Has paper lost the battle to digital?
Is paper on its way out, and is the digital age winning the war? Will there soon be no more newspapers or physical books, only lines of code and words on our screens? Nothing could be less certain—we haven’t heard the last from Gutenberg.
© Creation and production by Omedia of the heritage book Madame Avant-Garde for Helena Rubinstein
Television did not kill radio, the internet did not kill TV, but will digital technology kill paper? Nothing could be less certain. Each new medium reinvents how we communicate, enriching those means and shifting the boundaries. It’s possible to imagine a path of forced but peaceful cohabitation as each of us gets information from our own mix of written press, radio, internet and television. It’s actually more about how each channel has specialised. Whether voice, image, audio or video, immersive reality or live interaction works best for a given audience, depending on the message conveyed, the category of consumer targeted and the desired impact.
While the future of books was predicted to be bleak, the post-Covid era seems to be showing the exact opposite. Book sales have risen sharply, and not only during the first lockdown. That initial trend seems to be continuing. In 2021, book sales in France jumped by 19% compared to 2019, a craze driven by mangas, graphic novels and comics and enhanced by the pass culture jeune or “youth culture pass”. But no matter how, the fact remains that we still read, we continue to read—on pages we turn by hand. Eighty percent of this growth is in paper-based media. The rest concerns e-books, which are still not enjoying the expected dominant position (with even a slight decline in sales in 2021).
“In 2021, book sales jumped by 19% in France compared to 2019.”
From stone to digital tablets, is history a perpetual beginning anew? What role can books, magazines and journals continue to play, and what sensory relationship do we have to the media that inform and educate us? Tactile without warmth and scent, a channel that is cold and impervious to time? Is paper doomed to perish? Become outdated and obsolete?
It’s a question of use. For ‘disposable’ consumables, we prefer digital, e-readers, compulsive downloading, or at least unlimited. But when it comes to keeping, reading and rereading, passing on, showing and lasting, paper persists.
WHAT IS PRINTED REMAINS…
We are indeed witnessing a revival of long, illustrated paper formats. But in a more ‘premium’ category. So major brands are calling on the best illustrators and journalists, seasoned writers and highly rated photographers for their paper magazines. Whether in the lifestyle or industrial sectors, the focus is on creating beautiful, editorialised magazines that have the advantage of being long-lasting and easy to keep close to hand.
Relegated to luxury or similar, paper is moving upmarket. “Corporate magazines are being adorned with beautiful covers and are calling on the most sophisticated art directors and the keenest wordsmiths to produce them”, says Jérôme Hue of the Omedia Paris communication agency, which specialises in luxury.
In-house magazines are getting thicker, and luxury brands, in particular, are putting more into their presentation, not hesitating to invest a large part of their communication budget in this traditional medium. What’s more, they are increasingly attentive to the environmental impact of their publications. As Jérôme Hue of Omedia Paris explains, “For our part, we use exclusively recycled paper for all our publications.”
The ubiquitous greeting card is also falling into step with this resistance: the chicest Houses are coming back to paper (or not forsaking it), dressing their greeting cards in a modern, sophisticated design, where colour, aesthetics, environmental awareness, style and material echo the brand’s DNA. More intimate and less informal than a link sent by email, a ‘real’ greeting card sent to someone’s home in a beautiful envelope with a stamp on it, handwritten if possible, and including a few handwritten words or at least signed by the sender, is becoming increasingly prevalent. Drowned in a flood of daily emails, online cards are in danger of suffering the same fate as the captain of the Titanic, going down with the ship. Sometimes they aren’t even read.
PAPER ‘IMPRINTS’ THE BRAND!
In short, chic is written, touched, felt, preserved and put on display. Who hasn’t left a beautiful book lying on a coffee table? Likewise, a beautiful magazine is kept, allowing the brand to remain tangible for a long time, anchored in the mind and furniture of its recipient. Because one of the (many) advantages of paper also lies in its vast range of possibilities: cutting, embossing, gilding, silk-screening, textural effects, everything or almost everything is possible with paper, which makes it possible to differentiate each brand and to embody its identity through strong aesthetic markers.
Brands are telling their story, which is nothing new, but now they are putting themselves on display, showing themselves, allowing themselves to be seen in order to be seen—to the general public, but also to their customers, employees and associates. Their destinies are being written, and what could embody that better than a beautiful book? Corporate book design is on the rise, and every brand, whether luxury or more mainstream, enjoys showcasing its history, its vision and its values in a brand book. Sometimes directly, sometimes more subtly, by presenting testimonies of prominent figures or the story of the lives that have formed the company’s heritage.
DIGITAL ENHANCES PAPER
Without falling into a black-and-white vision, it is also necessary to highlight the contribution of digital technologies, particularly in photography and printing. Paper has never been as readable and embellished as it has been since the digital era. In terms of communication tools, we must recognise the power of digital, via email campaigns, for instance, and social networks, of course, which are a continuous sounding board for brands.
Digital and paper support each other as two sides of the same coin rather than competitors. It’s all about how you use them—the more intelligently, the better. So, will artificial intelligence one day be the death of digital?