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:

Vodpod videos no longer available.

more about “Learn How to Leverage New Technologie…“, posted with vodpod

6 Responses to Obsolete?

  1. Technorino says:

    I think as the manufacturer, you have all the rights to be bugged 😛

  2. Robert says:

    Just wondering whether you have ever thought to sell a blog service to companies and associations in your area? You seem be good at this blogging thing, and that skill could be useful to other people. Simple blogs could be a toe in the water to test how Internet services fit into your printing business.

    Here’s a scenario for you. Macon Buggy Whips used to be a good customer, but they don’t come in for reprints of training manuals much these days. One weekday afternoon the owner meets Poor Richard in the pub (the printing business is slow too) and spends three hours drinking beer, at Poor Richard’s expense, and complaining that his last local customers are about to go under. He doesn’t want to retire yet, but there are no more customers for his products. Poor Richard swirls his beer and suddenly finds inspiration in the bottom of the glass. He runs (stumbling just a bit) home, fires up his computer and Googles “horse and buggy rides.” Lo and behold, Google comes up with 2,390,000 results in 0.17 seconds.

    After a little more Googling and black coffee Poor Richard knows he’s on to something – he’s not quite sure what it is, but he spends the night setting up a blog for Macon Buggy Whips. The next day he erases the night’s work and starts over, this time making a nice looking blog. He also calls the high school basketball team and convinces them to search the Internet for all things horse and buggyish, and collect the addresses in a spreadsheet. In exchange for their work he prints up some promotional flyers for the upcoming championship game.

    Over the next few weeks Poor Richard helps Mr. Buggy Whip to begin transcribing his vast knowledge of horse drawn carriages and whips to the blog. The eloquent bloggist Poor Richard edits the postings and begins placing links on various web sites to let people know about the new blog.

    Then with the basketball team’s mailing list ready, Poor Richard designs a series of postcards and starts mailing them across the country. It takes a little while, but Google Analytics shows a steady increase in visits to the blog. People start posting comments and asking esoteric questions which only an old-timer like Mr. Buggy Whip could possibly answer. Little by little orders start coming in to the new e-mail account Poor Richard has set up. The orders tend to be for high margin, custom buggy whips made out of exotic materials and engraved with the owner’s name.

    Within a few months Poor Richard is setting up an online buggy whip store using Yahoo’s Small Business service and printing new instruction manuals and a new glossy holiday gift catalog of horse and buggy paraphernalia.

    Other local merchants notice that Macon Buggy Whips is suddenly running three shifts. They call Poor Richard and want help with their blogs, Web sites, e-mail campaigns, etc. Without even trying, Poor Richard has transformed his inky old print shop into a dynamic marketing and online consulting firm.

    Happy Holidays.

  3. Pen says:

    As much as I thought going back into web design would mean a whole new range of jobs, it really hasn’t come to fruition. I’m coming to find out that the web can only go so far.

    People are still doing brochures and postcards. The one advantage to the web is that you can put a lot more information on a website than you can in a printed piece. But you still have to get people to the website. So, we get a lot of people wanting postcards to push to their websites. You can buy mailing lists for just about any demographic. Email lists… not so much. Most are protected by privacy policies of the companies that have the emailing lists. So, in order to get an email list, you have to get people to subscribe. In order to get them to subscribe, you have to get them to the website.

    Explain to people about the wonderful world of mailing lists and how they can lasso in certain demographics. It will make print drool-worthy. This is great for local brick and mortar businesses who need to target specific people in a specific area. Aside from a few websites that get a lot of local traffic, the web dilutes a message by spreading it out over a wider area.

    After you have sold them on the mailing lists, explain how having something professionally designed can make your company look, well, professional — as opposed to having your nephew type up a postcard in Word and printing copies on neon yellow paper. (It’s amazing how many people still think that neon yellow is “eye-catching”.)

    Another thing is that printed pieces can really distinguish your business as being a legitimate endeavor as opposed to just a fly-by-night web-based business. Anyone can toss up one of those online web template and claim to have a business. It takes a bit more effort and investment to have good collateral.

    If you can’t sell postcards and mailing services… there’s always wall noodle. Long live wall noodle!

  4. Hinterland says:

    When desktop publishing came on the scene, I was sure that my graphic design days were numbered. It turned out I was wrong – there will always be customers who have absolutely no talent, and want something more than the templates in Publisher. I find if I throw out a few terms like RGB and CMYK most people’s eyes will glaze over and declare that it’s just too complicated.

    I think there will always be a need for printing. The print runs will be shorter, and there might be fewer catalogs. In the last 5 years I had one customer ask for letterhead, but envelopes are still going strong. And I hear mutterings from customers who took their marketing to the web that maybe it’s not as effective as they hoped it would be and gee, a mailing might be coming up soon.

  5. PAIGE HENSON says:

    Richard — As far as I can see, you are way ahead of the game already by being one of the first to embrace and test the new media methodology. This wonderful blog is a perfect case of that. Just keep up the good work and things will evolve and come your way. It’s a universal law that rewards the best of us out thre. And that would be…you.

  6. […] changes that this recession is producing in the printing industry (see Poor Richard’s post Obsolete). Budgetary pressures have accelerated the transition of the publication of content from paper to […]

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