The Joy of Sniffing Paper (and other reasons why print endures)

Once upon a time, we could only check work emails when we were actually there and phone calls happened via landline. If you missed a call, it could be hours before you got the message, and that’s only if you had an answering machine.
Meetings also brought limitations. If you arranged to meet someone for lunch and they didn’t show you had to decide between giving them another 20 minutes and going home. Perhaps they got in an accident? You’d find out eventually.
It seems like a whole other world but this deep recess of our history wasn’t too long ago. The first iPhone was only introduced in 2007 and, although there were a number of smartphones and PDAs on the market by then, the digital revolution was only just beginning.
Today, we boast at having the world at our fingertips. We can settle a bet in a few seconds with a quick Google, connect with a sixth of the world’s population on Facebook, or access the sum of all human knowledge and history with a search of Wikipedia.
But despite the leaps and bounds we’ve taken in making technology part of everyday life, we’ve failed to make our lives easier.
Sure, we can access our email at any time and be reachable at any moment but it is also now what is expected of us. Don’t respond within a couple of hours and your friends, family and colleagues are likely to send out a search party, or worse – think you’re rude or avoiding them.
The world is in digital overload. According to the latest Ericsson Mobility Report, it is estimated that 90% of the world’s population over the age of six will be active mobile phone users by 2020. And, when we’re not looking at our phones, many of us spend the day looking at a computer or tablet before firing up the eReader on the train home and then relaxing in front of the TV, half watching our favourite shows while simultaneously staring at our mobile devices. Even our glasses and watches are becoming sentient.
How is this overload affecting us? Are too many screens and too much information giving way to a sense of digital fatigue?
Although there seems no escape from our digital prison, there are signs that many of us are, collectively, slowly moving away from the new in favour of the tried and true. One area in particular that seemed set to be gobbled up by our binary overlords is print but, out of nowhere, this mainstay of the Industrial Revolution is fashioning a comeback of sorts.
When eReaders and eBooks started hitting their stride at the end of the noughties, many bookstores, online retailers and armchair pundits were viewing the new trend with apocalyptic fear. According to the Association of American Publishers, growth in eBook sales hit the double and triple digits, peaking at 252% growth in the first quarter of 2010.
Certainly, going by numbers, it seemed the end was nigh for the printed word but possibly rumours of the death of print have been greatly exaggerated. The first quarter of 2013 shows eBook sales growth has fallen into the single digits, 4.8% for adult eBooks while physical hardcover sales are up at 11.5%.
So, why does print, a few hundred years old if judging by the steam-powered press, a few hundred more if going by moveable type or at least 2,500 years old if not judging the method of creation, still endure?
Kim Mitchell, Managing Director of Doculink, one of Australia’s leaders in digital print believes there will always be a need and desire for physical print.
“Business is booming,” admits Kim. “We did see a slight drop in print over the last ten years as businesses tried to move everything online, and we moved with them offering online solutions that catered for a new web-savvy audience… but there’s been a decided shift back.”
“People want to feel connected. Printed books or marketing collateral gives us something to hold, to flick through and to annotate. It’s something you can’t replicate on a screen. It’s tactile, it’s somehow more real to people.”
One thing that connects audiences to physical books is the feeling of ownership. What reader doesn’t feel a tinge of pride when looking over their amassed collection on the shelf? It’s a little piece of your personality on show to the world, even if your personality is coloured by Fifty Shades of Grey or features a Twilight collection that tweens would envy.
Books have always offered an escape but print might now just be the last great hope of those wanting to distance themselves from the digital world in their downtime. Books offer texture, smell and the physical. Books stir up emotion and undulate nostalgia. Their fans have a fervour that eReaders won’t ever quite match. Indeed, the term ‘eBook lover’ is all but a foreign concept.
“Physical print has stood the test of time and, even now – when they are reasonable, cheap and readily available alternatives – people still retain that connection with the printed word,” says Kim.
“The way we print may have changed but that need has remained constant. Digital printing presses have also allowed us to be more flexible in what we offer. It’s affordable, easily personalised and still retains the quality expected by today’s audiences.”
Still, a drop in growth of eBooks doesn’t mean they’re not selling well – they are. Sales of eBooks are simply hitting a plateau as the novelty wears off for early adopters, and it is speculated the cheap price of eReaders means anyone who’d want to own one probably already does. The low price-points of eBooks also means many people may have stocked up on titles that are currently sitting unread on their eReader.
Whatever the reason for the drop in growth, and despite all the arguments for and against, it seems eBooks are here to stay alongside their traditional counterparts. Digital is not the death knell of print, it’s another choice we’ve been given between the quick, cheap and convenient and the tactile, sometimes cumbersome, joy that comes from smelling, feeling and becoming part of the words on a page.
For further information on all things print, visit Doculink at or phone 03 9676 2377 Back

May 11 2015

By Shosh Cutter in Print

Share this on