Print is better than the web. Discuss.

By | April 25, 2009

I recently stumbled onto ed4wb. It’s a brilliant blog focused on education. In a post titled Insulat-Ed he presents a couple of info graphics to describe the shift in the education paradigm. The point is that a value chain model of education that evolved in an information scarce society is withering away in an information rich society.

With a little reframing, I think it helps clarify the mystery of how Print as a media creates value and where it sits vs the internet.

The two graphics are pasted below
Traditional Learning  Paradigm
Learning in a value chain economy

Clay Christensen has described how value chain commercial models are being replaced by facilitated user network commercial models. The graphic below gives a picture of a user network educational model. But I think it can be equally applied to emerging commercial models.

Networked Learning Paradigm

Learning in a facilitated user network economy

The circle created by the yellow circles can be thought of as a small group, a niche market, group of customers, a classroom, a retail store or a website. On a general level it might be described as a community of interest.  In the real world, communities of interest are always in motion. Members engage, disengage, and re-engage. The motion happens in time.

But an often ignored fact is that motion is movement through space. When I’m at Costco I want advertising. When I’m watching TV at home, I don’t. When “people like me” stop at Starbucks, it’s often a good time to read that brochure in the counter rack or glance at that paperback I’m carrying in my back pocket. When I grab a coffee from a street vendor, all I want is my regular and be on my way.

Space/time is a construct that tries to capture the reality that communities of interest move through time and space.  The area within the yellow circles in the second diagram might be thought of as a specific space/time. They say that marketing success comes from the right message to the right person at the right time.  I think that if you add “in the right form” and replace the “right time” with the right space/time, it helps clarify the role of print.

Print is the best media to insert information into space/time because it exists in space, but stops time. The internet delivers information on a tiny screen or a moving display. Print delivers information on as large a canvass as appropriate. But whatever the delivery format, it sits still. It’s much easier to consider information if it sits still. Compare and contrast is best in print. Compare and contrast is at the heart of logical thinking. Logical thinking is the hard part of learning.

As any magazine publisher can tell you, an ad in print sits still waiting until the user is ready to engage. The lowly postcard, refrigerator magnet or printed advertising specialty enters the users space/time that is represented by the circle of  yellow circles in the diagram. .

There is lots of blablabla about the speed of the web and twittering in cyberspace.  But what has been long considered the bug of Print may turn out to be its unique feature. Once the issue of speed of responsiveness has been solved with new digital and improved offset technology, customization of information has been taken off the table. Aside from motion, anything that can be delivered to the screen can be delivered in Print.

But, unlike the web,  once words and pictures are delivered in Print they can hang around long enough so that sooner or later they will be noticed. If it’s the right information in the right form for the right space/time, learning can happen and new behavior might emerge.

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15 thoughts on “Print is better than the web. Discuss.

  1. Andy McCourt

    Right on target Michael. I like the ‘staying still’ analogy. Printed information is a stake in the ground and when properly managed (e.g. libraries), a dependable, permanent, unchangable and high-integrity source. Stuff is already disappearing off the web for all the wrong reasons. The slightest whiff of litigation and a publisher will pull down a story. Happened here recently – an interview with a CEO was in the online version of a magazine for some weeks but his company had fired several hundred staff. The associated blog/comment pages received daily posts, mostly not complimentary but not defamatory either. Following complaints from the subject, the whole interview (which was also published in print) was taken down! Omar Kayam nailed it when he wrote:
    “The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
    Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
    Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
    Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it”
    The reverse applies to the web.

  2. MichaelJ

    Andy let me share a similar experience. Sometime late last year i found a letter in my RSS feed from a corporate blog. It was posted by an employee that had been laid off and lost his pension. Unlike others I’ve seen it was civil and well reasoned. When I took the click it had been removed. Truly an Orwellian moment.

    Another datapoint is the recent experience in the States with electronic voting. I know this system has been used around the world, but here, there have been enough problems that the paper receipt is becoming a “must have.”

    Getting conversations to sit still long enough to be compared and contrasted drove the explosion of knowledge in Europe in the 1500’s. My contention is that as just in time print is embedded in the education process, it will do the same thing again. The blabla about the web is all about speed. The irony is that speed is the enemy of education because the single most important factor in education is creating the time to focus.

  3. Lou Berceli

    Today’s e-media overloaded has created both a B to B & B to C marketing challenge.

    This is a collection of thought provoking topics from DMA presentation and other direct marketing sources compiled by Lou Berceli.
    Please send me your thoughts and feedback.

    We will each receive 6,390 unwanted e-mails a year by 2008 on average. per Jupiter Research August 2007

    Most of us are filtering and / or deleting far more e-mails at our home, office and on mobile PDAs than we are reading!

    AOL blocks 3.6 billion or 90% of e-mails sent daily. 75% to 80% of business e-mail is Spam per Postini research.

