We now live in an era dominated by smartphones, tablets, laptops, and digital e-Readers. Major newspapers, despite having ruled the journalistic world for decades, are going bankrupt or transferring their operations to online-only publication. Offices around the world are going paperless. It was recently announced that Kindle book sales now exceed physical book sales on Amazon. And, as you've probably already noticed by the way computer companies give them away for free with every purchase these days, consumers have all but stopped buying personal printers.
All this has a lot of people worried. Many are quick to claim that printing is dead, or at the very least dying. But can it really be true? Is print destined to go extinct? Will bibliophiles soon be relegated to sorting through bins at specialty bookshops, like LP collectors do today?
In my humble opinion, the simple answer is no. Print is not dead, and neither is it dying. It is just becoming more scarce and less often necessary –– which is not to say unnecessary, mind you. But that doesn't mean print-dependent businesses shouldn't be worried. They most certainly should. Unless they catch up with the digital revolution, they are destined to soon be bankrupt and replaced by companies who can accommodate the demands of an increasingly digital world.
Here's how traditional printing needs to catch up:
Cloud Connected PrintersCloud technology poses one of the most serious challenges for traditional printing. It offers all the ease of sharing and portability provided by a printed page, while also saving time, money, space, and the environment. But cloud technology can also benefit the print industry if it is willing to adapt.
Already, a few companies have begun to take notice. HP now offers a line of printers with e-Print, which allows for internet-based printing at long distances. Apple has a line of AirPrint printers that connect to mobile devices via the cloud. Canon, FedEx, Kodak, and Epson are now making their machines compatible with Google's Cloud Printing System, which links mobile devices to printers wherever wi-fi is available.
Losing the cords and eliminating the barrier of distance is the first step traditional printing needs to take toward modernization.
On-Demand PrintingBut on-demand printing is the future of the industry. Mobile users want the freedom to modify, personalize, preview, and print high quality content. The days of printing flight confirmations, receipts, and memos are quickly fading into memory. Today, the things we want to print are high-resolution photos, greeting cards, signs, and advertisements –– quality products that can't be produced at home.
Postagram and Prinstagram, two companies that monetized Instagram to print and deliver photos from the popular app, are pioneers in this market. Lexmark also has a new app called SmartSolutions that allows users to scan, email invoices, and order large- or small-volume prints; and HP now has apps for customized greeting cards, wrapping paper, and signs.
SaaS (Software as a Service)What these app-based on-demand print services demonstrate is that print providers need to become software providers if they hope to survive. By providing platforms for customizing and creating high-quality printable products, publishers will carve out a new market for themselves. Ironically enough, if print providers want to survive, they'll have to launch digital shop fronts and provide digital software to their customers.
The decline in printing is probably a positive change for the world. If nothing else, it means we'll be cutting down fewer trees. But it also means we are gaining the freedom to manipulate print, written information, and typographies in ways that were never before possible. Freeing words from the static page means we can now combine them with a host of other media to expand the possibilities of linguistic expression. So even the literary purists amongst us shouldn't view digitization as a bad thing. In fact, it means progress. It means finding better ways to communicate, which might just help us understand each other a bit better.