Technology is advancing at a rate faster than at any other time in recorded history. Smartphones and tablets are seemingly rendered out-of-date every month or so, and people are shying away from buying laptops altogether because their very existence has been determined to be superfluous – powerful desktop computers have made a resurgence and tablets are perfect for supplementary use on-the-go, so what good is a laptop?
In the midst of all this whirlwind development, the print industry has one distinct advantage: paper doesn't really have any gimmicks. People and offices need it for various purposes, and there really isn't much you can do to change the product to increase sales. But that doesn't mean printers shouldn't look to expand or that they won't see depreciated profits if they become stagnant.
Getting education and new perspectives
The Atlantic writer Alana Samuels told the story of a tiny, family-owned paper company in rural Kentucky that was founded in 1957. The Whitaker family has been operating Superior Printing and Publishing for almost half a century now, but they almost went under a few years ago. As coal mines in their immediate area shut down, so did their customer base. The mines accounted for a significant portion of their business – checklists, posters, etc. – as well as for the rest of the town. When people began to move away in search of new jobs and opportunities, the Whitakers were faced with a crisis. But after sending CFO Paul to a Goldman Sachs-sponsored business school program at Babson College, Superior gained some new perspectives and ideas.
After implementing some new business strategies – the company bought a small town newspaper, invested in new printing technology and expanded its clientele range, supplying products to places as far away as New Orleans and Cincinnati – Superior has doubled its revenue in just five years, Samuels reported.
Even huge companies can benefit from fresh ideas
The Whitakers' story can serve as a microcosmic example for bigger print suppliers. On a much larger scale, The New York Times' public editor, Margaret Sullivan, wrote about some of the Times' recent struggles to remain competitive in the digital age. Print journalism, as an industry, has declined since the advent of the Internet, and newspapers around the country seem clueless as to what approach should be taken to right the ship. Sullivan mentioned steps the Times has taken in recent years: layoffs and elimination of low-circulation sections that have very specific focuses, such as Automobiles and Home. She also stated that there are various digital initiatives the paper plans on pursuing in the near future.
But instead of caving and giving in to the digital industry monster's demands, maybe publications – especially global leaders like the Times – should refrain from hitting the panic button and develop new strategies that couple print and digital platforms, and promote multimedia readership. The newspaper industry, as a whole, has overlooked the use of QR codes to promote social media campaigns, and seems reluctant to reinvent itself within the scope of print. Instead of making plans to jump ship to digital formats – which, Sullivan said, readers statistically do not prefer to traditional print – newspapers and other publishers could explore expansion of complementary, rather than competing, physical and online content.