Why paper and publishing do not disappear from the scene



(Published in The Produktkulturmagazin issue 1 2019)

The death of print was predicted almost 15 years ago. The existential crisis of publishing houses and business models based on the production of major catalogues has confirmed this prophecy. But has it really? Few companies still refrain from printing altogether. In fact, the opposite is true: more printing is done today than ever before, but the focus has changed. Nowadays, print products are more individual, targeted and demand-based. Our series of articles in the Produktkulturmagazin therefore takes a closer look at the future of print and publishing in product communication.

It would indeed appear that the use of digital printing is growing significantly, while paper consumption for catalogues has decreased only slightly. All in all, more pages are being printed in smaller issues. One of the reasons for this is certainly the fact that pages have often no longer been printed over the past two decades, and are instead provided in digital format as a PDF, for instance. At the same time, package printing has been steadily growing, as packaging is increasingly regarded as part of the customer experience and is therefore becoming more important in the digital communication mix. The page output is therefore growing continuously, but the answer to how and whether they are printed is another issue.

There are several good reasons why classical print and publishing haven’t vanished into thin air. Paper is a unique media device. We have witnessed digital devices cannibalising one another – laptops have replaced PCs, tablets have replaced laptops and smartphones have ousted tablets and gaming consoles. The graph shown evaluates the devices on the basis of the following criteria: availability, topicality, interactivity, mobility, initial perception and archiving. It thereby becomes apparent that paper complements the digital devices in a unique manner. While the digital devices all work according to a similar principle, paper works differently. This difference does not represent a disadvantage, but rather a clear advantage. Even the lack of interactivity could be perceived to be an advantage. Paper enables an undisturbed “lean back” experience during media use. Another aspect that shouldn’t be underestimated is the fact that paper offers unique advantages in perception thanks to its haptics and physical characteristics, as described by Rüdiger Maaß in his article “The Power of Print” in the previous winter issue of the Produktkulturmagazin.

A further aspect to consider is the fact that digital natives continue to be in the minority – while digital migrants and digital aliens continue to represent the majority in the relevant target groups. A large percentage of the recipients grew up with paper, which means that a strong majority still has an affinity for paper. It is estimated that 20 per cent of relevant touchpoints are components of offline communication. When combining printed and digital publications, 20 per cent of customer journey touchpoints are publication-oriented. A good overview of the touchpoints can be found on the Touchpoint Travel Map on the following double page.

Many companies still experience the traditional division between digital and/or online and “offline” departments. If the digital transformation process was initiated in marketing and communication, this naturally leads to the question of what to do with offline and print communication. Companies often avoid the challenge of incorporating offline communications into the digital strategy. Instead, they prefer to focus on the digital strategy on the grounds that offline channels are drastically losing importance. This is an error of judgement with grave consequences.

The perfect orchestration of all touchpoints in the customer journey is a prerequisite for the ideal customer experience. Neglecting offline touchpoints in the orchestration causes a disruption in product communication. Digital communication thrives on good content. The self-evident saying “content is king” is ignored when offline touchpoints are not integrated into the digital processes. After all, print documents such as catalogues, product brochures, and editorial data sheets contain an abundance of treasure in the form of editorial content that would be well-suited to the digital touchpoints. If offline and online communication processes and concepts remain separated, there can be little to no significant synergy between the two. This is a missed opportunity to free up all available resources from the offline process in order to integrate them into working on a media-neutral “golden record”. It is crucial to understand that the more individual and target group-specific print media is, the more successful it will be. Well-orchestrated print touchpoints improve the conversion rates and help digital communication develop its full potential.

Layout automation solutions such as the priint:suite were used for economic reasons in light of the increasing number of pages resulting from digital print. They allowed more pages to be created individually, quickly and in line with demand while simultaneously reducing costs. If all departments are incorporated into the digital transformation, layout automation gains a completely new dimension. Automation creates the opportunity to apply all offline resources to working on content, therefore assigning the time to work on channel-specific assignments.  Layout automation also enables the improved integration of print touchpoints into the digital strategy, ultimately allowing it to be personalised on demand.

In spite of it all, “digital first” continues to dominate most companies’ communication strategies. If there ever was a time in which online and offline channels were assigned equal importance, it has long since passed. While print and publishing are not on the brink of death, they must inevitably become incorporated as part of digital communication and therefore become subject to the same digital regulations. This will present a host of new challenges for agencies, media service providers and printing companies.

The processes must be simple and easy for the customers themselves, as they have less and less internal print knowhow. Customers’ experiences with the private use of digital services is having a growing impact on business. A customer who orders a birthday invitation card in just one click from an online printer at the weekend will expect the same level of usability for their corporate printed matter. Users want to be able to easily print things everywhere and at any time and, above all, they want to try things out. Digital communication is heavily influenced by the trial and error principle: if an attempt was successful, then the idea will be further developed, otherwise it’s on to the next idea. Print publications have also come to expect the option of being able to test things in accordance with the trial and error principle, which reduces catalogues’ process production times while forcing them to be more individualised.

Print and publishing are assigned a new level of importance in digital communication, but in accordance with the new rules of the game. While the good old print industry as we once knew it has become extinct, there will always be print and publishing, as its evolution has long since begun. 


Horst Huber is a pioneer in data-driven publishing and founder of WERK II/ the priint Group. WERK II’s flagship product, the priint:suite is an enabler for digitalisation and the future of print. It is currently the only globally available publishing technology platform for product communication. Worldwide more than 400 customers rely on priint:suite.

Picture credit © Fotolia, Orlando Florin Rosu

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