The Fate Of The Printed Word

Now that even books are digital, what lies in store for the world of printed materials?Is there a place in the world for paper printing such as books, magazines and newspapers? I think the next few years are going to answer that question one way or another.

For Father’s Day, I got a Nook from Barnes and Noble. I don’t have convenient access to a large bookstore anymore, and the books I enjoy can be tough to find. (Obscure fantasy authors? Check. Specific autobiographies? Check. Very specific sports books? Check.) Now I can simply download them and read them right on my Nook e-reader. It looks a lot like paper (not like a backlit computer screen) and I like it a lot so far (though in the interest of full disclosure, I must add that I’m already on my second one – the first crashed beyond help). I can also subscribe to and read newspapers and other periodicals on it. Between the Kindle and the Nook and now the iPad, a lot of people are getting their word fix without the bother of paper. Add in the fact that millions of people now get their news online rather than in print (me included), and the world of printing has become unsure at best.

That has been especially bad news for newspapers and magazines. As their circulation numbers have fallen, so have their advertising dollars. The combination of those two factors can put any publication into a coma. Check out the local newsstand sometime, and it’s pretty shocking to see how sparse the selection is getting. Several of my favorite magazines have closed up shop in the past year, while local newspapers across the country are being shuttered every day.

If you are a fan of books, magazines and newspapers like I am, this is all sad news. The question is, then, what can we do about it? Perhaps the first question needs to be, SHOULD we do anything about it? After all, isn’t it better for the environment to go “paperless”? I’m not sure. Somebody still has to make that electricity that we use on our computers, and that still generates smoke and gas and waste. I think a better way to look at it is “when does paper make sense?”

First of all, I think books are going to be around for a while because they are very portable – especially novels. Textbooks, on the other hand, are history. If I was in the textbook industry right now, I would be working really, really hard to find a workable online business model.

Newspapers? They are still around because of local news. However, you can increasingly get this same news online just like national news – and the more that Google and other search engines speed up the process of indexing information, the easier it will be to find. Right now nobody under 30 reads newspapers (this sounds like hyperbole, but it’s not) and they’re not going to start – ever. So for hitting a certain, educated target audience, they are perfect. For hitting new consumers, they are not. I worry if there is a place in the future for newspaper.

Magazines? I think it depends on the target audience – at least for a while. Readers 40+ still like to have that paper magazine around. People like them on airplanes and at the beach. But when everyone has an iPad, I’m pretty sure nobody will need a printed magazine anymore. It’s tough to wait a month or a week for information that you could have seen almost instantaneously online – especially if it’s the same price or cheaper.

So what does this have to do with marketing? Mostly it means we buy a lot less advertising in magazines and newspapers than we used to here at Anchor. Newspapers are still a great vehicle for reaching affluent baby boomers. They work well in rural markets. Trade magazines are still an affordable option for specific target demographics. Brochures are still an inexpensive and convenient way of having information handy away from a computer, and direct mail will always be an interesting way to reach customers (increasingly so as fewer and fewer pieces of mail end up in mailboxes).

But we also use a lot of new media vehicles, like web sites and pay-per-click and Facebook and email blasts. New ones evolve every day. Are you ready for Google ads on your TV? They’re coming. Could you advertise on high profile TV shows by getting in on the new Hulu Plus service? Are you putting your message on mobile phones? They’re not so much phones anymore as mini-computers, and every person you see looking at their Blackberry or iPhone is a potential customer.

As always, the only constant is change. That means that as the old ways of communicating fade away, new ones come forth. Marketing isn’t going away. Just the opposite. You now have even more ways to sell your product or service. You just need a helping hand to sort them all out and put them to good use. That’s what we’re here for at Anchor. Give us a call.