We’ve all heard people say “print is dead.” Just a few days ago, while I was watching one of The Onion’s videos, a pop-up appeared reading “Subscribe to The Onion’s YouTube channel today and hasten the demise of print media.” I chuckled, but this is no laughing matter.
In our increasingly online world, many people wouldn’t be surprised if the print medium just disappeared. However, print isn’t going anywhere, not for a long time. The death of print has been prophesized for over a century, but print continues to put up one hell of a fight.
For the healthcare marketing professional, this means that the flock to advertise strictly online is unwarranted. It’s definitely important to maintain an online presence, but forsaking print ads under the assumption that “print is dead” will severely damage your advertising opportunities. We all know an integrated approach to marketing is critical and print advertising remains an important tool for generating awareness.
There are plenty of different angles that show print is alive and well. Even articles that welcome the demise of print media, such as a 2013 Pew Research Center article entitled “News Magazines: Embracing Their Digital Future” discuss areas where print still has the upper hand over digital. The article notes that while single issue sales suffered “the vast majority of the subscription numbers at [Time, The Economist, The Atlantic, The Week, and The New Yorker] still come from print. Digital replica numbers are a tiny fraction.”
Take a look at the circulation numbers for The Wall Street Journal as well. According to a 2013 article, The Wall Street Journal is “the country’s largest newspaper by average weekday circulation,” with an average weekday circulation of 2.4 million including print and digital subscribers. Over half of The Wall Street Journal’s subscribers (just over 1.5 million) are still print subscribers, lending some serious credence to the idea that print isn’t dead.
In “News Magazines: Embracing Their Digital Future” the idea that “audiences are accessing magazine content in more than one way…” is given some thought, and this is a far more constructive idea than simply dismissing print altogether. At The New Yorker around 330,000 people have authenticated the associated iPad app; the majority of these people are print subscribers who have paid an additional $10 to gain digital access as well. In an interview with the Pew Research Center, New Yorker publisher Lisa Hughes said, “People love all-access… They want to be able to read on their tablets while they’re traveling, or their phones on the subway — and they’re willing to pay for it.”
Understanding the resilience of print isn’t just a numbers game. Think about the many roles the written word plays in our everyday lives: Do we think people are going to start bringing iPads to church? Do we think libraries are going to disappear?
When we look at our senses, there’s a much stronger relationship to print than digital media. Touch is a striking example: We all have a tactile impulse to holding the written word. If you’ve ever picked up a book you enjoyed but haven’t read in a while and found that you could locate a particular passage pretty quickly, you’re experiencing that intimate relationship between our mind and the written word.
Holding a tablet just doesn’t compare to the feeling of holding a book: the difference in texture from the hardcover exterior and flipping the thin pages, making your own bookmarks by bending the top of a page back. These are great sensory experiences that can’t be replicated by an iPad or Kindle.
The sense of smell also has a direct connection to the printed word. Every book, magazine, newspaper, etc. has its own unique smell. It might seem odd, but pick up a book and smell the aroma from the ink, coating and paper. Tablets, computers and smart phones don’t offer that same experience.
As far as tasting and hearing goes, you probably shouldn’t be trying to use either of those senses when reading a book or on a screen. Although I can confirm, from personal experience, that your laptop and tablet don’t taste like anything.
At the end of the day, the irony of defending the print medium on a digital blog isn’t lost on me. I enjoy plenty of digital media too. I waste time on Facebook and Reddit, and watch music videos on YouTube. However, millions of people around the world will continue to take print over digital no matter what.