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Video Didn’t Kill the Radio Star and the Digital Age Hasn’t Killed Off Print
By Alison Stieven-Taylor

Every wave of new technology brings with it a sense of panic that the established mediums in the marketplace will be superseded in the wake of the latest and greatest.

But video hasn’t wiped out radio, DVDs haven’t ended the life of cinema and Kindle hasn’t killed the printed book. And eighteen years and one trillion web pages later the Internet is yet to knock off print as a communication medium; an event that was widely predicted when the World Wide Web took off.

Nor is the advent of digital signage significantly changing the visual landscape of our cities. A quick drive around will tell you that billboards and outdoor printed signage is still a significant part of the marketing mix and there are few retail outlets that don’t feature some form of printed visual merchandising.

To say digital communications haven’t impacted the printed medium would be ludicrous, but the story on how extensive that impact has been and will be moving forward is yet to be written. Can the downturn in some sectors of the print market solely be blamed on the digital age? Surely, if it was just about technology, then everyone would be in the same boat and that clearly isn’t the case.

 Alison Stieven-Taylor is an author, journalist, and magazine editor based in Melbourne.  She is also the creative director of Reality & Illusion Productions, a leading media communications company specialising in B2B communication.

I’ve interviewed literally hundreds of successful print companies over the past ten years and there is no shortage of subjects in 2010. So what are they doing that the less successful companies are not? Two words spring instantly to mind: innovation and adaptation.

Certainly there are sectors of the print communications market such as daily newspapers that appear to have been adversely affected by online communications. But whether the decline in newspaper circulations can be solely attributed to the rise in online news services is subject to question given a recent survey in the US where 78% of adults reported their major source for news was local television – hardly a new medium.

As other industries have had to adjust to online competition – the retail sector is a primary example – so has the print market with some doing so more successfully than others. As retailers have had to come up with compelling reasons why customers should come into their store rather than buy online, print service providers also are required to be creative in demonstrating that print is still a viable and essential part of the marketing mix. It is about finding those emotional drivers that will make consumers respond to a printed communication and making the most of the trend towards short runs by creating unique selling propositions. Print cannot remain as a manufacturing based industry and expect to thrive.

e-Readers – a new threat or a novelty?
In 2007, the same year that e-reader Kindle was launched by Amazon, the final book in the Harry Potter series was released. In a report by the BBC it was revealed that “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows” sold more than 11 million copies in the first 24 hours of its release – 8.3 million were sold in the US on day one out of a print run of 12 million! Before this edition the series had sold 325 million books.

The Harry Potter books’ demographic is primarily what Rupert Murdoch calls the “digital native”, those under 25 years of age who have grown up with digital technology. Yet these ‘digital natives’ chose to buy a book, a printed book. So what happened to the digital age killing off print and books in particular?

Now the naysayers will tell you that Harry Potter is a once in a lifetime phenomenon and we will never see those kinds of print runs again. But that is beside the point. The fact is that these kids, this generation that supposedly doesn’t read and isn’t interested in anything that doesn’t run on power and doesn’t have a flat screen, wanted to read a book. They wanted to hold it in their hands, lie in bed at night turning pages of paper, sit curled up on the sofa earmarking favourite sections, or with their faces buried in between the book’s covers on the bus to school. They didn’t rush to buy Kindle and read the book on a flat screen encased in plastic. The digital natives wanted the textural and emotional experience of reading a book and no e-Reader, regardless of its technological wizardry, is going to replace the joy of owning a book that you love and will read over and over again.

It is interesting that three years after the launch of Kindle Amazon still won’t release sales figures for its e-reader prompting one US analyst to state in an article by Reuters in December 2009, that "If investors are buying Amazon because of Kindle they're making a mistake…It's not inconsequential, but it's just not a game changer". Selling books, hardcopy books, is still a major revenue stream for Amazon.

Whereas the techno-pundits are seeding stories on how e-Readers like the newly released iPad will bring about the death of print faster than anyone could imagine, the print industry is far from gasping its last breath. On public transport you see more people reading books, newspapers and magazines than you do reading an iPad or any other tablet for that matter. It is infinitely easier to throw a book into your bag or stick it in your pocket than to cart around an iPad. And you can easily recycle your newspaper or magazine, but what happens to discarded iPads? How much of their content is recyclable?

And just as the makers of iPad and the like are investing in technology so are print suppliers and producers. Faster and smarter are not words exclusive to gizmo manufacturers.

The Digital Revolution is a Great Opportunity for Print
Many will say the printing industry has never faced a challenge such as that thrown down by the Internet and the digital age. And this may be true, but those in the industry who have embraced digital technology as a creative tool are the ones who are reaping the benefits. And I’m not just talking about digital print, but all aspects of digital technology from online ordering, campaign measurement systems and customer profiling to complementary digital communications tools and solutions. Success in this market is about truly listening to the customer, not just paying lip service to the notion.

It’s no longer good enough to adopt the philosophy of “if you can’t beat them join them” because that ship has long sailed. Those who want to be successful are thinking, “why bother trying to beat them when we can lead them”. These are the companies who will prosper in the future because they are creating new models right now and shifting the paradigm for print.