PThe proportion of industry revenues from print continues to shrink, now down to just 20% of the total according to Outsell’s CEO Topics, 3 October 2014, Information Industry Outlook 2015:  Sensored World, Sensible Choices [1]). It can often be hard to tell the difference between a trend and a fad, but not in this case.

Yet print retains an appeal in many forms, even if information businesses are correctly weighting their investments overwhelmingly to digital products, marketing, and skills.

* Outsell’s 2014 end-user studies showed that between one-quarter and one-third of professional users of educational, scientific, technical, and medical information preferred to consume critical material in print form.  Across sectors, the more important information was to them, the more likely they were to want to read a printed version. Publishers of digital products realise too that offering an easy way of creating PDFs of popular material is essential because they are easy to print.

* High-end consumer magazines in areas such as fashion, home design, jewellery and watches continue to prosper: readers can appreciate highly visual material so much better and the seamless presentation of editorial and advertising in both style and content works well for marketers too.

* With inboxes overflowing with both unsolicited and subscription marketing messages, e-mail marketing has not totally displaced some of the old methods. A publisher of business intelligence reports says that well-timed and well-positioned mailshot or printed inserts can still attract high response rates, not least because physical mail volumes are so much lower.

Outsell’s 2014 B2B Advertising and Marketing Study [2] found that spending on custom print in the US was forecast to be $9.7 billion in 2014, slightly up over the 2010 figure and higher than the forecast for e-mail marketing ($8.0 billion).

* Publishers of advertising-funded B2B magazines, one of the areas hardest hit by the shift to digital, say they detect less pressure to exit print altogether as a matter of principle, even if new product launches are always digital. Our survey found print magazines faring well in some sectors, such as Business Services, Financial Services & Insurance, Manufacturing and Other Services.

Implications: Outsell would be the last to say that the clock is turning back as far as print is concerned. But this is not simply nostalgia or a feature of the ingrained behaviour of the older generation. A share of 20% of information industry revenues of $738 billion, according to Outsell estimates, is still a very substantial sum. That share will no doubt decline further but, as ever in business, blind adherence to a single “truth” is rarely a route to success. Each case needs the most careful

attention: not just whether a particular print activity can still be profitable and has its place in the mix, but whether it is diverting time and resources away from something more important for the longer term.

Simply planning on being the last print survivor in a particular sector may not be a winning approach either (see Insights, 14 November 2014, Tribune’s “Last Man Standing” Strategy Gets an Early Test [3]).

It’s similarly important to avoid the other great fallacy concerning print, summed up in the phrase “the transition to digital”. Embedded within that hackneyed expression is the dangerously misleading image of a journey, with a starting point (print) and a destination (digital). But there is no digital destination: it’s not a state, but a new way of doing business, and one that changes with bewildering speed. If print to digital is a journey, it’s one that doesn’t end.

Meanwhile, we hope that everyone will receive regular reminders of the enduring power of print in the coming days as, in addition to a torrent of electronic messages, those hand-written greetings cards bringing their unique pleasure start to arrive through the letterbox.

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