Is Print Part of Your Future?

Everyone knows newspapers, magazines, and books are going through a game change. Digitization is making it possible for them to be delivered in new ways (phones, eReaders, social media, etc). New business models are coming and going in the print industry as a result, and there is more turbulence ahead promising to spawn new applications and new ways of delivering information.

Printing in the U.S. is $140-150 billion dollar industry. There is a lot more to it than newspapers, magazines, and books. For example: catalogs, direct mail, legal and financial forms, documentation, stationary, packaging, credit card statements, and more.

Full disclosure: I am working with executives in the print industry to develop a strategy for these changing times. Much of what you read below comes from focus groups and interviews I have conducted as part of my work.

Here are five trends impacting printing today. Check them out and then, please answer the question at the end. I want to know what you think.

1. The digitization revolution is not over—the endgame is not clear.
There continue to be significant changes, new advances, emerging business opportunities, and further upheaval in the marketplace. Nobody sees a conclusion to the changes now taking place.

2. The ways we communicate are continuing to change with major impact on the value chain.
Spending and ROI are both being influenced. This in turn is causing organizations to restructure as new opportunities appear and other revenue streams flatten or recede. Further, digital and ink-on-paper are evolving together.

3. U.S. companies are expanding internationally.
There is continuing growth in other countries (e.g., China, Indonesia, Eastern Bloc countries such as Poland, Brazil and many countries in S America, India). It is a complicated playing field. Every region, every country has different prevailing constraints, does business differently, and is at a unique point in its evolution.

4. Globalization is coming home, impacting U.S. companies doing business in North America.

The U.S. market is shrinking in terms of dollars, traditional print sites, and commercial printers—growth is near flat at best, mergers & acquisitions are active. China is moving in as are other international players.

5. There is an untold story about sustainability/green issues and the facts for the print industry.
Everyone assumes not printing on paper saves trees. But printers are among the most resolute supporters of managed forests, planting trees to ensure the continuance of their industry - they'd be foolish not to. The issue is complex; there are many variables. The carbon footprint of an eReader or a cell phone has not yet been established. Sometimes printing on 100% recycled paper requires more energy, having more impact on the environment than printing on paper with a smaller percentage of recycling. The devil is in the details and the details are not clear.

Print is arguably the most important revolution of modern times changing civilization and human progress fundamentally by making it possible to capture words and communicate them. And now the game is changing for sure. So, here's my question for you: Is there a place for print in your future? If so, what is it?

Seth Kahan ( is a Change Leadership specialist, helping leaders successfully adapt to the new world of business. He has worked closely with CEOs and executives in over 50 world-class organizations that include Shell, Prudential, Marriott, World Bank, Peace Corps, American Society of Association Executives, Project Management Institute, and NASA. His Web site is His latest book is Getting Change Right: How Leaders Transform Organizations from the Inside Out. Download a free excerpt at

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  • Paul Tuckey

    Mass customisation is the most likely growth area for print. Take a look at how Moo are showing the way. Likewise so are Apple with their book and photo album printing service from within iPhoto. I expect to see mass customisation extended out to wallpaper design, clothing and any other items where short run digital processes can be applied.

    Traditional areas such as product packaging and high quality coffee table books will always be with us. Though its obvious magazine, books and newspapers will loose market share to iPads and the like. Having said that paper has the advantage of not requiring batteries and being a less distracting medium, as such I doubt it will not be entirely replaced for a while yet.

  • Diane James

    I believe there are some experiences not yet replicated well by electronic versions of books - like what happens when a child picks up a picture book, a pop-up book, or books with things to feel or smell as part of them. Or when my teenager (who otherwise has her face glued to an Apple screen) sees the latest catalogs from her favorite shops. I envision that online media will do for some reading and marketing experiences what email communications have done for face-to-face - simply broaden the spectrum, not narrow it. There will always be the challenge of differentiation and synthesizing or focusing when the range of options for reading is great and the cost of entry into the market place is so small - so companies and organizations who can will want to create the piece that stands out - print will definitely be in the mix. And in terms of globalization, there may also be different levels of adaptation to media. Finally, having weathered the storms of last winter, when the power goes's back to the book and candle or flashlight.

  • Thad McIlroy

    You write that you are "working with executives in the print industry to develop a strategy for these changing times." They presumably want an answer to the question you pose to your readers "Is there a place for print in your future? If so, what is it?"

    I've been in publishing and printing for my entire career, 37 years now. As I wrote in my last blog entry: "There is NO empirical evidence that print is dying. There’s a ton of evidence of decreased consumption, but media consumption does not evolve in a linear fashion. The trend line might look like it’s heading towards zero but an examination of historic media consumption patterns suggests that the decline will taper and at some point level off." (http://thefutureofpublishing.c.... The question is "what will that level be?" 90% of today's print volume, 10%, or, most likely, (in our lifetimes) somewhere in between.

    Its role is fast declining for all of us. Perception too often is perceived as reality, as in the misconception about paper's carbon footprint (not nearly as large as it's portrayed to be, discussed here: http://thefutureofpublishing.c.... And, sadly, the printing industry has historically (and hysterically) proved to be its own weakest advocate (see the Printing Industry of America's old campaign "Print: The Original Information Technology". Misconceived and off-base; a waste of money).

    There will be print, but relatively few printers. And there is not much that you or the industry can do about that. I gave up trying to save them five years ago.

