Lately, I’ve been feeling a little like the buggy manufacturer, who, annoyed at the loud and noxious belches of the new automobiles in the street, comments, “Those things’ll never make it . . . they scare the horses!”
The folks at the Alphagraphics franchise are going to be upset, but I’m going to say it anyway, “Printing on paper is becoming obsolete.” Two items I encountered last week have led me to this conclusion:
First, I heard an article on NPR about the Detroit Free Press (Detroit Newspapers Cut Back Home Delivery). Citing cost and profit pressures, they’re phasing out print to and going to 3 days a week for their print publication. Their emphasis will be placed on their web presence.
Then, bumbling around online, I came upon the proceedings of an event called The Inbound Marketing Summit. This event was held in September in Cambridge, MA and was all about new marketing techniques — internet, social networking, and how businesses (even small businesses) can grow by attracting people who are interested in their products to their websites. This, I guess, is opposed to old marketing that targets just about everyone and tries to drive them all into a place of business, even when they don’t want to go there (like Poor Richard at the mall at Christmastime).
I haven’t finished going through the site, yet, but videos of all of the breakout sessions are available. The first video I watched was both exciting and frightening. The title of the session was “R U Ready? Leveraging New Technologies to Propel Your Business,” presented by a gentleman named Greg Verdino. I’ve embedded the video at the bottom of this post if you’d like to watch it.
With college aged kids, the fact that I’m no longer in the mainstream is brought home to me regularly. I just didn’t really understand how far out of the channel I really am. At one point during the presentation, Verdino identifies the audience by their generation names. “I’m an ‘Xer’,” he states, “how many GenY’s are out there? Millennials?” He didn’t ask about my generation. I’m a Baby Boomer . . . ergo out of touch.
Sure, I’ve been blogging for a while. I’ve got a Facebook site and I’m playing with LinkedIn. I’ve even tried advertising with AdWords . . . didn’t get very far. I’m really not even scratching the surface. But, until now, it had simply never occurred to me that these forms of communication were really going to take the place of print on paper.
For my generation, it’s still natural to pick up a book or a magazine or a newspaper. I do like to look at the mail. As a printer, I enjoy the feel of paper. I feel more comfortable reading print on paper. While my children read books, their information comes from the Internet. Email was a major innovation for my generation. Verdino comments that email is not considered reliable by the new generation entering the workplace. They prefer to communicate through their personal network. And printers wonder why we’re not printing letterhead and envelopes any more!
Am I worried? You betcha. It’s difficult to reinvent a small business whose livelihood is dependent upon a pretty significant capital investment in machines that print on paper; especially in a recession that has reduced the volume of business (and consequently human and monetary resources) dramatically. Is print dead? Not yet, but it really is changing a lot.
I am certainly hopeful that there will be a place for the local printer . . . at least over the short to medium term. A lot of the commodity stuff has already been gobbled up by the online, gang run printers (See Poor Richard’s post Caveat Emptor!). Most good local print companies really enjoy working with our customers and much of our business comes from folks who either don’t have the time or the expertise to take their chances with the online print service providers. We have become, in essence, custom shops, specializing in projects that need to be handled correctly and quickly — projects that get lost in larger operations.
Many of us have expanded our range of services. At our AlphaGraphics, we mail, we print signs, we put together packages and kits and we fulfill orders for certain customers. We also take on the occasional “crazy order.” That’s the one that we really don’t know how to do until we finish it, but figure that it’ll work out in the end. These services are keeping us afloat, but we haven’t found the “next best thing” to replace print.
And yes, there will always be printing presses of some sort. We still use trains, too, but they aren’t the preponderant form of transportation that they were in the latter half of the 1800s. You can even find a horse and buggy for hire if you look around a bit. What I really need to figure out is how to take this horse and buggy in a new and different direction without going broke in the process. Ideas anyone?
Here’s Greg Verdino’s Video: