Print media: paper use is not about to disappear soon according to latest research
Print media: paper use is not about to disappear soon according to latest research
A view from Ian Locks

Re-imagining print media

A major new study predicts how media will change through to 2020, and why.

Time plays funny tricks. So a question: if your business has been paper-based – in advertising or the media for instance – when was the first time you felt that print media would have to be "re-imagined?" Pretty clever if you were around when they were "imagining the internet" back in the 1950s, or when TimBle was thinking the World Wide Web in the 1980s.

For me it was the mid-1990s, for that was when the PPA created its first new-media committee under then chief executive of the Economist, Helen Alexander – and the computer on my desk became a means of communicating with the world.

I gave an interview about multi-tasking journalists with output in words and pictures as well as video. It didn’t seem to go down too well.

The business media part of PPA began re--imagining its print media about then and gradually became something else, whether face to face – conferences and seminars, exhibitions -  online, in print or all three, finding must-have data in its portfolios and developing list rental revenues. Newspapers and consumer magazines followed with broadcasters, book publishers and the rest re-imagining their print-based businesses into something else.

Now the re-imagining of print media is the focus of a major study to be unveiled later this month at a Stationers’ Company seminar entitled Vision 2020. The report is being prepared by two leading consultants who come at the question from opposite ends of the equation. Martin Glass of EMGE is a leading consultant in the world of paper and paper products. Jim Bilton, of Wesssenden Marketing and Brandlab, brings the perspective of magazines, newspapers, books and direct marketing.

The report, entitled European Digital Media Landscape to 2020, will be launched at a seminar at Stationers’ Hall on Monday 30 June. Business broadcaster Peter Day will be in the chair as the two consultants outline their report's findings on the dramatic impact on media being experienced from changing consumer habits, as a result of mobile and social networking revolutions.

Day will then lead the discussion with three noted drivers of change – Mark Wood of Future Publishing, Paul Utting of printers Wyndehams, and Scott Barclay of paper merchants PaperlinX.

The report echoes the Future of Paper report of five years ago, which was one of the most accurate forecasters of the decline in paper usage over that time – but even then, was an underestimate of the scale of the decline.

To understand what happens over the next five years means understanding consumer habits far more than any plans newspaper, magazine and book publishers may have.

Paper use is not about to disappear any time soon

But the most important thing to understand, the report will explain, is that paper use is not about to disappear any time soon. Paper use is being re-imagined in all sorts of ways by those who still make serious money from its use. It is true that the digital media landscape is changing rapidly. The picture painted in the report does not pull its punches on how the competition and substitution of paper-based media with digital media continues.

The shape which the digital media landscape is assuming is very much consumer led – consumers who have adopted mobile digital media, social networks and the like, which were only vaguely realised five years ago.

The reality of course is that the internet world is rapidly going mobile and consumer habits are expected to change dramatically as a result.

Shift from products to markets

There is a shift from products to markets. Digital media is going to be defined more in terms of consumer behaviour and usage  than through the technology and gadgets themselves.

In addition to browsing and email, the growth of mobile internet and social networking represents a revolution for marketing, as the advent of highly specific, targeted and immediate information about the habits and behaviour of individuals generates new opportunities for marketers to identify audiences.

Usage of such data will be a major challenge, because the choice of media will be widespread for targeting and promoting, creating new opportunities and challenges for advertising and promotion in all media, including paper and print.

A new multi-media world will unfold. At the same time, investment into new marketing techniques will come at the expense of traditional media – paper, but in television and other media too.

The single-dimensional world of one media versus another is developing into a multi-dimensional media world, where consumers are using several media platforms simultaneously. Multiple platforms will all be available and widespread.

Increasingly we will see digital, mobile and paper-based media used simultaneously, creating new challenges – and opportunities – for marketers. 

In a multi-device world, getting at the consumer will be the issue, especially when the correct and appropriate route can be highly powerful.  

Digital alone does not build brands

More than ever, there is a strong emphasis on the multi-channel approach to marketing.  To quote Dominic Proctor of WPP, "Digital alone does not build brands".  For publishers, the challenge will be to capture the opportunities of this truism as the shift from "trade push to consumer pull" speeds up.

More traditional questions, such as "who will pay for content?" and "how can subscribers be maintained?", will remain as relevant as ever for print and digital media providers, but there will be growing acceptance for the power of paper and print to support advertisers and marketers, for example by driving consumers to digital media.

But the bottom line for publishers with a solid coverage and audience will be to find opportunities to support with quantifiable results mobile and other digital media marketers. Having been used to a mainstream role and dominant media position, in an increasingly wide multi-channel world, those winning out are increasingly recognised as those who adjust to a secondary, niche position.

The high-value opportunities which arise for print will tend to be small in volume – but they will be very real.

So in the new digital and mobile media era, paper will not disappear, but rather the long-term outcome will be a smaller market and a significantly different landscape for print.

Following the seminar on 30 June, the Stationers' first Innovation Excellence Awards Lunch will recognise 11 companies demonstrating outstandingly innovative approaches to adapting to technological and social change.

More than 25 companies were nominated to receive awards. Applaud them. As Darwin once observed, it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.

Further information or to purchase the report see

Ian Locks runs his own events and public policy consultancy.  He was chief executive of magazine industry body PPA from 1989 to 2008 and, if elected, will become Master of the Stationers’ Livery Company on 1 July.