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Dr. Joe Webb - For Premium Access Members

Mondays with Dr. Joe:

September 25, 2006

- "Print Can Be a Legitimate Spinoff from the Web"

- Let's Reinforce the Benefits of Print

- What Should We Do?

- The Move to Mondays

“Print Can Be a Legitimate Spinoff from the Web”

I read this quote in a report about Outsell, Inc.'s annual Go! Conference event, which didn't bother me all that much when I first read it. But in the hours after, the full impact of it became clear, much like the comment that print is “offline media,” uttered at an ad:tech event last year.

I am very concerned that print is being seriously marginalized through our own lack of action and insight into the role print plays in today's communications marketplace and that of the future. Whatever industry actions we have taken often seem misguided and misplaced, unaggressive and uninspired, and are not resonating with content creators and idea-makers.


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I don't state this lightly. Since 2000, inflation-adjusted U.S. commercial printing shipments (NAICS 323 M3 shipments adjusted using the CPI) have gone from $118 billion to just less than $90 billion. Using the Commerce Department's Quarterly Financial Report, I estimate that total industry profits have gone from more than $10 billion to less than $4 billion. The NAICS 323 number of employees as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics has gone from 800,000 to less than 650,000.

Last week, General Motors had its first “Media Partner Summit.” Its purpose was “to forge more cross-media deals and integrated, multiplatform marketing opportunities.” Major publishing and broadcast companies were included. Noticeable in its inclusion was a company called “Google.” The April 22, 2005 Wall Street Journal stated, in a report about Google's earnings, “Its quarterly advertising revenue now outstrips the advertising revenue of most major newspaper publishers, including New York Times Co., Washington Post Co., Knight Ridder Inc. and Dow Jones & Co., publisher of this newspaper.”

The positive statistical relationship between printing shipments and GDP disappeared sometime in the late 1990s. Yet, when I survey printers about what has negative or positive effects on their business, they always mention the economy. Statistical analysis on industry shipments and the economy shows that the relationship is now negative; that is, a growing economy depresses print. As strange as that sounds, wealth is created by a growing economy that fosters investment in new communications technologies, only strengthening the interest in that infrastructure for consumer and business use. The statistical relationship between e-commerce retail sales and print volumes is also negative, an indication that the growing environment of electronic communications is changing consumer and business buying behaviors. When I present these facts at industry events, it always seems that this is the first time printers are hearing any of this. They're still conditioned by too many other sources that the health of the printing industry is a function of economic conditions.

The economy is creating an estimated 80,000 net new businesses per month, data I often cite here. Yet the only well-known public printing enterprise that is riding the print/e-commerce trend in its opposite, and positive, direction is VistaPrint, a company not run by printers, not bound by trade practice, not limited by myopic industry experience. The rise in new businesses and changes in printing technologies are capturing the interest of other competitors, such as office superstore Staples, which this year made significant deals with Xerox and EFI. Is print a declining business? Not in Staples' eyes.

Marketers and communicators have realized that they need to change the way they deploy media, and seek new media synergies. The recent book What Sticks is a good starting point to begin to understand the revolution that is occurring in communications management as marketers compete for the attention of audiences that are harder to reach than ever before.

Today, marketers have a wider choice of media, more tools to measure media effectiveness (however flawed they might be), and greater ability to segment markets, customize products, and target their messages. These changes did not happen overnight, but coalesced over many years into today's vibrant and dynamic communications marketplace rife with opportunities for those willing to seize them. Yet it seems that our own industry is unaware that this media revolution is taking place.

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Let's Reinforce the Benefits of Print

In recent presentations, I've been working on a list of print's benefits. This is the current list as it now stands. I think these are print's most compelling ones:

  • Image consistency in production and intent: electronic devices have many shapes and sizes, and abilities to reproduce images in the manner intended by content creators vary widely; once something is printed and approved by the print buyer, that buyer knows that the image will always stay that way.
  • Design creates emotional response: content creators use graphic design techniques to ensure that images are viewed in a manner that will make their client's message effective; in print, they have almost full control of the physical nature of that message.
  • Cuts through media “overcommunication”: print is still allowed to intrude into our lives though daily events like “the mail moment ,” where attention specifically focuses on printed materials.
  • Control of distribution to an intended audience: printed materials are usually handed to someone, mailed to an individual, purchased, or put out for display at an intended location; the content creator has greater control over viewing situations to reach the intended target.
  • Authoritative, more permanent: print costs money, whether it's a magazine subscription, or postage, or just the costs for printing itself, and has an authority to it; new media still has a “free” feel.
  • Supports personal interaction: print is used in settings such as classrooms and client meetings, where it supports learning and training, instruction, or discussion, in ways that other media can't.
  • Deliverability is more certain: e-media still have deliverability issues because of spam filtering and blocking and other transmission uncertainties that are not yet resolved; though you can never force someone to read a printed message, you can be more certain of deliverability than with other media.
  • Supports other media: media planners have come to realize that a consistency of message across multiple media has a greater return than using only one medium; printed messages instigate use of e-commerce, events, and other elements of the media mix.

