More evidence that print is preferred over digital

The newspaper industry is in turmoil as it tries out online “pay-walls” because it needs to gain revenue having lost circulation in print. Everywhere you go in the newspaper world these days you hear people muttering “print is dead”. Interestingly, as far as I can tell, these are the same people who told us that we would have a “paperless office”. Their ability to predict the future is not brilliant.

Circulations are falling for most newspapers and news executives are quick to “blame” the Internet where we have instant access to news. Of course, it is easy to blame the Internet and much more comfortable doing that, rather than look to your own failings – such as a reduction in ethical standards, poor news judgement, failing to truly understand what the readers want and so on. Those factors may well have more to do with falling newspaper circulations than the presence of the Internet.

One of the problems with the Internet is that you cannot touch it, smell it, feel it. The Internet only involves a few of our senses, whereas printed documents involve others – giving us a more “complete” experience. Indeed, for the “touchy, feely” people in the world, the Internet is a real issue because even though they have to use it, they cannot really, fully engage in the way they would like to. Some of these people even print out their emails so they can feel them, before answering. It gives them greater connection.

We live in a three-dimensional, physical world, yet the Internet is two-dimensional and not physical.

Is it any wonder, then, that time after time studies about the so-called “death of print” find the complete opposite? We love paper and printed documents.

Another study, just published, shows that people are most unlikely to want digital magazines, instead preferring the printed alternative.

digital magazine study graph

The research found that the only encouragement for people to want digital versions of printed magazines is if the digital version included some kind of community – something extra, over and above the printed version. Less than one in five people want a digital magazine.

Sometimes, we rush headlong in to a digital world when, in reality, our customers want something in print. Don’t neglect printed documents – they are still important and valuable to your business.

4 thoughts on “More evidence that print is preferred over digital”

  1. Graham – I would be interested to know what the results would be for the opposite question “Would you pay to receive a print copy of your favourite digital newsletter”.

    Readers have chosen to consume it in that particular medium, so it would be interesting to see if there are any examples/studies where a publication has completely switched from one medium to another, to see the actual rise or fall in readership.

    I’d also like to know what the results would be for the above question if the extra words were added “We are ceasing our print publication from next month, would you pay to download the new digital version of this magazine?”

    • Jay, I agree the study has its limitations, but it does point to something worth considering. I don’t know the answers to the questions you ask – I shall look to see if there has been any research on it. All I can say at this stage is I know someone who had a print newsletter for years, sent free to 25,000 people. He stopped producing it in print, went online making it a free digital version to the same 25,000 people. Open rates were around 25%. He then offered the 25,000 people the option to get his digital newsletter in print, on a paid subscription. He got 9,000 subscribers – more people than were opening his digital version. Plus they were the same people who used to get the same thing free of charge before it went digital. I know that’s only one case, but it is an indication that people are prepared to switch from digital to print and that they value that more.

  2. I definitely feel that the affection for print is there but wonder if that’s my age (even though I’m from a Telecoms/Technology background and have been using PCs both at home since 1980 (as in ZX81s, Dragons etc!) and at work since the mid 80s). Old habits though do take time to break because I remember in the early 90s when engineers who were 10-15 years older than me used to print off their emails every day since they were more comfortable in having them physically to hand on their desk – able to annotate them with notes etc and would almost prepare their reply by hand before then typing it into their Unix station!

    I know from personal habit I save off information I find on-line into a document. I do this consciously because I like to group related information together, and find my own curation easier to find than bookmarks. However subconsciously I do probably fear the article or even the website in question might not be around for very long. So the psychology of print may also be that it somehow feels more permanent and collectible..?

    • I think you have a point about “permanence”. As a university lecturer, though, I am not convinced it is about age. Students still – generally – prefer printed documents. True, they do like to have digital access to slides, notes, past papers and so on. But they mostly still write notes on paper rather than on a tablet or computer and many want printed handouts. I offer digital versions of my lecture notes but many still print them out. The requirement for digital appears to be a convenience thing – being able to print out just what they want, rather than having several pages of lecture notes. In a study I read a few weeks ago where students were offered printed textbooks or online content the preference was overwhelmingly for print.

      So I am not convinced preference for print is related to age. I think it is related more to the way we think. Brain scanning studies show that when we engage with a printed document we use different parts of our brain than when we look at the same thing digitally. I wrote recently about the disconnect we have when we are typing compared with handwriting. In spite of the immense value of digital content – print, touching things, actually feeling the 3D nature of our communications still appears to be important to us.

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