    49% of American adults change at least one e-mail address yearly? Wonder why? The Center for Media Research

    145 million or 73% of American consumers are on 2007 National Do-Not-Call Registry. Canada started in Oct. 2008

    By 2009, TIVO and DVRs will allow consumers to easily skip commercials in over 40% of U.S. homes per Ad Age

    Today, consumers surf hundreds of TV channels and Web sites each month adding to more e-media overload.

    iPod / MP3 players, Internet Radio are eroding broadcast radio’s commercial ad power in consumers’ cars, homes, mobile.

    Recent technology advances will accelerate e-Media Overload via Mobile TV / Cell Phone / Smart Phone targeted direct marketing.

    U.S. Cell phone text message SPAM increased 38% to 1.1 million messages in 2007 per Ferris Research

    By 2009, over 20 million subscribers will enjoy commercial free Sirius XM Radio in cars, home & office. Media Daily News

    The average North American is exposed to as many as 3000 advertising messages per day. InfoTrends

    70% of Consumers say they receive too many e-mail promotions. Averaging 110 / week. Forrester

    Many e-promos / e-newsletters we originally signed up for are unread, deleted or filtered into overloaded e-mail in-boxes.


    Many of our consumer purchases are strongly influenced by colorful and creative POP and POS printed signage

    USPS study concluded that 76% of American homes average 25 minutes a day reading direct mail.

    Direct Marketing Association study shows over 35% prefer to respond to direct mail by going on-line.

    InfoTrends, a leading strategic consulting firm, found that 56% of consumers prefer highly personalized direct mail to
    Other forms of direct marketing. Personalized direct mail leads traditional customer retention programs by 47%.

    InfoTrends concluded 12.6% of print becomes obsolete before it is ever used. Solution: Web-2-Print / Print-On-Demand.

    Targeted direct mail yields measurable response rates for retailers, e-commerce traffic & B to B lead generation.

    Database driven direct mail marketing cuts through the e-media overload for a growing number of multi-channel marketers.

  4. MichaelJ

    Thanks for putting all those data points on the table. Invaluable. I think one way to organize them is that communication is a signal v noise problem. The hard part is that for different people at different times what’s noise to me can be a signal for you.

    Consider that an email that has an offer that is interesting to you at the moment you happen to get it magically goes from Spam to Thank you. The advantage of the web is that it’s fast. But in return you better hit it a just the right split second or your company goes into the spam category. Then every next time you send something, first it goes in the spam bin, as opposed to the “that might be interesting” bin.

    Turns out that every customer interaction either builds the brand or hurts the brand. There is not a third alternative.

    So, the issue is not that Print breaks through noise. It’s that Print sits still without intruding until the user notices and wants to hear about it at that moment. From my point of view direct mail can be such a powerful tool, it has to be unleashed very, very, very carefully. Otherwise, 93% of it is “junk” and we both know where that is going to get us all in some political fight arguing about various shades of green

  5. MichaelJ

    Sorry for the two posts in a row, but…
    That’s why I love Value Paks and shopping circulars. I know immediately what they are going to tell me about. So I can very quickly make the decision about whether I want it or not.

    It’s also why I hate Publisher’s Clearing House and direct mail that says You’ve won with something that looks like check. It wastes my time and energy, not to mention manipulating my expectations, only to try to sell me something I don’t know I want.

    The thing that makes it so complicated is that it’s a money machine if professionally run with a careful eye to metrics. You can make predictable profit with 2 and 3% response rates. Response Increases of 50% only get to you to 3 to 5 1/2%

    But if you promise something or manipulate someone’s hopes the 90+% of those that don’t respond, start hating your brand. Consider that Publisher’s Clearing House mailings have entered the language as a sign of bs. Maybe it works for them from the ROI point of view. But for building long term relationships with people who will trust your company, I think the upside in dollars now, does not outweigh the downside to money tomorrow. risk.

  6. Andy McCourt

    Lou, great compilation. I’ll target just one :
    “AOL blocks 3.6 billion or 90% of e-mails sent daily. 75% to 80% of business e-mail is Spam per Postini research. ”

    Reported here yesterday, McAfee (anti-virus company like Norton), conducted its own research and found that spam alone creates carbon emissions equivalent to driving a car around the world 1.6 million times! The energy used is the cause, as even if spam is blocked or deleted; it uses power.

    And yes, knowledgable, polite, even intimate, warm, sincere and friendly data-driven DM backed by good products and services is a marketer’s dream. There have been several surveys but the one that sticks in my mind is the Reader’s Digest test in Germany that showed a 72% response increase by carefully targeting the offers and varying both text and images to the known demographics. The digital print and data management increased the per-shot print cost over offset ‘shells’ – but the increase in business coupled with the elimination of ‘shotgun’ mail blasts resulted in greatly increased returns and less wastage.

  7. MichaelJ

    “Data driven DM” could be fairly replaced by “empathetic conversation” to make the statement much more general.

