Humanity is, and has been for over two decades now, undergoing a transcendent digital revolution that is significantly altering daily life in most societies. Nearly limitless information can be accessed immediately, remotely and accurately due to technological developments that have allowed for previously unthinkable changes to the basic methods of human communication. With these new advancements, traditional lifestyles and media sources have been brushed to the side in the face of ongoing – and, at times, staggering – progress in electronics.
However, an aspect of the digital revolution that is often overlooked is that it still relies heavily upon one of mankind's oldest and most diverse products: paper. From the boxes that new devices are sold in to daily necessities, such as tissues and food packaging, paper remains a vital commodity in both the business and domestic realms. Despite a brief decline in profitability, the industry is now experiencing a renaissance of sorts, and there are statistics that support this.
The bleeding has been stopped, and the wounds have been stitched
As digital products were marketed heavily over the course of the past decade – often on the premise that they would effectively replace paper – the market started to decline. Industry leaders panicked, and began to believe the prognostications of tech gurus, who smugly declared print to be all but dead. But instead of a world bereft of paper, what has proven to be true is that the resource is woven into the very fabric of society, and in some cases is irreplaceable.
An article by NPR noted that printers and other paper providers have identified niche markets on which they now focus. In addition, while certain areas of the industry have seen devastating revenue losses – newspapers are struggling to right the ship – others have stabilized and even flourished, in some cases. The source cited American Forest & Paper Association research that found that since 2004, paper products such as tissues and cardboard have actually seen modest gains. Meanwhile, newsprint and book paper saw sharp decreases in profit in accordance with the invention of e-readers and the start of the economic recession, but in recent years, book paper has actually started to trend upward. Since 2012, revenues in this sector have steadily increased.
Newspapers, on the other hand, have carved out a new niche for themselves centered on multimedia content. The new model for success is to use digital for breaking news and updates, while using the physical copy for longer stories and features. Many publications are starting to offer free access to their online content for a certain number of pieces, and once the user reaches that number, they hit a pay wall before they can read further.
Books are leading the charge toward sustainability
E-readers were all the rage in the latter half of the aughts, as manufacturers like Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Apple fought amongst themselves to get ahead of the game. Now that the dust has settled, it is clear who the long-term winner of this struggle is: paper books.
GeekWire referenced figures from Nielsen BookScan, which tracks sales in the publishing industry. Paper books are now being sold more than e-books, and are up 2.4 percent from last year – a modest number, but one that is indicative of future success for the industry. In contrast, e-books have hit a plateau in sales after years of exponential growth, a sure sign of concern for the aforementioned e-reader manufacturers.
The source also stated that many people have tried the e-book fad, and found that they prefer the tactile senses that are aroused when reading real, physical material. It is a far more engaging form of media, and better for reading comprehension and a general sense of authoritative permanence.
NPR mused that the same companies which are supposedly killing paper, like Amazon and Apple, probably consume more of it than almost anyone else. Each Amazon order is shipped in – you guessed it! – a cardboard box, and the product inside the packaging may also come in an individual box from its manufacturer. Apple products also come in boxes, meaning that for each iPhone or iPad sold – and there are quite a few of those – the company is contributing to the growth of the paper industry.
A recent trend has seen publishers move to produce high-quality print content as a means to stand out from the digital ruckus. NPR remarked that some paper providers are redeveloping their product lines, and offering more high-end materials.
Paper has proven that it isn't going anywhere, despite what the tech industry wants you to believe. The digital boom put a serious dent into print revenues, but that dent is in the process of being buffed out and waxed over. As fads grow old and start to die down, the long-term viability of paper is more evident than ever.