Consumer Media Choices: Paper or Silicon?

Not all that long ago, our communications choices were limited to print and some form of analog broadcast. Computers changed how we created media, especially for the printed page, but not the medium itself. Of course that all changed with the Inter-Web and its latest incarnation: mobile devices. In the rush to go mobile our collective digital binge, if you will, its fashionable to dismiss print altogether. That would be a serious mistake.

I was reminded of this by some announcements by a company that like print has been ignored lately. Quark Software (remember them?) recently announced their multi-channel Quark Publishing Platform, and a new version of App Studio, an environment for creating customized tablet apps with XML, HTML5, QuarkXPress, and (wait for it) InDesign. Rather than focus on moving away from print and towards digital, the company has elected to embrace both.

Businesses and publishers should not have to choose between print and mobile to communicate with their audience. The two media are not mutually exclusive; each has benefits that the other cannot easily provide.

Lets start with the easy one: mobile. Digital content does offer immediate, live access to ever-changing data. In theory, an app or a Web page can always reflect very latest version of a story like when CNN reported that the Supreme Court had struck down a key provision of Obamacare. (No, wait…) More importantly, it can connect more easily with other data, and include engaging rich media that print cannot.

Print is certainly out of favor in the mobile age, but it should not be. First of all, it has an extremely efficient creation, production, and distribution supply chain. Its highly-automated and inexpensive to produce. Its not only familiar and comfortable for many, its also really stable. A printed piece wont disappear or become obsolete with the next wave of technology.

The save a tree argument wont wash either. If the printing process is well managed using print-on-demand, online ordering, and paper from managed sources then it is truly a sustainable medium, probably more so than digital, with its unknown carbon footprint and energy consumption overhead.

Perhaps the most compelling argument for print is the fact that it has a low technology footprint for consumers. They only need to be literate, and have sufficient light to read. There’s no requirement for a special device, the right operating system, or a reliable connection. It may be a bit Luddite to say so, but reading print is just plain easy.

This should not discourage anyone from communicating via the mobile Internet or any digital means. Without any doubt, mobile connection is the next really big thing for communication and commerce. However, it is not an exclusive medium. Print-centric companies who cover their ears and hum when the subject of mobile comes up are headed for failure, but so are those that imagine print is dead. Both are essential. Those who figure out how to communicate well in either language will succeed.

–John Parsons