Marketing and marketing communications managers are constantly being asked to comment on the longevity of printed magazines, brochures and other promotional and educational materials. Is print dead? If it is, why are we advertising in dead-tree magazines? Why are we still sending press releases? Why aren’t we focusing all our attention on other media? Should we be tweeting our new product announcements, 140 characters at a time?
And if print isn’t dead today, when will it die? One year? Two, three, five, ten? How will this change our approach to PR, advertising, content marketing?
A February 22 article by Michael S. Rosenwald in the Washington Post examines a phenomenon reported on by digital communications expert Naomi Baron in her new book “Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World.” That phenomenon is summarized in the article’s headline: “Why digital natives prefer reading in print. Yes, you read that right.”
Baron found that “digital natives” like millennials—people who reached young adulthood around the year 2000—actually prefer the printed page for pleasure reading and for learning. Many studies in the past couple of years have shown that physical, printed materials are often superior to digital versions when it comes to comprehension and remembering what is read.
In our “hard hat” manufacturing industries, we have often recognized that those who own the businesses that buy our clients’ products are usually in their 40s, 50s or 60s. We are not surprised to hear that, even though this group is very computer-literate, they still prefer physical, printed material most of the time. But this article in the Post, and books like Baron’s, underscore that the preference for printed matter is not as generationally divided as we had thought.
Of course, some things are better in digital form, and the article in the Washington Post notes this fact. Speaking of the main subject of Noble’s book, college students, the article says, “They prefer them (electronic textbooks) for classes in which locating information quickly is key—there is no Control-F in a printed book to quickly find key words.”
In our industries, the vast majority of trade magazines have a digital version or web portal, for those who do prefer digital reading, or for those types of information where the “Search” function is handy. But the print versions are not going away any time soon, for the simple reason that people still like them, and often, even prefer them.
Matt Fueston is an Account Manager for Ellenbecker Communications, is responsible for new business development, and contributes as a staff writer. He believes in the intersection between Sales and Marketing.