OPINION

Print is dead: long live print

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By James Matthews-Paul
19 November 2010

It's not always obvious to those outside the industry what's been printed and what hasn't

While sifting through Twitter today I came across a new hashtag: #printisnotdead. Those who have picked up on it so far vary from those with book proposals to paper product merchants, but its existence poses an interesting question: does this hashtag give breath to a public assumption that print is well on its way out, if it isn't dead already?

To respond to this we need to define what print is. These Tweeters are probably referring to the print markets in the popular conscious: books, magazines, newspapers and other struggling media formats whose production prices are rising year-on-year with no way out. There's another debate in here as to whether these markets will ever actually die, as such, but will their existence become increasingly more difficult until stagnation or revolution? Probably, I would venture.

What I don't think they're talking about is sign and display production. In the same way that ad agencies, brand managers and print specifiers don't always realise what can be done with wide-format print, it isn't always obvious to the general public what in their midst is printed and what isn't. Has it occurred to them that the natty window graphics on their high street are printed? Possibly not.

Output's HQ is in Brixton, south London, and a few months ago an unlikely space next to the Underground station unveiled a Starbucks. The rapidity with which this railway carriage-sized room was filled with homogenised, printed interior décor, menu boards and point-of-sale items was astounding; the entire place had been gutted and repurposed and, within a week, was commanding a roaring trade.

Starbucks can order its displays en masse and organise the appropriate logistics for this kind of transformation. But every new shop, workplace, leisure centre and transport hub is a new potential opportunity for printed material. With new and old business alike continuing to design, brand and command attention with digitally produced graphics, I think that the graphic arts industry should jump on the bandwagon and proclaim, quite quantifiably, that this is one sector of print that is most certainly nowhere near dead.

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