Live and Let Die: Print Communication in Change

A Letter from Gutenberg’s Home Country Germany

 „Everyone talks about the weather. We don’t.“ Nowadays we should transform this legendary advertising slogan of the German railway company Deutsche Bahn like this: “Nobody wants to talk about print. We do!” – Because even if established business models fail with print, print as a medium can only win.

The communication market lies in change. Service providers of the print industry, media houses and agencies have to reorientate themselves in the dialogue between companies and their customers. Interactive marketing becomes an ultimate discipline. Dialogue-orientated communication and data transfers are required. That means for all parties to become more flexible, to find efficient solutions and to arrange a permanent improvement of established communication processes. The print branch, which sales about 1’000 billion Euro worldwide, is most strongly affected. That’s because today and in the future printers — as consultants of advertisers — have to be able to sell actively a new service and to transport the customer value in the scenario of interactive marketing strategies.

If you believe in the new basic knowledge of marketing, the relationship network between companies, consumers, advertisers and media houses will change in a dramatic way: companies and consumers act through the internet and digital technologies technically on the same level and without media break. The consequence: Dialogue-orientated, digital communication shortens the ways. Response can be assimilated “on the fly” to optimize campaigns or products and to respond individually to customer wishes. Advertising agencies will either be only suppliers of ideas or have to learn, to establish a relationship management not only punctual but mass-market. This is in the usual way of assignment and accomplishment of single campaigns hardly possible any more.

Digitalization and networking turn media production upside down

The digitalization of communication allows a networking of supply and demand. Partnerships and cooperation become indispensable. Print media get an ambitious importance through the digital technology in the marketing-mix – they transport dynamic, not only static contents. Digital print productions (and not only digital printing!) create synergies between the individualized print on paper and pinpoint offers of online-media. Consequence: transactions are prepared much more efficient. At the same time the classic print technologies achieve an appreciation: a better and more stable quality is possible through software control and digital measurement, as well as the drastic reduction of changeover time. And with it the edition dimensions, which are profitable to produce, drop more and more. An enormous advantage arises, if so-called on-demand-productions are used over print portals. Web and print are making a symbiosis concerning the controlling and fabrication of print.

Although the communication branch has realised the technical advantages of the new print technologies, but it cannot use it satisfactory. The reason: The technology developer and –solution provider as well as their customers, the printer, are till now hardly able to communicate the advantages of new production methods and the customer value in a comprehensible way.

On the same time the value of the printed information has to become – especially in the competition with electronic media – clearer, to avoid serious disadvantages. Although the print industry is – as technology-dependent innovation branch – adept in crises because of many structural changes, it has never been in front of such massive cuts like today:

  1. The advertising branch (which finances over 80 percent directly or indirectly the printing matter production) is fighting with dramatic retracements of advertising budgets, with media-spending print advertising looses especially in newspapers and magazines with a double-digit percentage.
  2. At the same time a massive shifting of communication budgets is imminent, because the capital should be invested in CRM-projects, e-mail-, mobile- and online-marketing for example instead of printing matters.
  3. The German Federal Association of Print and Media (BVDM) determines from quarter to quarter an atmosphere index which is becoming worse. It comes along that the print branch is with usual mass-print productions with an over capacity of  around 30 percent according to estimations.
  4. Since the year 2000 the forecast of the leading media company Time Warner, that the contingent of print media at the media use will break in about one third until 2015 (decline of 16 % in the year 1995 to 11 % in the year 2015), comes true.
  5. The investments in print machines stand on a historical low level.

The following question sounds: Does this dark atmosphere image agree with the existing possibilities, so the factual manageable?

The problem: constant greed for more

The drafted picture shows: The atmosphere is bad and improvement is hardly in sight. Both on the publishing side and on the side of the service providers from the print industry. But it has to be questioned: Is this up to the print medium per se or to inherited business models and strategies of market partners, which are based on a maximization of advertising receipts/expenditures on agency- and publishing- side?

A fact is the extremely high dependence of the print media on the advertising market. That’s because publishers make 60 to 80 percent of their sales volume out of advertising receipts and are consumed by the danger of monoculture. Also beside the publishing branch printing matters are predominantly financed directly or indirectly by advertising. But fact is also: today print media offer best quality, which was not achievable before. The developments of print technology reside on the highest standard – and profit by digital technology. She allows creating never known rationalization- and cost saving-potentials at the print media production.

A secondary effect, which was until now considered only in an inadequate way on the communication market, shows highest burden: the imbalance of receipts and expenditures. On the opposite of the – over the years (at least until the crash in the years 2001/2002) double-digit risen – advertising costs of the industry stands a weaker common market growth in the single-digit area. This imbalance is one of the major reasons that advertisers deal more cautious with communication expenditures and especially media-spending. The high advertising expenditures can hardly be justified in front of the controlling, which is now shown very clearly in the financial crisis 2008/2009. Furthermore the media and agency partners owe the answer, which value advertising can have in and with print media respectively which factual effectiveness is given with the achievement of communication targets for the customer. It is not enough any more to show the pure coverage in certain target groups/segments. And to be honest: the breezy long-winded reasons of the “print is effective”-campaign of the German Association of Magazine Publishers (VDZ) are not able to cause that emotional and rational. That’s because the campaign is based on a fundamental error in reasoning, because print media in their effect are reduced on pictures, which can be assigned by every other media channel as well. Result: It is not observable that print is effective, but only that branding is effective. And that we know either way.

Important: To position print media in the right way

The crises of business models in the print branch belie the versatile possibilities, which are accomplished by print media and print technologies in the networking of communication elements:

  • The innovative companies of web economy (before all others Ebay, Amazon & Co) as well as brand producers of all shade use print media not only as an image medium but especially for active brand- and product communication (which is documented by the GWA Production Award in an excellent way for years).
  • print is motor of a quickly developing corporate publishing-category, which grows constantly for over 10 years.
  • print is an important platform of the finance- and economy- communication especially through the so called transpromo (bills, account statements or special information, which contain customer specific data and are accumulated with advertising information).
  • print escapes the fleetingness of the world of data and creates credibility through surface feel and immutability.
  • print technology takes the lead-function. Marketing activities can be boosted in their effectiveness in a significant way on the basis of digitalization in connection with the internet
  • print media guarantee in the brand dialogue through the supply of printed information  that consumers can experience brands penetrative and sustainable.

That’s why print media don’t have to hide concerning their functionality and benefit. But they are dependent in their importance on the relevance of contents and new quality parameters, which are not only defined by beautiful print pictures any more. But condition for the print is a reasonable lobby- and communication work, which is matched to the facts and which has to be effective in the broad public as well as among communication professionals.

  1. Excelent post Andreas. You’ve gotten the right points. Congratulations!

    • TX Hamilton. Happy and porud that you share my thoughts and opinion.

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