Print: Reports of its death are exaggerated

A year ago, a law firm client asked if we could create an electronic newsletter for alumni. We were excited because, as a custom publishing operation firmly grounded in print, we knew we needed to add some new-media samples to our portfolio.

Our excitement was short-lived.  Two weeks later, the client called to say that the firm had run focus groups with alumni, and a majority said that, regardless of the content, they wanted a print newsletter. They were overwhelmed by e-mails. If they didn’t go directly to spam, the e-mail newsletters they received went to the bottom of the to-read list — and were never seen again unless the alumni printed them out.

So we saved them the trouble by creating a print version they could carry in their briefcases, display on their coffee tables, show to their colleagues and read at their leisure.

We didn’t get an electronic arrow for our quiver, but we got an apocryphal story to tell. Proof, at least anecdotally, that print isn’t dead.

This flies, of course, in the face of conventional wisdom. Print’s pallbearers argue that newspapers are dying, magazines are struggling, and the newest crop of electronic media—blogs, widgets, social networks and text messages—are becoming the communication tools of choice for all generations.

My colleagues in the Custom Publishing Council (CPC) are wondering where print fits in their future. In the past two weeks, Lori Rosen, the CPC’s executive director, has fielded three notes from members asking for statistics on whether people prefer to read custom publications in print or electronic form. While we’ve found few studies that explore this question directly, one of our board members, McMurry‘s Fred Petrovsky cites a number of studies that point to print’s continued primacy, including a 2007 Simmons study proving that consumers find magazines more trustworthy, inspirational, and even “life-enhacing” than the other media; and a 2007 study from the Financial Times that said only 29% of consumers believe the Internet meets all their information needs. A study that Roper Public Affairs is now fielding for the CPC should add further fuel to the fire.

The point for marketers, publishers, and consumers is that print remains not only a viable medium, but a vital one. It will morph to complement its electronic counterparts, but it won’t fade away. The creative custom publisher, the creative direct marketer, won’t shy away from print products, but will seek to use them creatively, mine their potential and celebrate their difference. I’m still hoping to get some new-media business. But I’m also expecting to keep publishing print products for years to come.

Michael Winkleman is chairman of the Custom Publishing Council and president of Leverage Media, a custom publishing company. Reach him at [email protected].

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