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What Should We Do?

There are multiple steps, and they need to be implemented concurrently. Unfortunately, they all take time, and the time already lost cannot be made up. Positive results will not be immediate. The reason that time is important is that the audience we are speaking with is no longer intimate with print. We can't assume that they even understand the basic reasons why print should be used. Young communications and media managers are living in a far different world in 2006 than in 2000, and they do not naturally gravitate to print. We are starting from scratch.

We have to rub shoulders with new media movers and shakers by being active in ad:tech and other designer, agency, public relations, and media events as attendees, speakers, exhibitors, and planners. A search of recent ad:tech events revealed that not a single printer or printing association has ever been on a panel or been a sponsor of this program. Notably, American Business Media, an association for B2B marketing, especially for magazines, was a sponsor of the Outsell Go! conference, and has been making significant strides in promoting other B2B media, not just B2B magazines, its previous focus. Neither our industry nor its representatives have been active in the Interactive Advertising Bureau and similar organizations whose members are publishers and agencies, our industry's biggest customers.

No one - supplier, printer, or association - has any constant and memorable presence at,, and other venues frequented by content creators, including their newsletters and other efforts. Print jobs start first with ideas. Messages are honed, and in that process, media are selected. Corporations rely on the counsel of agencies and designers for media selection more than ever. If they don’t confidently understand how print fits, it won’t be recommended.

We need to promote positive print stories inside and outside the industry as soon as they are known. Hasbro, an old company with a rich history in America's culture, recently took its first step into catalog marketing, yet no one - the printer, our associations - issued a press release, nor was the event picked up by any of our own print magazines. The only place it was covered was online at This was surely worth noting in the interests of promoting print. Last year's Outsell, Inc. report about ad spending still ranked print media in the top three for lead generation and brand-building (page 22 of their “Annual Ad Spending Study: Where And Why Advertisers Are Moving Online” report). Yet that, too, went unremarked. Perhaps we have no interest in emphasizing these essential print benefits to communicators.

I'm not usually one to recommend suppliers, but the Interactive Advertising Bureau'snewsletter is superb. It turns out that it's produced by a company called SmartBrief. Should anyone in our industry decide to produce an e-newsletter devoted to the benefits of print, SmartBrief would be an excellent resource. Designers and content creators are online, constantly it seems, and this medium is an excellent way to reach them with news they can use.

Finally, we have to show print’s important role in making other media effective. The only way to do that is to use new media ourselves. Yet printers are notoriously un-new-media. If anyone can show the value of print in the new media marketplace, and the fact that cross-media strategies and tactics need to include print to be effective, it should be us.

The statement “print can be a legitimate spinoff from the web” should rattle everyone in this industry. It cannot be dismissed as the sentiment of one person on a panel at a single media business event. This sentiment is echoed throughout everything I read in media, design, and communications, either directly or implicitly. Print as a “legitimate spinoff” dismisses more than 500 years of history of print changing the world and the living conditions of its inhabitants. Yet the statement only confirms our absence in the vital discussion of how people can more effectively communicate in today’s electronic world.

Next week, I'll discuss how individual printing companies can better understand what's happening to media, and how they can immerse themselves in it, and then be proactive in their advocacy for print with their clients and prospects.

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The Move to Mondays

“Mondays with Dr. Joe” will take some getting used to after almost three years of Fridays. Industry legend Frank Romano takes over on Fridays, and he is a splendid addition to WhatTheyThink's lineup. I wish this marvelous idea had been mine. Thanks to all for your constant and growing support, and I look forward to continuing this column in this new slot for many years.

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Dr. Joe at Graph Expo

MAN Roland is graciously sponsoring yet another event with yours truly for the fourth year in a row. I'll give a brief economic roundup, and then I'll head into “Renewing the Print Industry, Revisited,” where I'll update and extend the discussion about repositioning print, printing companies, and will discuss print as “offline media.” Hope to see you there. The event is scheduled for Tuesday, October 17 th, at 8 AM, and will be held in Room S106B, McCormick Place. Click here to register.

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