    ” knowledgable, polite, even intimate, warm, sincere and friendly empathetic conversation,”
    is the dream of every high school student I ever taught and also a measure to judge great design and writing.

  8. Lou Berceli

    Every year we are seeing evolutions with new and enhanced capabilities with print. One example is the new age of digital ink jet printing with high print quality and speeds that rival offset and offer the promise of lower ink costs.

    It has taken several years for personal URL landing pages to reach their current level of popular usage and effectiveness.
    Digital print as a Cross-Media communication bridge is becoming more effective with the use of pURLs as a measurable response driver for both B to B and B to C markets.

    I see the trend towards the digital printed direct mailer to entice with the invitation to visit your own Video pURL to see and hear more audio / video rich media content that is personalized for a range of my probable needs and interests. A few pioneers such as DME in Daytona Florida offer such an option. Do you know of any other successful pioneers with this simple but powerful option of enhancing landing pages with rich media content?

  9. MichaelJ

    I think I’m seeing the same trend. Thank for another data point re:DMA. I’ve been watching them for years. The inference I make from their success is that the leadership seems to have a DNA that is not of a printer, but as a user of print.

    I think it helps us understand why the uptake among printers for pURl like technology has been slow. Heidi hosted a really interesting conversation trying to figure out this seeming paradox.

    From where I sit, vendors have the right message but they are telling it the wrong people. Lately I’ve noticed that infoprint is working hard at the CMO level. These are people that do not have printer DNA. They have marketing DNA. The don’t do print. They use print.

    Asking, or even worse, berating print manufacturing experts to become marketing experts, obviously doesn’t work. The wonderful thing about printers is that they will turn on a dime, beg, borrow or sometimes even buy the equipment that will serve a well defined market. They will then move heaven and earth to get it done. That’s print manufacturing DNA.

    I’ve seen lots of examples of awesome marketing DNA. My personal favorite du jour is Trekk. The irony is that I bet if they try to build alliances and network relationships with printers, the levels of distrust and the idea that a printer and a marketer are in competition destroys the trust of getting it right.

  10. MichaelJ

    ooops no editing button, gets me every time. I meant to type DME. I must have DNA on the brain.

  11. Jeffrey Stewart

    Excelent post Michael. We’ve been having a lot of conversations in the education space lately Thanks!

  12. MichaelJ


    If you ever find links to digital print in education, or if you have anything you might share, please do. I keep turning this over and over, and I just can’t get past the “why wouldn’t they do it?” Given the coming of re-organization of education, it seems an enormous opportunity for versioned newspapers and wikibooks to replace textbooks in K-12.

    I would much appreciate any thoughts anyone might have about what I’m missing.

  13. Lisa Bickford

    Wow – great conversations and great facts, guys! Michael J and Lou: In my quest to shout about the benefits of printing from the rooftops of America, may I paraphase you in my blog and/or future articles? This is exactly the type of info I’ve been googling for.

    Speaking of which – shouldn’t the shouting mentioned above be the PIA’s job? Like a “Got Print?” campaign? (Or maybe they do…but if they do they haven’t done a good job of telling me about it. Not yet a member of the PIA, but I would sure join and chip in some $$$ for a strong campaign on the benefits of print!)

  14. MichaelJ

    Hi Lisa,

    Thanks for asking. No problem. In fact I’ve been copying and pasting Lou’s words at my blog. I think the etiquette is: whoever does the writing and editing owns the words unless there are some specific rules from the blog hoster to the contrary. If I post the words without some signal of “don’t use unless . . .” the situation is exactly the same as posting in a public square. So from my point of view, blog away.

    As for comments, I think the rules are if you post you know it’s public. If you don’t like that deal use anon. If you put in your name in a comment that’s an implicit agreement that it may go appear anywhere in the public square.

  15. John Dowd

    Great post. I’ve been using a slightly different framing to discuss some of the same points:
    1. Why are print cpm’s so much higher than online? There are several answers, but I think “persistence” (ie sitting still) is a big one. Web display adds are ephemeral…gone in 1 second or less. Print persists. The print message is easily handed to a spouse, stuck on the fridge, tucked in the visor in your car, etc.
    2. Is online the more targetable medium? Yes when you’re targeting based on consumer solicitation (ie googling “pizza + zip code”. No otherwise. Consider a small retailer that wants to reach 600 homeowners within a half-mile of her shop. This is easily solved with targeted print products. Google and other online channels have no answer for this problem.
    3. Observing the migration from print newspaper readership to the web, the conventional wisdom says “print is dead.” This mistakes correlation for causation. Even young age cohorts prefer reading print to screens, when the content is equally relevant. This is why 7 in 10 college students have read the print edition of their college newspaper in the last 30 days, and only 2.5 in 10 have done so online, despite the ubiquity of laptops and free wi-fi on college campuses. Variable data print offers the ability to provide personally relevant print content, thus removing the biggest reason why online reading has been preferred to print reading.

    Great post & discussion!

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