Opinion: The changing face of print

Opinion: the new role of print emerging

October 14, 2013

Print has suffered a serious health scare. To the outside world the symptoms may look extremely grim. But the prognosis is definitely not terminal.

Like Doctor Who, it has reached the end of the current series, is going through a process of regeneration – and will be part of our lives for generations to come, vibrant as ever, in a refreshing new guise.

I know this because I see the metamorphosis taking place every day, as print settles in to a new role across every market and every generation, writes Peter Doherty.

The most obvious signals may be very different, but as communicators we should know better than to take things at face value.

If newspapers were a bellwether for the health of print, press owners could be forgiven for jumping from an upper floor window.

Regional dailies have all but disappeared and after 279 years the world’s oldest paper – Lloyd’s List – will soon be purely web-based.

This week the 125-year-old Financial Times announced it is also crossing the digital Rubicon, shedding almost all of its print editions to become a primarily online channel.

Editor Lionel Barber proclaimed: “The 1970s-style newspaper publishing process is dead.”

Digital FT subscribers already outnumber those who buy the newspaper by more than 100,000.

The editor added: “This is no time to stand still. The competitive pressures on our business to adapt to an environment where we are increasingly being read on the desktop, smart phone and tablet remain as strong as ever.”

If that is the message from consumer media, why should the IC community continue to embrace a dinosaur?

The answer lies in a discussion on Thursday’s Radio 4 Today programme.

James Daunt, managing director of bookseller Waterstones, revealed that growth in e-readers was slowing.

He then announced: “The physical book will remain the predominant way in which people choose to read.”

Was this the voice of an old-fashioned Luddite with a vested interest? Unlikely, as his store makes good money from both formats.

Critic Alex Heminsley supported his view: Print offers an “emotional connection”.

Paperback novels may be going the way of daily papers, but “real” books are thriving.

She explained: “Physical books have become a bespoke, style-led thing rather than being just about the actual pages

They are having to “significantly raise their game in terms of production values” – better deigned and presented, often with bespoke elements enabled by digital publishing – but “tangible”, “tactile” and “connecting with people in a way that e-reading never will”.

This is the secret to the future of print. While many channels can offer news, information, ideas and interaction, print engages on an emotional level.

It is tactile, portable, tangible.

In a busy, fast-moving, screen-dominated, information-rich environment, it offers style, reflection, even indulgence – an investment in self, in quality and understanding.

So a clear pattern is emerging. If you want your employees to know what’s going on, and you want their feedback, use digital media.

But if you want them to make a real emotional connection with your organisation, one that extends beyond doing a job and embraces pride, belief, lifestyle, shared vision and deeply embedded commitment – print has a really important role to play.

It isn’t that simple.

To work, the way we use print has to change. It is not just a channel for information but a lifestyle accessory. Something that people are proud to take home as it reflects investment in them not as cogs, but as consumers, customers and contributors.

If the strength of a print product is that it is tangible, then it has to look and feel good and offer something of real value.

Content is more important than ever before. Not just news but depth, analysis, opinion, authority – and to some extent entertainment.

And design is of the essence. It is no longer about simply presenting words and pictures but about creating a mood and an environment that people want to be associated with.

Better journalism, better photography, better design.

As Lionel Barber explained: “The new FT will be redesigned and updated to reflect modern tastes and reading habits.

“It will exude authority and quality, delivering a powerful combination of words, pictures and data to explain the most important issues of the day.

“Our main design effort will focus on “show pages” with accompanying rich data and graphics.”

The message for the IC community is clear: The dash for digital is inevitable, but as an addition to the armoury, not an alternative.

The old fashioned corporate newsletter may well be in terminal decline.

But print is alive and kicking and emerging as a more powerful tool than ever before. Abandon it at your peril.