While those of us in the design and printing industries have been wondering about the future of printed media for a few years, almost everyone is noticing that newspapers are teetering on the brink of becoming obsolete. Print journalism is especially susceptible to the current economic lulls, and the world's changing attitudes toward media delivery. The 100 year old Christian Science Monitor recently announced that they will no longer produce a daily printed newspaper starting later this year. Instead they will serve instantly updated news through their website, while still producing a weekly printed newspaper. This has been viewed by many as the writing on the wall for print journalism. Granted print journalism does have some inherent weaknesses when competing with the web, modern cell phones and instantaneous delivery methods. But what about the rest of the printed world as we know it? Books, magazines, letters, cards, brochures and so on. We've already seen a serious decline in hand written letters which have been replaced by emails and text messages. You can download books on your iPhone or Amazon reader thingy (both seem ridiculous). You can send your friends e-cards instead of writing out a thank you. Many companies have made their brochures available online in the form of their website or a downloadable PDF. So is that it? Has print become too costly, slow, clumsy and irrelevant in our hyper-digital age? No. In fact, I think current trends will eventually prove the true value of the printed page. The real determining factor is disposability. Is the message or content disposable? Do you want your message to be forgotten in 15 minutes or have the potential to last for many years? Case in point: 50 years from now do you think anyone will be reminiscing over text messages the way we do now over a box of old love letters? Will students be studying brilliant pay-per-click ad campaigns of the 2000's the same way they drool over Russian propoganda posters of the early to mid 1900's? One very fascinating point that Walter Isaacson of Time magazine made on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart earlier this week was this: If the only way you had ever received any information, media, or news was through a digital box or screen, and then one day someone invented this neatly printed package full of information that was delivered to your door which you could flip through at your convenience and put away and save you would think "this is amazing!" It may sound far fetched, but I think he's totally right. Digital media is convenient, fast and often times dazzling, but it is also fleeting. There is an undeniable comfort factor in knowing the pages of your favorite book, or last week's newspaper, will be exactly the same next time you pick it up.
Despite its lack of romanticism digital media is not going to slow down anytime soon. It gets the job done, and gets the information where you want it. Printed media is definitely going to start becoming more and more rare. But in this process the printed page, the printed poster, and the hand-written letter will become more and more valuable. Not necessarily in dollars, but in the eyes of the beholder. Anything actually existing in time and space has the potential to have far greater value and lasting impact (to the individual) than another piece of data that is just a single grain of sand in the universe of information we know as the internet.
So how will this affect marketing and design in the future? With the ever-growing amount of cold and impersonal forms of communication, educated consumers will be impressed by companies that put forth the extra effort. The more rare the printed page becomes, the greater the upper hand becomes of those who use it.
It can also be looked at like this: A company is like a young man looking for love; clients, customers and investors are the girl he is trying to woo. He's got to make that girl feel special, and if he thinks a few text messages and an e-card will do it, well then some other guy is gonna show up out of no where and sweep her out from under him with mix cds, flowers and love letters. The bottom line is this: print is tangible and concrete, it takes more effort to create, but is inherently more valuable and lasts longer. As long as humans have physical bodies, print won't be going away anytime soon.