Everything that can go digital, will go digital. It’s decades since that forecast was made at conferences around the world, and yet we’re still mostly printing newspapers by an analogue process.
Forget for a moment, that most news is now disseminated digitally, and that digital giants such as Google and Facebook have knocked the guts out of the news media business model.
There may still be hope.
Check your copy of The Australian – perhaps even the analogue version – this morning and there’s singer Katy Perry helping promote the idea that even cardboard boxes can be digital.
She’d been recruited to boxmaker Anthony Pratt’s New York penthouse, where she sang half-a-dozen or so songs to 80 of Pratt Industries’ customers. (Note that the gig took place in the US, and not in Pratt’s home country, which Perry recently described as “the scariest in the world”).
And yes, the company – which has annual turnover of $10 billion – is going to make boxes digitally, using the latest printing and cutting tech instead of old-fashioned plates and dies, which typically demand six-figure production runs.
Also in my email this week was a note from Kodak chief executive and executive chairman Jim Continenza arguing that digital print has “hit its tipping point”, despite accounting for less than four per cent of all pages printed worldwide.
He credits recent technological developments and fundamental shifts caused by the pandemic and the war in Ukraine for this.
Part of his case is that the printing plates required by the offset process – and his company is one of the major suppliers to this segment – are increasingly expensive and hard to get, and their carbon footprint is deteriorating. The cost of the energy needed to make aluminium (quoting Macquarie Group figures for Europe) has now doubled to 80 per cent.
In the meantime, inkjet webs – such as his Prosper Ultra 520, which uses water-based inks and does not require plates – have also reached what he calls the “magic combination” of quality that rivals 200 lpi offset at 150 metres/minute.
In what used to be called the newspaper industry, his argument for the “and” approach which was gaining favour pre-pandemic, probably comes too late. It’s notable that many of the articles we’re writing about capacity modernisation are not only offset (of course) but about keeping the cost down through recycled equipment.
But amid the hazy obsession with digital publishing, we need to recognise the appeal – to readers and advertisers – of print. Consider the effectiveness of the “native content” in which publishers such as News Corp are investing through award-winning exponents like Medium Rare; the value of the good, old-fashioned advertising supplements which accounts for hundreds of pages of pre-Christmas print; and of print as a carrier of that into people’s homes.
Earlier this year, I called on Jean Pierre Vittu de Kerraoul’s Sogemedia operation in northern France to see how personalised and hyperlocal editions were being created using digital print. He publishes 100 or sometimes 150 editions of the 23 weekly mastheads, but says the problem is that advertisers (and sometimes even journalists) don’t grasp the concept.
And there’s the rub: Digital (the print opportunity) is there in plain sight… but only if you get it.