The Pleasure of Paper

(Or the Antiquated Arts of Reading and Writing)

I can’t stand reading from a computer screen. It is a strange bias for one who very much enjoys writing online, but perhaps understandable given my occupation. I have a predilection for the printed page.

As a society, we have lost the art of correspondence. There was a certain grace and formal style associated with letters that has been obliterated by the terse, staccato e-mail burst. E-mail is suited to the communication of a message, but not emotion. It is artless, blunt, and sometimes awkward.

Are corporate communications moving in the same direction? We have lost several good printing projects that have “gone electronic.” Converting a newsletter to “electronic media,” is usually justified as a cost control measure. Poor Richard maintains that the control of cost also significantly limits the impact and effectiveness of the publication. The electronic message simply doesn’t come across as clearly and the audience is limited by the media.

Typically, the “electronic newsletter” is transmitted by email to the potential reader. You may argue that the potential audience is tremendous. But, if the sender is not registered by the reader’s email client, many of these transmissions will be automatically junked. Others will be deleted by the reader. Still others will be filed away and never seen again. Some small percentage will be viewed by the intended reader. The cost control measure will be successful to the extent that some of the readers will print the newsletter out on their own laser or inkjet printer, thus incurring the cost of print production themselves. Quality control of the final product, in this case, is out the window.

Posting on a website is another cost effective alternative, but the limitations are equally significant. Again, the audience is potentially large. But readers must come to the site voluntarily. It does not land in their hand. Even then, websites are not the ideal media for conveyance of complex ideas or information. The typical reader scans a website. He may peruse it. He does not read it closely. An occasional reader may print the page. In this instance, the publisher has again succeeded in passing the cost downward, and again abdicated his control of the appearance and impact of his publication.

Paper is tangible and transportable. An argument could be made that a laptop is equally so. But, paper doesn’t require batteries or an AC adapter. I will grab a magazine or a newsletter and read it if I have a spare 5 minutes. I will not crank up my Powerbook for the same purpose. I will never read a book online, and I can’t imagine how anyone else could even consider it.

To my female readers . . . you are kindly requested to skip or disregard the next paragraph.

One of the strongest arguments for the perpetuation of the printed page is the habitual male practice of “constitutional reading.” Men, what do you take along with you? Will you grab a newspaper, a magazine, a newsletter? How many of you out there are actually taking your laptop into the privy and checking your email or a website during the morning break? Admit it, this is where you absorb a lot of information. Newsletter publishers, will you give up this important audience in the name of cost control?

Female readers may return to the post here.

You may think that it is somewhat hypocritical to complain too intensely about the very media I am currently using to transmit the written word. You have a point. Let’s face it. I’m not conveying highly important information here and I’m not really trying to sell anything, either. I enjoy the creative outlet that these posts allow. Frankly, I was surprised to find that a few people actually do read them.

AlphaGraphics will be sending out a newsletter and some of this stuff may be in it. It will be tangible, colorful. Our customers will receive printed issues by mail. Some of them will be thrown away. Some will wind up in Pile #3 on the marketing manager’s desk. Some will be read from cover to cover. And others will wind up in a wonderful place . . . on top of the toilet tank!


3 Responses to The Pleasure of Paper

  1. thelonegungirl says:

    Why do you guys assume women don’t take, ahem, constitutionals in the bathroom… and more importantly, don’t read? Oh wait, we just fart roses and rainbows, I forgot 😉

    Like your blog!

    Where’d the picture of the guy in the stacks come from? It looks a lot like the old location of my favorite charity, The Book Thing of Baltimore (

  2. Mike Mann says:

    Dear webmaster,

    I’m looking for the owner of the photograph posted with this blog. I’d like to use it for a book I’m writing. Can you help?

    This is the photo but Syracuse said it isn’t theirs:

    • poor richard says:

      I’m pretty sure that I got it from We’ve subscribed to that service for over a decade and through lots of changes in ownership. Before it was thinkstock, it was jupiterimages. Before that it was liquidlibrary. I’d try a search on thinkstock and see if you can find it . . . sorry that I couldn’t be of more help.

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