First of all, print journalism is as tubercular as ever. It just can’t catch its breath. The printing industry used to be immense, simply because it printed thousands of newspapers and magazines. Now most of those periodicals have vanished.
But print marketing, meaning direct mail and printed collateral, has proved its worth in the past and is being relied upon again, especially by new or local businesses. In fact, the surprising resurrection of print is news to many marketers, especially digital marketers.
The printing industry is growing by 4-5 percent annually.
A recent survey by Sageworks showed that that commercial printing sales are increasing steadily. Further, according to an article in Forbes, profitability is also up.
Of course, the printing industry covers a lot of ground, from labels and packaging to signage. So it’s not always clear how fast digital printing, web offset, thermal printing, or other technologies are growing or slowing relative to each other. Nonetheless, Smithers Pira, the largest publishers of printing industry studies, has released a report predicting digital printing will grow by 20% in 2018, while offset printing will continue to fall. Digital printing is used mostly for short runs (the kind of printing done by local businesses) and the quality has improved dramatically over the last decade, making it the technology of choice for most commercial printing.
Not everyone is optimistic. IBIS World published a May 2015 report that says consumers are continuing to choose digital media over printed materials. Unlike Smithers Pira, it forecasts an overall decline.
I tend to favor the optimism of Smithers Pira. For one thing, local businesses really struggle with SEO. They don’t understand it and they don’t have the budget to invest in it. In highly competitive local industries (such as hurricane windows in South Florida), a print mailing to zip code sorted neighborhoods might be a better and faster option than the slow burn of SEO. The average response rate for standard direct mail is 3.4% vs 0.12% for email…. and email is the strongest converter in the digital funnel. Many digital marketers fail to realize the role print can play in driving traffic to a website.
The direction is shifting to integrated channels of communication.
It really isn’t an either-or world. Print and digital work best when they work together. The user insights gained from a website can be used to develop the branded voice and approach for print materials. Newer technologies also allow the seamless insertion of customized messages into print pages (sort of like dynamic web pages served up based on a visitor’s interests). So when you sit down and figure out a strategy, you need to think about what works best as a whole, not what works better than something else.