It’s 2018.
Shouldn’t print be dead by now?


For decades, people have been shouting that print is on the way out, and while it's fair to say that there's been a big movement toward digtal platforms, big brands are still spending serious money on print. Did something go wrong? Or does print actually have a place in our digitally-dressed future? Andrew Hudson takes a deep dive to find out.




It was the year 2000, and I’d just taken my first job as an art director in a small agency in Sydney with a mixture of print and digital clients. It was the age of the ‘splash page’ – a trend for businesses to use an animated homepage takeover as an introduction to their website, built entirely in Flash, despite dial-up connections that took forever to load.


This was the future. And I was being told by many that print was going to die. Soon.


We remodelled the agency and invested in Flash in a big way. Pretty soon I was a fully trained Flash programmer, building high-end animations and flash-based websites, ready for the imminent death of print. It was a gamble that in the end did not pay off, and that agency is no longer with us, yet print is still around. How?


Splash pages became unpopular, due to the emerging ‘8 second rule’, and print hung on until January 2010, when Steve jobs took to the stage and announced what would certainly finish print off: The iPad.

How ironic it was, that 3 months later, Steve Jobs would write an open letter called ‘Thoughts on Flash’ that would ultimately be an obituary to the software. The bloodied death of what was once labelled the ‘print killer’ was at the hand of Steve jobs – the father of the iPhone, iPad, and App Store – who, in what can only be described as a Shakespearian twist, would also soon pass away.




Steve Jobs and Flash,
print’s two biggest threats, had died.




The initial impact was big. Many magazines and newspapers moved their press publications to the Apple platform, complete with skeuomorphic page-turning animations that made it feel like reading a book. It seemed as if this time, print really was going to suffer. But here we are in 2018 and it’s showing no sign of disappearing. Maybe that’s because we have a better idea of print’s place in a world of mobile apps and touchscreens.


The term ’print’, in advertising speak, historically refers to magazine and newspaper advertising. And there’s no doubt that the digital revolution continues to stick the knife into this industry and it’s fair to say that above-the-line print is no longer the platform choice for big brand awareness campaigns.


However, there is an area of print that’s alive and well, one that complements social and digital media rather than competing with them. It’s just further down the customer journey.


There seems to be a better understanding now of what print is great at, and can’t be matched by social media or a touch screen, especially when it comes to customers that are close to purchase or have already parted with their hard earned dollar. Social and digital platforms are fantastic at drawing customers in, but the tactile feedback that comes with a high-end print piece is a great way of getting them across the line – or rewarding them for choosing you.


Take premium smartphone packaging. Laminates, special inks, chrome foiling, embossing and spot UVs – it’s got it all. And yet the customers have already paid, so why bother? It’s all about creating a memorable experience that taps into both ‘smell memory’ and ‘feel memory’ – a reward that will keep you coming back for more. You won’t find an instruction manual in one of these print masterpieces. You’ll have to go online for that.

But while you’re online, type the word ‘unboxing’ into youtube and you’ll start to get the idea. People love this stuff and there seems to be a bigger appreciation for it now than there ever has been.


Another good example is automotive. Digital is definitely the more popular space for getting your attention, drawing you in with social media and leading you to their website to configure your chosen car. It’s not until you arrive at a dealership that you receive your first piece of print: a brochure. And it might just make all the difference. If you buy a luxury car, you’ll also receive a lavish ‘thank you’ print piece as a reward for choosing that particular marque.


We’re finally starting to understand that print and digital are not at war. Actually, they work well together – and moving from one format to another along the customer journey can be a seamless and rewarding experience. In a world that is increasingly virtual, print still offers a physical experience your Facebook or Twitter feed can’t give you. Until that changes, print is here to stay.