The print industry has been undergoing a number of systemic changes over the course of the past decade or so due to the emergence of digital media and the subsequent shift of consumer focus away from traditional platforms. In order to remain viable, printers – the successful ones, at least – have been forced to reinvent themselves and offer new products and services. 

However, in recent years the market has seen a renaissance, to a certain extent, in the marketing sector. Magazines are all the rage, retailers are beginning to distribute physical catalogs again, and, perhaps most importantly, industry members have banded together to form a novel ad campaign that sings the praises of print on a national scale. 

USDA marketing program aims to re-ignite consumers' passion for print
Chicago Tribune contributor Michael S. Rosenwald reported that the print industry has embarked on an advertising campaign that does not aim to necessarily sell a specific product – rather, it is an attempt to reestablish the audience's connection with the medium. Rosenwald noted that the market still has a net worth of about $132 billion, despite its well-documented global decline that coincided with the economic crisis and the simultaneous boom in the technology sector. 

Interestingly, the print industry's advertising initiative is being supported via the same means as the famous "Got Milk?" campaign – a USDA program. Twenty-two sectors have collaborated with the USDA to fund research and marketing that will benefit their markets, Rosenwald said, but paper and packaging is the only one that does not sell edible products. 

The author spoke with Anne Hansan, executive director of the Paper and Packaging Board, which is organizing the ad campaign. Hansan said that the goal of the initiative is to reaffirm people's appreciation of paper, while also establishing a voice for the industry on a large scale. 

John Williams, CEO of office paper distributor Domtar, told Rosenwald that the idea is not to discredit or disrupt the digital revolution – he said he understands the vitality of technology in contemporary life, noting that even he uses a smartphone and tablet. Rather, he suggested that the print industry intends to prove that paper serves an important purpose in consumers' lives. 

The target demographic for the sought-after revitalization of paper as an effective medium is well-educated workers who have an appreciation for paper, but have strayed away from using it in recent years, Rosenwald added. He said that industry representatives lamented the fact that this group is constantly influenced by the eco-friendly – read: digital-friendly – movement, which portrays paper as a wasteful and unnecessary luxury. 

The campaign aims to flip the script on this degradation and paint paper in a more positive light – one that reflects print's ability to connect people and enrich their media consumption, according to Rosenwald, as well as enhance learning. This concept can be seen in a number of TV commercials that have been unveiled recently, and as soon as next year, the message will shift toward education about recycling and the industry's reforestation efforts, Rosenwald attested. 

Retailers are jumping back on board with print catalogs
Business 2 Community contributor Mike Ryan wrote that while J.C. Penney eliminated its print catalog in 2010 as part of a cost-cutting initiative, the retailer has reassessed the situation and is now distributing physical periodicals again. Ryan argued that print catalogs are more effective than digital alternatives in terms of marketing power, and that companies are beginning to realize their value in terms of brand recognition. 

The author also noted that direct mail marketing is more conducive to targeting appropriate demographics. While existing customers are obvious audience members, retailers can also assess demographic, geographic and behavioral traits in order to distribute their catalogs to households that are most likely to purchase products. Ryan cited a few telling statistics that reflect the value of print advertising. 

For example, he said that 86 percent of consumers say they purchase products after viewing an item in a catalog. In addition, 75 percent of Land's End online customers look at catalogs before buying on the company's website. And online native Bonobos, which recently expanded its marketing to the print sector, found that 20 percent of first-time customers have been drawn to the organization's online offerings after receiving its catalog. 

Ryan also referenced research from the Direct Marketing Association, which found that distribution of print catalogs is on the rise. In 2013, the total number hit 12 million, which was the highest count since the pre-recession days of 2007. The DMA also found that 32 percent of catalog companies increased circulation in 2014. 

Printers have been faced with an ultimatum in the wake of the digital boom: evolve or die. As a result, many industry members have entirely reshaped their organizational structures and product offerings. But in recent years, there has been a movement to return print to its former glory. With more resources being invested each year in print marketing, it appears as though the industry has found yet another way to thrive in the digital age.