Not so long ago, you could read confident predictions that digital was going to supplant print permanently. Nowhere was this clearer than in the replacement of traditional printed books with e-books.
But, like most things that come in with a bang, e-books have settled down. According to Pew Research, just 7% of US adults read e-books exclusively. By contrast, 37% read print books exclusively, 28% read both, and, rather sadly, 27% say they don’t read books at all.
What’s more, hardcover book sales increased by 7.8% in 2021, while e-book sales are declining. Audiobooks and printed books are eating into their market—but (and this is good) the overall market for books is growing. Overall print books increased sales by 8.2% in 2020, the highest yearly increase since 2010.
If you don’t design books, this information may seem irrelevant, but printed books are an indicator about the perception of the merits of print and electronic media. We love electrons because they deliver what we’re asking for immediately wherever we are, but we don’t trust it.
According to a 2017 Toluna survey, 72% of consumers prefer printed books and magazines over electronic, and a surprising 55% still prefer print newspapers over digital news. The same survey found that consumers typically trust printed news more than online news, and they say they understand the stories at a deeper level.
Perhaps most surprisingly, 45% of consumers say they like personally addressed advertisements and printed leaflets delivered to their homes, and a similar proportion say they pay attention to them. Still another similar proportion say they would be more likely to act after seeing an advertisement in a printed newspaper or magazine than if they saw it online.
What’s especially interesting about this survey, which was conducted prior to COVID, is that around three-quarters of people linked these preferences to the rise of fake news online, and concerns about online companies holding electronic information about them. Both these concerns have only continued to grow.
Looking back a bit farther to the early 2000s when most people still were not online, you would never read that 45% of consumers like to receive print advertising delivered to their homes. A typical industry rule of thumb was that you could expect a 1% response on any print campaign. You also would receive several complaints, so the accepted wisdom was that people found ‘junk mail’ annoying.
Today, we all consume digital. In fact, for the generation that has grown up digital, the notion of a pre-digital world is so inconceivable that they ask, “How did people know things before the internet?” However, rather than driving print out, digital has made it more valuable. But that doesn’t mean any document will be welcomed, so it’s worth taking stock of how we enhance print’s value to our clients and our work.
1. Think physical.
Print feels solid, and we can solidify that feeling even more by choosing the right stock and folding. Clients, of course, want their brochure, report or documentation to go out as cheaply as possible. We all know the clients who order unnecessarily high quantities because the price goes ‘down’ as the quantities go up. But taking time to show a client different paper stock, especially sugar paper with a distinctive texture, can make a huge difference. Bulking up the perceived weight by using different folds and formats also enhances the end reader’s experience. Whether it’s a book, brochure, flyer or business card, print creates physical artefacts that can be delightful. If you can make your print work an object of desire, then the end reader is a step closer to falling in love with your client.
2. Know the costs.
We have in our heads an idea of what things cost, but costs in the print industry are always changing. This week, I signed a contract for our next office copier. What we are getting is essentially a mini-digital press. The cost of color print is 1/10 of what it was for the previous copier from the same company. Not only digital print, but also offset has gone through a price revolution. The point at which offset becomes cheaper is now far less than it once was, even though the price of digital is dropping.
3. Review the fonts.
I once typeset a book for print-on-demand in Goudy Book because it began in the 1920s, so that seemed like a good font. But when we got the proof, it was almost illegible. Goudy Book was designed for a time when there was inevitable dot gain on all offset print. The foundry had correctly produced a font that took account of the needs of the process. Without the spreading of the ink, the result in print-on-demand was far too light. We eventually produced a new version of Goudy for the book with slightly more weight to overcome this. It’s now possible to get for-digital versions of fonts, but it’s essential to look at proven font choices. Offset—even newsprint—is far less susceptible to dot gain than it once was, so even when printing traditionally a font that was right just 20 years ago may now be wrong.
4. Watch how people respond to it.
Have you ever handed out flyers on a street corner? You may think the task is beneath you, but just spending half an hour handing out flyers, or stuffing them through letterboxes, can tell you an enormous amount about how practical they are and how people respond when they get them.
5. Put the information in print.
This might seem obvious, but you see an increasing proportion of print materials that essentially say, ‘use this QR code to get the information’ or ‘go to our website.’ A website, of course, can be updated whenever needed (though many are not), but if you must send the reader somewhere else, you risk losing their interest. Many people are suspicious of using their phones to scan QR codes, and, even in today’s heavily connected world, situations arise in which there may be no WIFI or data access. Remember the old advertisers’ adage of AIDA: attention, information, decision and action. Too much print is all attention and action but missing the information the audience needs to make the decision.
6. Check tax and delivery costs.
I just ordered some print which, in the country where I work, is subject to 6% tax, not 21%. However, my online print company doesn’t have a box to specify this. It always takes several emails to get them to send me the invoice I need. At small quantities, 6% or 21% probably isn’t worth my time, but, as the quantities rise, it becomes significant. Delivery costs are going up as well. When advising clients on print, remember it is a heavy, shippable commodity.
7. Get three quotes.
So much print ordering is online these days, so you no longer need to go to a printer to get a quote. But asking for a quote will often get you a better deal, and it also allows you to negotiate on sticking points. A couple of years ago, I wanted to order five different signs for the entrance of the building where I work. When I tried to place the order with an online company, I discovered they counted five different signs as one sign produced five times, charging me the one-off price rather than the discounted rate. The quote was more than twice the price, so I rang them up, but they said there was nothing they could do about it. A call to another company in Poland enabled me to buy my signs at the right discount. Print prices continue to vary widely; a part of the old-fashioned business of print management is still getting quotes from different printers and finding the best deal for the job.