Is print dead?

Scott Harwood | Creative Director Uncategorized Leave a Comment

We’re often told that digital media is the brave new world, get on board or get left behind. Print is not dynamic, old school and past it’s use-by-date.

Is, that right? Is print no longer relevant? Is it heading for a not-so-slow death?

Over the last several years we’ve seen a headlong rush by communicators and marketers to new digital media. Terms such as click-throughs, conversion-rates and reach are now part of the daily vernacular of the digital communicator.

However, as much as digital media makes up a large part of what I do each day, I’m still a die-hard fan of the printed page. There’s something about the look and feel, and even smell, of a printed page that keeps me hooked.

There’s nothing quite like browsing the pages of your favourite Sunday newspaper over a lazy cuppa either at your own breakfast table or local café. Like many homes, we have a magazine rack in the loo. I’ve thumbed the same mags from the loo rack several times, reading and re-reading the same articles. I can’t imagine doing the same with a mobile phone (although I’m sure some do).

The tools available with digital media enable us to measure in real-time interactions of our audience. This powerful data-gathering has given marketers unprecedented insights into audience behaviours, as well as causing some well-founded concerns around privacy and unethical behaviour modification.

But perhaps this incredible data capture has blinded marketers to the actual effectiveness of new digital media. How does it stack-up against print media?

There have been several recent neuroscience studies that have shown that paper-based content surpasses digital with better engagement and deeper emotional response.

It turns out paper-based media requires less cognitive effort to absorb and is more memorable, with one study showing recall was 70% higher with print content compared to the same content in digital form.

Another study showed students that read text in printed form had significantly better comprehension than students reading the same text in digital form.

Screen-based behaviour is characterised by more time spent browsing and scanning, selective, non-linear reading and a lack of sustained attention. The digital experience has many distractions and is harder work for the eyes. It is far more restful to read the printed page than a screen.

There also appears to be a greater trust afforded to print than digital. Maybe this means that print is viewed as less disposable and anchored by a physical publisher or that people are wary of the lawless nature of the internet?

On that disposable note, magazines often have a great retention. They stay on the coffee table for some time (or in the loo). Readers are seeing the same ad time and time again. And how often have you remarked on that brilliant digital ad? Brands can make a great impact with creative, engaging artwork in scales just not afforded by a mobile screen.

Electronic direct mail is now an integral part of many communications and marketing strategies, and with good reason. It is rapid and affordable to produce and disseminate. Senders can also push engagement to other channels such as shopping sites or social media. All this interaction can be measured and the captured data made use of to fine tune future content.

But, perhaps we should not discount the effectiveness of printed media to build strong brands? Studies have shown that on average as much as 80% of email newsletters remain unopened but that figure is reversed in addressed print, where as much as 80% is opened.

Combine this engagement with the superior recall and comprehension of printed content and there is a strong case to consider the investment into printed newsletters. From the communications strategy point of view, it’s all about return on investment. It’s worthwhile doing the sums on spend vs effectiveness.

I don’t think this is a question of one or the other. Considerations around audience makeup and specific campaign objectives need to be made. Communicators and marketers should not automatically jump to digital as a default solution when print might be more effective.

Perhaps audience behaviour will change over time and the youth of today who are born into a predominantly digital world will adapt their minds to better-process digital communications, or perhaps they won’t and we’ll find society will settle for a lower level of comprehension and retention.

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