The Future of Print–Where Will We Be in 20 Years?

Some time ago I received an email from Dee Barizo who helps run an ink cartridge site, She wanted to share her recent posting on the “History of Print.” I found it fascinating and decided to share some with you, here at Beneath the Cover.

Dee begins her post with a stat that will make you stop and think: “An estimated 45 trillion pages are printed annually around the world, as of 2005.” She goes on to say, “In 2006 alone, there were approximately 30,700 printing companies in the USA alone, and these companies accounted for about $112 billion in revenues that same year.”

Wow! Those numbers certainly put the industry into a new context, don’t you think? When an author achieves publication, whether through self-publishing using POD, or through an established traditional publisher, he or she is not thinking about how much paper will be used, maybe even wasted. Unless she’s writing a book on ‘green’. I discussed the remainder issue (what happens to books not sold) in more than one previous post, and it applies here because many remaindered books are ground into pulp. Kudos to those publishers who recycle—and darts at those who do not!

In 2005, Fast Company published this article, “Is Print Doomed?” where Jeff Jarvis, former print editor and now a consultant and blogger over at said, “Print is not dead. Print is where words go to die.”

Ouch! Did he really say print is where words go to die? Yep. He went on to accuse print of being a one-way activity, as opposed to the Web 2.0 world, which engages readers and creates a multitude of conversations and connections, as those of us who blog regularly know. Reading a printed book is, as Jarvis accuses it of, most often a solitary pursuit.

The article at Fast Company wasn’t merely a platform for Jarvis to spout off about the death of a tradition. It was a discussion between two opposing ideas, Jarvis on the side of “print is dead,” and John Griffin, who is President of the National Geographic Society’s magazine group on the other, respectfully disagreeing. Griffin says, “Actually, print is where words go to live – we’re still reading the ancient Greeks. On the other hand, I question the life span of blogs.”

I do not want to get into a fight over the value and lifespan of blogs vs. print – they each have their place, and blogs are not going away any time soon. I side a bit with both men, knowing that print will never go away—we all like the touch and feel of a book, or a magazine, and they’re easier to take with you to the beach – but I also know that digital is where we’re at NOW and where the coming generations will be looking for their content. I have further thoughts, for another day, on the future of libraries and bookstores. Today, let’s get back to the History of Print, as noted on Dee Barizo’s site.

The article on Cartridgesave has some outstanding pictures of early print plates. The Phaistos Disc is beautiful. According to Dee’s citation, linked here, “The Phaistos disk was discovered in 1908 in southern Crete.” They say it likely dates from about 1700 B.C. and is two-sided. The site speculates that it may have been mass-produced.

Dee’s article is really exciting, if you’re into history. She discusses several other print discoveries, with a good representation of Gutenberg, whom we all consider the Father of Modern Print. Gutenberg invented movable type…not the blogging software, the printing press. One wonders if, in twenty years, children will wonder how a man living in the 15th century could invent a content management system for the Internet—but I digress. The printing press gave way to the lithograph print in 1796. Wikipedia describes this as, “…a printing process that uses chemical processes to create an image.” The pictures on Dee’s site and at Wikipedia are just beautiful. Though they are in color, actual color lithography was not invented until 1837.

It would take far too much paper, and far too much of your time, to continue reporting on Dee’s story, along with citations and such. She was thorough in her research. Hop over to her post and read it for yourself. She has great links, great pics, and thought-provoking content. I find the history of language—which I consider the history of print to be part of—fascinating. Don’t you?

I encourage you to read the full article because at the end, there is information on 3-D printing and how it is going to change the healthcare industry. For instance, “Studies are currently underway to see if 3D printing could help in actually producing real tissue and organs using living cells as the building blocks, and allowing them to slowly grow to form 3D structures.” Gives you goose-bumps, doesn’t it?

Now, there’s a print book waiting to be published. If we did it in POD, we could update on a regular basis, without having to sacrifice a lot of paper.

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4 Responses to “The Future of Print–Where Will We Be in 20 Years?”

  1. Drew October 16, 2009 at 11:42 am #

    I like the take on this story. Working as a designer in the print business I think that print has is place amongst those who want some credibility. It may be pricey, but people will pay for it. Advertisers still want direct access to the consumer in something that last longer than the average 1 minute spent on a website.

    Great article.

  2. Greg Sachs October 3, 2010 at 3:25 am #

    As a small business owner in the printing and copying industry. The avent of files flying around electronicly

    has raised my concerns. People do the same projects as they have done in the past. how do they want to reach there clients? A) through electronic processing or B) a bound powerpoint presentation. Does the print have more power a effectiveness over electronic transmission. I do believe it has all leveled off from where I sit in the marketplace. I think we can all get along for the foreseeable future, ang co-exist in the marketplace . Please pass along your assessments. Thank You , Greg Sachs

  3. Ty May 5, 2011 at 3:46 am #

    There is significant data to support print and direct mail actually drives consumers to check out websites and shop on-line. Just ask Zappos. A good marketing plan should include a balance of both types of medium. It is not one or the other but rather how both mediums can work together to achieve greater success.

    People are worried about saving a tree but what about all of that e-waste? It only takes a few months for a cell phone or laptop to become obsolete and the next model is rolling off the production line. How long does it take for an ipad to “decompose” in a landfill? Then there is the energy needed to maintain all of the server farms. Folks overlook the fact that all of those YouTube videos and blogs must be stored somewhere. Print on the other hand is biodegradable, renewable, and sustainable.

    Lastly, print is tactile. You can’t foil stamp or emboss a website. Print is art.


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