The future of print: why I believe in print!


Year after year you hear those alarmist “onliners” – the “masters of the digital universe” – claiming that print is dead. I see things differently – we are on the brink of seeing the renaissance of print. There are enough reasons to validate this statement and they are paving the way for Print Industry 2.0.

It sometimes annoys me when I hear so-called “marketing experts” talking about digital-only strategies and “that print simply does not pay”. Please don’t get me wrong – digital transformation is also gaining a foothold in the print industry and a change of thinking is called for! But that should not be equated with replacing print, some people misunderstand this and they misjudge the value and potential of print. Print offers sustainable benefits. However rules and expectations change, indeed in some respects more so and in others less so. And to provide clarity on this issue, I should like to illustrate my way of looking at things, using a few examples.

“Fundamental” benefits of print

Only available for short periods, cluttered, overload the senses – these are all attributes that don’t apply to print products. On the contrary – reading and a perception of what’s on paper reduces stress and is basically far less transient than monitors and screens, which even the younger generation of digital natives has come to appreciate. That’s because according to the latest ‘Kinder-Medien-Studie’ (IFH Consumer Barometer), paper-based reading is of supreme importance to kids aged up to 13. Print content therefore has a particular status not just in the lives of the older generation. There continues to be an affinity with magazines, books et al. That’s because the perception you experience when reading a printed book is sensory – a benefit that print media will never lose. And it is exactly for this reason that nearly two-thirds of respondents in a Bitkom survey dated October 2017 dislike reading e-books. Yet the look-and-feel book market does not need to hide its light under a bushel, also given stagnating (to some extent declining) e-book reader numbers. What I also found not in the least surprising when reading the survey was that book recommendations form a much more prominent part of communication with relatives and friends than e-book ones are. And the practical thing about this is that the recommended print edition can be borrowed, and if the reader likes it, can then be purchased, which basically isn’t the case with electronic books. Print creates trust and forms bonds – and that cannot be offset by speed of content acquisition. This also brings me to my second point…

That haptic reading experience can only be gained from books – it endures. Source: © Photo by tomertu /

Newspapers, advertising publications and mailshots – print news and advertising

Let’s consider the news market: the faster an item of digital communication is circulated, the sooner it can also be replaced. Often it is not well-researched material that matters but just speed – that does not increase confidence in the communicating medium, it reduces it instead. So it’s all the more annoying to see the newspaper market suffering from this phenomenon and contracting. It’s difficult to understand, given that printed newspapers still enjoy the highest levels of trustworthiness and credibility. What is therefore becoming apparent is that in an age of overhasty announcements, fake news et al, the decline of newspaper print is being arrested. And quite apart from anything else, nobody should cling on to the argument that newspapers are not “up-to-date and customized enough”. That’s because it is precisely this confidence in reliable print information that readerships appreciate. What’s also really interesting to see is how software solutions are enhancing the print catalog mass customization market. One example of this is the automatic layout software developed by AutLay, a Cologne University project start-up. This software offering is designed to enable promotional catalog layouts to be transferred directly into print versions in future in an automated process based on digital data rather than templates. According to the start-up, this would also make customized newspapers feasible, which therefore would certainly be an interesting option for catalog producers and publishers to reach out effectively to more customers using targeted print.

“Print products have the advantage that they not only communicate sensory benefits better than other media – print enables you to react to changes in demand behavior. So long as print providers and publishers use it, print will remain an important part of the economy and people’s lives.” – Bernd Zipper

In addition to a higher degree of trustworthiness, print also creates effective, sustainable communication, powerful brand messages and content depth. What am I basing this claim on? You only need to take a look at advertising spend for the various types of media. Mobile is growing fastest (by 72 % in 2016 compared to 2015) and TV advertising spend was again increased last year (+ 6.8 %). Despite this, consumers find advertising in daily newspapers and magazines more interesting than what you find on TV and much more interesting than Internet advertising. Obviously online advertising is inexpensive. But it can be blocked without the potential consumer even setting eyes on the content. The same applies to the issues of credibility and information content – here the relationship is even more clear-cut. Added to that is the fact that TV and general Internet advertising are in contrast perceived to be twice as annoying and ignorable as print advertising (source: Nielsen and brand eins). That is an indication, not just in my opinion, that print customers are reached out to – and also want to be reached out to in future – on a different qualitative level.

