The Death of the Paper Industry

August 6th, 2010

Is the paper industry in the final death throes of its heyday?
Macquarie analyst Alex Pollack sounded the death knell for daily newspapers yesterday when he recommended Fairfax Media axe its Melbourne and Sydney newspapers to boost profits.
The Australian (owned by rival group News Corp) reported Pollack’s prediction that ‘Delivering digital-only content could boost Fairfax’s earnings to $A103 million, nearly double the bank’s 2010 forecast’. Pollack suggested the media juggernaunt could “seed” the migration from print to digital by investing $A50 million to give away 100,000 e-readers, like the Kindle.

This is a trend that’s not disappearing. The preference for digital literature over printed paper has become morally loaded. From the friendly little pleas at the bottom of your emails “…think about our environment before you print this email…” ,  No Junk Mail stickers and the proclamations of paperless offices are part of a general abhorrence in business communities for paper.
It’s an easy step to take in this day and age, when most white collar workers spend a minimum of eight hours a day staring into their computer screens.  The effort to even walk to the printer is one deterrent but our sedentary lifestyles aside, what good is the message on paper when we can read it, reply to it and file it away with a few clicks?  Not to mention the environmental brownie points one scores for saving the trees.

Needless to say the paper industry is quaking in their boots.  And all the industries that depend on paper mills to keep printing off high-design layouts and new-fangled typography should probably nervous about this cultural shift too.  
“Print will never die,” says one designer who has spent 15 years crafting chic brand identities and splashing them across heavyweight stock for brochures, business cards and letter heads.  “Particularly not in my market. The high end will always indulge in the luxury of something they can hold in their hot little hands.”
But is there enough demand for letter-pressed wedding invitations to keep a whole industry of print creatives in business?
Raleigh Paper is an Australian fine paper merchant determined to meet the changing demands of the market in a bid for survival. They recently launched the ecoStar range of 100% recycled, FSC certified paper. A unique, premium range which they claim consists of  “Paper made Carbon Neutral”.  Slipped into the back of the launch brochure, which beautifully illustrates the eco-friendly credentials of this innovative product, is an article titled The Carbon Myth.
“Putting ink on paper is one of the most environmentally responsible ways you can get your message across,” the article asserts. Based on information taken from The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change released in 2006, the two-page presentation attempts to correct the view that it is more environmentally responsible to read documents on the net rather than printed versions of literature.

The article goes on to say, “The more paper we use from sustainable forests, the stronger the contribution towards the fight against global warming. More managed tree plantations equals more carbon locked up and the fibre can be recycled four or five times. Has anyone ever recycled their 1995 laptop into a brand new up-to-date laptop?”
All printed on the velvety loveliness of uncoated ecoStar 200gsm stock, the message seems a last ditch attempt at arming Raleigh customers with mumbojumbo to justify the indulgence of their product.
So while the excitement of receiving a stunning invitation is great, from a marketing point of view it’s nowhere near as powerful as the buzz that can be created on a Facebook Event page by invitees.
On paper the conversation is one sided. There’s an authority there that might appeal to some businesses, however in 2.0 land, the audience expects to be able to chat back, link to your idea, repost, retweet and make it go viral.
Michael Joyce, a leader of the so-called digerati, insists, “What we whiff is not the smell of ink but, rather the smell of loss: of burning towers or men’s cigars in the drawing room. Hurry up, please — it’s time. We are in the late age of print; the time of the book has passed. The book is an obscure pleasure like the opera or cigarettes. The book is dead–long live the book”
However it’s in the romance of paper that printing houses, publishers, paper merchants and design studios find solace.  While ereader technology is scrambling to overcome the challenges of the four B’s (can you read it at the beach, in the bath, in bed or on the bus?) so that their product can compete with the portable genius of the book, they may never be able to offer compensation for the tactile pleasure of printed word.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never received an ecard that I’ve clutched to my heart and sighed over. The sour smell of school library books will be a forgotten dimension to reading, in time. Coffee for breakfast and the newspapers strewn over tables of cafes may well become a nostalgic story we tell our grandchildren.   But it’s this sensory aspect to the paper debate that purists are hoping might capture the public imagination a little longer.

At this stage, Design Federation is not yet running an obituary for the printing industry. In fact, I doubt that day will ever come. What may happen though, is a new valued added to paper. It will be a treasured commodity, a finer product, something to value.
Perhaps the cigar-chomping fat cats of newspaper have been archived as relics but that’s because of their emphasis on critical mass. The survivors of the revolution will be the hyper-targeted publications, boutique runs of niche magazines that appear to fringe communities.
Advertising is already coming to understand this, seeing the serious value for money in directly communicating to a targeted audience rather than every tom, dick and harry who bought the morning’s paper.

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