“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.” Groucho Marx
Sadly, we will never know what Groucho would have made of the digital age and social media. But we can speculate that he would be encouraged by the resilience - and indeed recovery - of the printed word.
Recent years clearly posed formidable challenges for the paper industry. During the pandemic, there was a widespread withdrawal of printed communications - people read more on digital devices, across all categories of communications; newspapers, magazines, books, catalogues, bills and statements, tax statements and personal health.
In an age where people are offered a seemingly limitless choice of digital mediums, there is an enduring desire for print
However, post-pandemic, there is clear and consistent evidence that in an age where people are offered a seemingly limitless choice of digital mediums, there is an enduring desire for print – and in some cases, such as magazines and books, that preference is flipping back to a majority.
The results of the huge bi-annual Trend Tracker by Two Sides (polling 10,000 consumers in 16 countries) are striking. It revealed that a majority of European consumers prefer to read printed books (65%.) and printed magazines (51%). The magazine preference is a significant reversal, up from 35% two years earlier. Even functional content such as personal health information, shows a significant increase, up to 39% from 29%. (Source: Two Sides - European Consumer Preference for Printed Materials Has Recovered Post-Pandemic)
Clearly, paper works thanks to its various unique attributes, and because we have a very different relationship with it.
This is supported by psychological studies on learning, that show we retain more when we read the printed word versus a digital device. (Source: TheMantic Education - Digital vs. Print Reading: Which One's Better)
While digital reading undoubtedly has its merits, print offers a distinctive cognitive advantage. The tactile and spatial aspects of engaging with printed materials foster a deeper connection with the content, leading to enhanced comprehension and memory retention. It is also suggested that we are less distracted when reading the printed word, versus on a device, so we simply digest more.
But does that impact extend into other arenas, such as marketing and direct mail?
Evidence suggests, yes. According to sources like JICMAIL, direct mail enjoys high levels of attention, capturing audiences in a way that digital communication often struggles to achieve. Trust in the tactile and tangible nature of mail holds a distinctive advantage over its digital counterpart, email.
A study by automation specialist Quadient found that 62% of consumers in the UK are more likely to open a physical letter than an email. (Source: ). Why? The theory is that we experience a series of sensory inputs when hold a letter or a document - the feel of the paper, the texture of the envelope, the weight of the package. This sensory engagement fosters a sense of presence and connection that digital communication often lacks. It's a tangible reminder to us that a real effort was made to convey the message, while we increasingly filter out endless email spam.
Paper is carving out its own space in the evolving media landscape, with brands and publishers innovating fiercely across platforms to connect to customers and readers in a meaningful and tangible way.
Paper connects us to our roots, reminding us of the tangible and tactile beauty that exists, beyond screens and devices.
The unescapable truth is that paper is real and unique. It carries a sense of authenticity that transcends its material form. The historical significance, the sentiment it conveys, and the role it plays in our daily lives for communication, education, and inspiration are unmatched. Sourced sustainably, recyclable and renewed by nature, paper connects us to our roots, reminding us of the tangible and tactile beauty that exists, beyond screens and devices.
As we are given an endless choice of mediums, it emerges that paper is not simply a material, but much more. It occupies a much deeper connection and, like Groucho perhaps predicted, cannot simply be replaced with a screen, if we want to learn, grow and share.