Personalized print parcel inserts can also provide purely eCommerce businesses with an important physical customer touchpoint; Source:

Printed advertisements do indeed cost more and are marginally less visible than digital ones. But the response rates for a personalized direct mailshot in print are twice as high as those for all digital channels put together! Although it appears to be inexpensive and easy to distribute, online advertising gets on a lot of people’s nerves – which is why some 30% of the Internet community (equating to a quarter of the German population) will be using ad-blockers from next year onwards and reject digital advertising twice as frequently as advertising publications et al (sources: Statista, Internetworld). The apparent “cost advantage” is gone. eCommerce providers can also utilize the print channel and opt to use a physical touchpoint, for example by running really effective mailshot campaigns. Personalized parcel inserts, for example, which I have already reported on, are very similar. These two methods do not involve unsolicited advertising. Product bundling can be communicated by a personalized covering letter just as effectively as product-related tips that addressees can really get to grips with. This is the quality that print is able to communicate and in which it is worth investing.

Mass Customization and premium print

More and more print-specific and print-related products are making inroads into the premium segment. Quality is expressed not just in the look and feel of the product. Rising aspirations can be met by incorporating electronic aids like sensors etc. There are plenty of print options available for this purpose – and there is plenty of development work being undertaken in this field. I was once again able to see this for myself on my last visit to Luxepack. It doesn’t even have to be premium-finish packaging to make an impact. The opportunity of delivering customization at familiarly high quality is much more important here – irrespective of whether packaging, mailshots, job printing or gift items are involved. There are plenty of ideas and production options about in the wider printing industry, and that’s what the future of print will be based on as well.

Appealing and innovative packaging concepts can also come from established machinery manufacturers – shown here is a cardboard box with a magnetic closure by Kolbus; Source: zipcon consulting

I am confident that the increasing need for customized products can also be satisfied using print. in the case of small and mini print runs, the process of adding value is being enhanced by technology and my perception is that many print providers and converters are “changing their thinking”. The positive side effect of customized products is that customers are prepared to pay more for special and customized products, because they appreciate their value and appeal. And the prospects that new digital methods are also generating for the print industry are good – no, they’re very good. I am thinking here just about the personalization opportunities in packaging and textile print, which continue to generate enormous potential for both the B2B and B2C markets. Digital textile print will achieve annual growth rates of more than 10% by 2021, according to Smithers Pira. Print-on-demand clothing and interiors will account for the lion’s share of the doubling in size of this market segment by 2021. And I have already quoted loads of examples this year here at beyond-print, which show that it’s not just the major players that are continuing to grow – the niche players are also generating textile print sales by actioning great ideas. And the digital print-driven photo print market is also growing steadily. Calendars, photo books and photo gifts in particular are bringing providers high levels of sales.

But – and this is what everybody involved with print technologies needs to internalize – even if print is on the brink of a genuine renaissance, if the “old school” printing industry does not adapt to this new era and transform, then it will not be the beneficiary of this trend. Instead scores of online print providers and those businesses that have already transformed will take the market over and will unceremoniously catapult any company that does not adapt or develop their own formulas out of the industry… even if they have maybe just purchased a new printing press ?.

My take: print products – no matter whether catalogs, newspaper supplements, flyers or large-scale paper-based advertising – are what generate a buying intention in the minds of many B2B and B2C customers in the first place, given their particular emotional appeal. They are perceived by many people as providing inspiration – a feeling that will not be replaced even in the future. So it is nonsense to maintain that investing in print, including print advertising, does not pay dividends. My enthusiasm for print is not calculated optimism, but is based on a genuine confidence in this medium. It is a confidence that I derive from my everyday work as a consultant when I see how ambitious start-ups and established companies from the wider print industry are focusing on the strengths of print and successfully enhancing these strengths. Those viewing the print market as a whole recognize that there are more shifts than losses. And what is important is to continue reacting appropriately to these shifts, be it print-on-demand, increased demand for personalized products or the combination of print and digital. There are enough concepts and technology implementation opportunities out there – we just need to apply them and position print properly. That’s because the world is not black and white – there is no such thing as the one “definitive” strategy for reaching out to customers. The ways in which potential customers/readers/consumers use existing media channels are just as diverse as ways of reaching recipients – the trick is getting the mix right – that’s all.

Founder and CEO of zipcon consulting GmbH, one of the leading consulting companies for the print and media industry in Central Europe. The technology and strategy consultant and his team actively support practical implementation in a wide variety of customer projects. His work involves developing visions, concepts and strategies for the players active in the print production process across a wide range of industries. His areas of expertise include online print, mass customization, strategy and technological assessment for print, and the development of new strategies in the print and media environment. Bernd Zipper is the creator and chairman of Initiative Online Print e.V. and, in addition to his consulting activities, is an author, lecturer and sought-after speaker, orator and moderator. His visionary lectures are regarded worldwide as trend-setting management recommendations for the print and media industry. (Profiles also in Xing, LinkedIn).

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