  • Ken Garrison

    The changes for the printing industry are difficult to understand and interpret for the future. As a former owner of a small commerical printing business, I would note that I sold the business as I did not have the capital nor the profitability to compete with the pace of change. Given the needs of the international market place, low cost international printers and digital changes to the market, my assement is in another 10 years there will be generally two types of printers-large well capitalized and flexible operations that can change as the market does, stay within the requirements of the green revolution to air quality and paper. There will also be a place for small nimble niche printers who meet specific needs in local markets. The middle market printer who starts will a base level of equipment and capital and then grows over time may well disappear in the next 10 years. As they battle the market changes the mid size printer will only be allowed one or two mistakes in the deployment of their capital to meet a new market or grow. One or two costly misteps might well end a generation or two of good work and successful growth.

    However I also remain convinced that there will be a market for high quality print materials that can stand out to market a product or event. There will also be a market for the low cost marketing piece that is produced off a digital press to a very specific market. I do not have a feel the future production of junk mail which always seems to survive regardless of how many changes take place.

  • Joanne Dunne

    There's definitely a place for print in my future - and I'd argue, everyone else's as well. I believe print will continue to be a means for delivery of information, but it may differ for books, magazines and newspapers. Maybe we need to remember what happened when TV began; everyone sat at home and ate dinner in front of the set, fascinated by the boob tube. That isn't true anymore. I think we're all in the Gee Whiz phase of digital media right now and are all fascinated by how "everything is different now." Not so much! The printing press changed the world; I'm not sure smart phones have done that yet.

  • Penny Pompei

    I honestly don't know what the future of print media will be. Until the iPad was introduced, I would have said that I would never give up my daily Wall Street Journal or my "beach-read books", However, now I'm not so sure. I like to read and from a wide range of subjects, both fiction and non-fiction. My book collection has nearly eaten my den and since I almost never re-read a book, have no idea what to do with them all, yet I continue to buy new books that interest me. Now that airline travel has made luggage a non-starter and have even limited carry-ons, hauling heavy books on and off planes is not fun. The thought of loading all my pleasure-read books into an easy-carry iPad is very tempting. Likewise, downloading the WSJ into my iPad and reading it when I have a chance is starting to look very interesting. Like many things Apple does, I think the iPad may be a paradigm-shifter. I'm not going to be investing in any papermills in the foreseeable future - or publishers. We may be going toward an era where colorful and expensive "coffee table books" are the only printed things we buy. My groaning bookshelves would certainly welcome the relief.

  • Madelyn Blair

    I'm assuming that by that word 'print' you mean hard copy printing. With this assumption, I answer the question with a yes. First, let me say that I read on line for hours a day. I read books on the screen of my iPhone. I value the ability to search as I read and to have the 'book' with me electronically instead of having to carry it. But I am going to answer your question from the perspective of learning.

    I am an expert on how folks learn. (My latest book, Riding the Current, talks about how people become life long learners.) And one of the ways in which people learn is by moving their bodies, including writing words, drawing pictures and diagrams (and all the ways you can imagine as well). Typing words does not do the same thing for my brain as writing does, and my brain is where the learning has to occur. So, when I am interested in learning something, I find it important to have and to offer to others, the ability to record thinking through writing, drawing, annotating right on the page. You will say that comments are possible in an electronic document, but typing does not trigger the same connections to learning to those who find kinesthetics an important vehicle for learning. Having said this, I can imagine technology that allows the reader to do all of this on the screen. I'm certain this technology exists. I just haven't used it. And perhaps if we do all of our reading and note taking electronically, our brains will evolve to this form of kinesthetic learning. In the meantime, kinesthetic learners want to write on the page.

  • pamela

    I'm old and an avid reader. I wish I could say that print is in my future. I'm also an academic. I'm finding that I do all my bills online, get few magazines or newspapers anymore (they come by email, now), I keep files on the computer. I still buy books and journals but because (readers') margin notes on e-readers can all be linked to their references and searced by keywords, I will be learning that new technology soon. I can see how that will streamline academic writing and make it stronger, too. I don't like learning new technology, but I can see how it will be worth it. I have boxes of journals that I rarely use and if I could read journal articles on an e-reader, I'd read many more of them. I am also a student and buy many used books. I'll pay a little more for e-books but will probably subscribe to them anyway them anyway. I am, however, looking forward to reading childrens' books to my new granddaughter :)

  • laurabaron

    As a recording artist I constantly struggle with the pros and cons of print on paper. Digital media is replacing and virtually eliminating hard copy CD's, but I believe there is still a market for the physical CD complete with it's paper inserts containing liner notes, lyrics, confessions and artwork. I can listen to anyone's music on the planet who has uploaded an mp3. I share and sell my music that way as well. But to me there is something special about holding the CD case in my hand, pulling out the CD and seeing and touching all the artwork and text waiting to be discovered. Although most of the CD's I buy end up on my Iphone or Ipod I still feel more connected to the artists involved when I hold the CD in my hands. There is nothing like the convenience of an e-reader, but nothing as cozy as curling up with a good book. Nothing like taking the CD home recorded by the band you just saw and tearing off the shrink rap to discover all you can hear and see... So there is a time and place for both in my world. But ask any performer what feels sweeter- selling downloads of your latest CD online or signing copies of your new CD (to a long line of enthusiastic fans)? Well, you tell me? I'm getting out my sharpie!

    Laura Baron