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The pitfalls of going paperless – Print21 magazine

Tuesday, 19 August 2014
By Andy McCourt

Paperless Schmaperless. After being given the ‘we don’t do paper’ line by none other than Adobe, Andy McCourt gets out his big pen and notepad to write a riposte to all those digital evangelists, drawing on the ancient wisdom of the Bible to help prove his point.

“Paperless” is a slogan worn as a badge of honour and environmental responsibility by many organisations as if a heavenly host of angels will start applauding once the statement “we’re paperless” is uttered.

Organisations that, surprisingly, have gone paperless include Adobe – a company founded on software for graphic designers who create files for printing. A recent attempt to get a few brochures from Adobe for their new 3D Printing software in order to hand them out at a seminar drew a blank. “We simply don’t have any – it’s all on the web,” was the startling response.

Adobe’s CS6 is the most widely-used creative software with over 8 million users worldwide. From the middle of last year, Adobe began shifting CS6 users to a subscription model where all the software is accessed via Creative Cloud. There will be no more development of CS6 ‘in a box’; if you want the latest updates you have to subscribe. Already, according to Adobe, 1.8 million creatives are using Creative Cloud, and the graph is heading north. It’s been a success.

The trajectory of Adobe and companies like it is clear: abandon print and paper and become exclusively a mobile, tablet and online business. Adobe is going beyond this with the launch of ‘Marketing Cloud’, for which Creative Cloud is the on-ramp. Marketing Cloud includes analytics, strategy planning and even campaign execution – including print, even though you can’t get a brochure out of Adobe. A request for a simple A4 sheet listing the website links to 3D Printing features was also denied, so the 3D Seminar information packs went to delegates with no Adobe content, but plenty from their print-literate competitor, Autodesk.

Clever catalogues

This just one example of where print can not and should not be replaced. Catalogues are another well-documented example. The latest Australian Shopper Intent Report, compiled by centre owner AMP Capital Shopping Centres, confirms that consumers like to be ‘omni-channel’ when it comes to shopping research but that printed catalogues remain the number one influencer.

“The medium with the highest level of influence on shopper purchases remains the colour catalogue, which was preferred by more than a third (37 per cent) of respondents. This was apparent even among younger shoppers, with 28 per cent of 18- to 24-year-olds and 30 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds nominating the catalogue as their first preference,” says the report.

Where groceries are concerned, the impact of printed catalogues is even more profound, with 68 per cent of households that have received and read grocery catalogues making a purchase as a result. An organisation called the Commercial Economic Advisory Service of Australia releases an annual report, the most recent showing that 60 per cent of retailers’ total advertising budgets are still spent on printed catalogues. Why is this so? Because they generate sales; on average, every dollar spent on a retail catalogue generates $14 in sales… sometimes as high as $40.

Even online retailers find catalogues boost sales, such as Las Vegas-based apparel gurus “Average per-transaction sales from’s print catalog, Zappos Life, is consistently twice what it achieves online.” (source: Australian Catalogue Association website.)

 Loyal legal docs

Another area where paper proves its worth is in the legal system. While there are very advanced document management systems for courts and law practitioners, paper remains intrinsic to the effective prosecution (as in the carrying-out sense) of the law. The Michigan Bar Association even warns its members against going totally paperless as it may expose them to malpractice suits. Issues with indexing, document retrieval and security abound. Given the susceptibility of even the most secure systems to being hacked, what do you think a determined plaintiff or defendant might do to win a case involving millions of dollars?

Ironically, it is the existence of paper and the thoroughness of archivists that makes the legal system function, even in a quasi-digitised environment. Were it not for all of the stored and scanned documents stretching back scores or even hundreds of years, retrieval of vital matters in law would not be possible.

In the UK, most defence lawyers have simply refused to go paperless when asked by the Crown Prosecution Service. In a letter to the Director of Public Prosecutions, the 30 largest criminal firms, accounting for over 10 per cent of the criminal legal aid budget, gave notice that they will not take part in the scheme until concerns over costs and workability have been addressed. “We have drawn the line,” one signatory said.

Surety of statements

In the finance world, lists no fewer than 12 pitfalls of ‘going paperless’. These include:

  • Statements and notices lost in overflowing email in-boxes
  • Email address changes that are not communicated to the financial institution
  • Spam filters trapping financial notifications and alerts
  • Hard drives crashing and erasing records
  • New computers being installed and records lost in the process
  • Laptops being stolen along with the digital paper trail
  • Computers infected with viruses rendering them inoperable or, worse, sending financial data to the thieves
  • Stress at tax-time trying to remember web addresses and login credentials to access last year’s financial info
  • Forgetting to rebalance your investments because you never take the time to login and look at your online statement
  • Forgetting to report investment income/losses on your taxes because you had no paper trail and forgot about the account
  • Trying to explain to the tax auditor that you don’t have paper copies because you “are saving trees” (which you are not of course)
  • Back-up files being lost, forgotten or corrupted.

As if that’s not enough, in the UK for example there are 7.1 million people who have never used the internet and a further 16 million who are less than computer-proficient. What to do? Send them to a taxpayer-funded boot camp or consign them to a scrap heap of non tech-savvy human detritus?

Bonza books

For eBook zealots and pseudo ‘save the planet’ delusionists, printed books are the inconvenient truth that just won’t go away. The eBook has done so much to promote print. EL James’s mum-porn story series 50 Shades of Grey began as an eBook only, going on to sell over 100 million copies in print (I personally preferred the pastiche 50 Sheds of Grey, it takes erotica to a new level with lines such as: “I lay back exhausted, gazing happily out of the shed window. Despite my concerns about my inexperience, my rhubarb was coming up a treat.”)

As American comic book artist and writer, Brian Haberlin, says: “Printed books are for people who love printed books. Digital books are for those who love digital books.” Haberlin co-authored Anomaly, a sci-fi extravaganza of a book costing over $50 with a downloadable app that scans the pages and makes them jump out like 3D. He articulates why books will never die better than I can, saying: “Books are cool! I love print, always will. I love digital, always will. But they will continue to be different experiences. It’s a different texture, a different experience and that alone warrants their existence.”

This omni-channel, multiplexed media approach is where informational and entertainment print fits in, now and in the future. Just as our five senses exist independently, and yet work together, so print works with all other media.

A famous authoritative quote regarding the human body goes: “If the foot says, ‘Because I am not a hand, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. And if the ear says, ‘Because I am not an eye, I am not a part of the body,’ it is not for this reason any the less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole were hearing, where would the sense of smell be?” (1 Corinthians 12:16).

So it is with print and other media; there is a place and function for it all and it is about time the paperless mantra was consigned to the… err… waste paper basket? I haven’t even touched on the myth, nay the lie, of saving the planet by going paperless. I would hope that all of the published evidence and discrediting of misinformation has got through to people: that managed forest plantations producing pulpable fibre for paper actually lock in carbon, sustain watercourses and generate oxygen. After that, the product thus produced – paper – can be recycled and used again.

Spent energy used reading online or on mobile devices can never be recycled and the carbon it emits has to be dealt with at some future stage by the trees that make the paper, which then gets recycled…

No apologies for that inconvenient truth.

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