The Perils of Print+Mobile

Last week, I journeyed to Chicago for this years Graph Expo, the annual trade ritual for the struggling print industry in North America. Occurring only a few months after drupathe worldwide version of that experience Graph was something of a re-hash. My editor at Printing Impressions acknowledged this when he commissioned my upcoming article on digital presses, but we both agreed to look for anything new.

One of the new things I found was not on the show floor. Taking the subway to and from my hotel, I saw a horrifying combination of print and mobile technology in the form of an Illinois Lottery sign. Placed next to the Twitter and Facebook icons was a QR Code a common enough occurrence on any sign these days. The problem was that the scannable code was tiny, and the poster was 16-20 feet away, on the other side of the tracks! I took this photo only seconds before the train came rushing by.

(I never got close enough to find out what the QR Codes landing page was. The poster itself did not give a clue, breaking all the rules for using 2D barcodes in the first place. Given the placement choice, the only logical mobile message would have been, You are about to die.)

To be fair, I later saw the same poster on other platforms, where users could safely scan the code. The failure was in not knowing every possible place the poster would be situated. However, this campaign brought to mind the business perils that printers and their customers face on a daily basis: Combining print and mobile is a great idea, potentially, but the results can be disastrous when one fails to think things through.

Back at the show, I saw several vendors presenting solutions that involved adding mobile in various ways to increase the value of print. The audience was not paying much attention to mobile, however. Considerable floor space was devoted to increasing print-on-demand capabilities via the latest toner-based or inkjet press technology.* Also receiving attention were vendors offering Web-enabled print specification and online ordering, like my friends at (shameless plug) PrintUI.

Perhaps print-to-mobile is just too new for complete coverage at an event of this type. Certainly there are enough embarrassing failures (see above) to make conservative printers cautious about it.

The fact is, however, that print and mobile technologies combined are greater than either one can be by itself. Print offers tangible messaging benefits that no digital technology can match. Mobile is not just the next big fad; it is also an indispensable tool for consumers and business professionals to dig deeper, accessing relevant information in ways that benefit everyone.

Combining these two media successfully is the challenge of this decade, and the subject of future blogs.

–John Parsons

* Conspicuously absent from the show were conventional offset presses, of which I counted only four or five. This is partly because of the industry shift to digital printing. It is also a reflection of the slow economy plus the fact that the good folks at McCormick Center charge in the neighborhood of $200,000 to install a big press for a four-day event.