a place when it comes to providing information for a very long time still. So long as there are trees, a paper industry and people who cannot afford technologically advanced means of consuming information, i.e. iPads, Kindles and the like, there will remain a requirement for print. It may be the case that eventually, as a species, we outgrow the need to use paper as a medium for written communication, just as we outgrew stone and papyrus – but that's a long way off and probably in a future typified by Star Trek the Next Generation where we will have Holo-Decks for entertainment and where the line between what's virtual and what's real becomes very blurred indeed.

It is interesting to note that magazines and newspapers still account for more then a third of worldwide ad revenues. It would seem that to claim 'print is dead' is a stretch too far, especially with the advent of interactive and ARvertsing (Augmented Reality) the role of print has come back with a bite. More and more brands are using a mix of both print and digital channels to engage with their audiences and for me, this is adds a new and exciting creative dimension within the role of marketing.

The point where the real world meets the digital is converging at an unstoppable rate. Just check out the example below of how BMW allows you to take an AR model in your hands, place it on your desktop and then control the car from the keyboard and webcam while you drive it around your desk! The AR app also allows you to save out the graphic you created and share with your friends on Facebook & Twitter.

For me, it's not fundamentally important whether a campaign uses print or digital channels, but what IS important are the channels your target audience uses to consume information. Knowing your audience and choosing the right media and channels that are appropriate to them, is the secret to generating successful campaigns and measurable ROI. On that basis, print does still have a very large role to play in reaching out to various sections of society.

From a purely psychological perspective, surveys have shown that physical interaction with an object through the ability to hold, touch and feel it, is what they remembered most about a piece and the product or brand it represents. The tactile nature of printed material with it's various finishes, textures and contours can convey a number of brand messages in ways that are just not achievable digitally.

However, using paper in this way does come with an environmental price tag and this is one way which gives digital marketing a seemingly obvious plus point. I say seemingly though because the environmental impact of manufacturing new digital technologies, of housing them, transporting them and even using them may be more harmful to the environment than chopping down trees which can be replanted and re-grown. Who knows? I certainly do not claim to but it's certainly worth asking the question.

In addition, while digital is leading the way in contemporary marketing channels, print still proves to provide a strong supporting mechanic when used appropriately and vice-versa. A Vertis Communications study commented that for complicated selling information, many consumers simply print out material from the internet in order to absorb it. Ask any proofreader whether they prefer to read onscreen or from a piece a paper and my guess is that most of them will prefer printed matter. Not because they are from an older generation who like tradition but purely from the fact that reading from printed material results in fewer errors and information can be read faster by up to 25%.

To sum up then, there are a lot of good arguments both for digital and print and in truth they do not conflict with each other. Rather, they support one another and should be viewed as complementary rather than antagonistic. However, to state that print is dead or on it's way out is in my opinion an over-claim. There are still too many good reasons to use print based media as part of a targeted campaign as long as it is appropriate to the audience. The same is true for digital. As I said before, it's not fundamentally important whether a campaign uses print or digital channels, but what IS important are the channels your target audience uses to consume information. This is what should govern the choice of channels we select be they print or digital.

From this perspective, print is definitely not dead and will still have an important role to play in the coming decades. Although the digital world is fast becoming the dominant space for the coming generations to interact in, ultimately, as long as marketeers and innovators think up new and exciting ways to bridge the gap between the real and virtual worlds, there will be a role for print to evolve and work with digital media in creating the campaigns of the future.