The Coming Print Revolution

Print is dead. Except it’s not. The digital revolution isn’t going to kill print. It is going to make it a more valuable object of desire. It’s true that the printing and paper industry is being considerably reduced. I certainly don’t want to see people lose their careers. But I am looking forward to the day when I don’t receive a single bit of junk mail in my non-virtual mail box.

For print to assure its longevity in the future it needs to become synonymous with value instead of trash (or recyclables). This has broad applications. Instead of innumerable paperbacks we can now buy virtual Kindle editions of books. But a book can be a considered a work of art fit for the bookshelf gallery. When we’ve read something of true value we can go the extra mile and acquire that book as we would a painting.

If access trumps ownership, when should we own things? I’d say when they’re manifestly important, and only in the best format we can afford. Truth is, it’d be a total shame not to own a single book, because there’s something about the things that’s valuable in constructing an identity. Scanning someone’s bookshelf is like peeking into their cognitive medicine cabinet, so go buy those books that made you who you are, but buy them in hardback and the best copy you can find. The important books, albums, and movies are a little piece of you, and they deserve to be treated as such.

—From Frank Chimero’s Blog

I think if the publishing industry released print editions as collectibles, more precisely as limited edition art, they would find an untapped market of serious book collectors.

We’re leaving the era of mass production for an era of infinite copies. It’s not so much about downloading the Kindle books as it is about having infinite access to the books we’ve already paid for (See my essay: “How Netflix Can Save Music“). Interestingly, if books have low edition runs the printed form they take on could change. An example could be doing a limited edition run of 100 in silkscreen and letterpress, signed by author, artist and/or designer. I think we’re headed for a time of beautiful, rare and valuable printed books. (The concept is similar to Artronica: Music as Art—why not books as art?)

The same value principles can apply to print collateral for marketing (admittedly less sexy than the venerable book—but let’s change that!). In an age where every executive is carrying an iPad it seems old fashioned to inundate prospects with sell sheets and other cheap print materials. If you really want to use print for marketing in the digital world you must create something of value that no one would consider garbage. The simple medium of print must be employed with good reason. This is a great challenge and most marketers will ultimately opt for the cheapest communication method of all, email marketing (whose days are numbered, but that’s a topic for another essay).

Print is not dying but evolving into a higher form which is closer to art. Designers, don’t be discouraged. It’s time to rethink print for a demassified age. Traditionally, large quantities needed to be printed to justify the cost of producing fancy, quality materials. I think this must change because there will be a huge demand for unique, high quality work in short print runs (As of now, short-run jobs have been the cheaper and lower quality jobs). If we leave behind conventional large run processes there is actually lots of room for experimentation in the small run space. Let’s throw away the print rule book and make beautiful, special and valuable things in print!

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