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Print and Paper in a Digital World – Consumer Preferences, Attitudes and Trust

by Phil Riebel, president

Two Sides North America, Inc.

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Global luxury packaging sales by region, 2016 (percent shared by value)


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The markets for personalized printed products and luxury goods packaging has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few years as digital and web-to-print ordering systems make it easier and more convenient to order such products.

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From financial transactions to reading the news or a magazine, the world is moving rapidly toward an electronic interface. But is this actually what we want? A 2017 survey commissioned by Two Sides, “Print and Paper in a Digital World,” examined the preferences of US consumers for print vs. electronic over a wide range of communications.

US consumers want to retain choice of communications

First and foremost, the large majority of US consumers surveyed (90 percent) felt they should have the right to choose how they receive communications (printed or electronic) from financial organizations and other service providers. Most (82 percent) also do not want to be charged more for choosing a paper bill or statement, and 57 percent would consider switching to an alternative financial organization or service provider if they are forced to go paperless.

Contrary to popular belief, the issue of choice isn’t just confined to older age groups. As may be expected, 92 percent of US consumers aged 55+ agreed that they should have the right to choose paper or digital, but 88 percent of the 18- to 24-year-olds also agree. Furthermore, 49 percent of that same young age group would consider switching companies if they are forced to go paperless.

Print on paper is considered safer and more secure

Part of the consumer support for printed documentation may be due to the increase in data breaches in the financial, business and health care sectors. Survey results revealed that 79 percent of consumers keep hard copies of important documents filed at home, as they believe this is the safest and most secure way of storing their information. A similar number is increasingly concerned that personal information held electronically is at risk of being hacked, stolen, lost or damaged.

Having a printed copy – whether it be of a newspaper, an invoice or a health or financial record – is generally perceived to be a more secure and comprehensible way of receiving information than its digital counterpart.

The preference for print on paper also has a lot to do with convenience. Overall, 68 percent agree that it is easier to track their expenses and manage their finances when information is printed on paper.

“Go Paperless – Go Green” claims are not trusted

The need for printed documents runs counter to company claims that we must go paperless because it is better for the environment. People often print e-documents at home or at the office for ease of reading, storage, archiving, security and reminders. A 2016 survey of US consumers found that 52 percent of respondents print some of their bills at home or at the office.

Many customers (71 percent) are also not fooled by “go paperless – go green” claims used by corporations and agree that the switch from paper to digital is because the sender primarily wants to save money. The 2016 US consumer survey also showed that 48 percent feel misled by the claims and 57 percent question the validity of the environmental claims.

For books and magazines, print wins over digital

Overall, 62 percent of respondents prefer to read books in print vs. electronic devices. Surprisingly, the youngest age group (18 to 24 years) feels the same way about books, with 63 percent responding in favor of print. Both groups strongly agree (72 to 73 percent) that reading a printed book is more enjoyable than its digital counterpart. The preference for print also extends to reading magazines, with 73 percent agreeing that print is more enjoyable than digital. Even the youngest group’s response is 66 percent in favor of print.

News consumption habits are changing

News is increasingly being read on digital devices. Most respondents (74 percent) say they read news on a tablet, smartphone, laptop or desktop computer at least once per week. However, 63 percent of all respondents and just less than half of the younger age group (46 percent) also say they read a printed newspaper at least once a week.

Not surprisingly, only 35 percent of the 18- to 24-year-olds prefer to read newspapers in print (as opposed to electronic devices) while the overall response is 61 percent in favor of print. However, when asked if reading a printed or digital newspaper was more enjoyable, the responses were more positive for print: 56 percent for the younger age group and 65 percent for all respondents.

Trusting the news found on digital media has become increasingly difficult, as hoaxes and misleading information pop up on the internet and are then shared on social media. This is reflected in the survey, with 73 percent of respondents agreeing that fake news is a worrying trend. In total, 56 percent trust the news stories they read in printed newspapers and 64 percent stated they would be very concerned if printed newspapers were to disappear.

Print provides a deeper understanding

When asked if reading news in a printed newspaper provides a deeper understanding of the story than digital options, the majority of respondents agreed (71 percent), and this was very similar to the response of the 18 to 24 age group (68 percent).

Ads are more effective in print

The fact that we trust and understand printed media more than digital has direct implications for advertisers.

The majority of consumers (70 percent) indicate that they do not pay attention to most online ads, and 69 percent find them irrelevant. The youngest age group surveyed (18- to 24-year-olds) feels only slightly less strongly about online ads, with 65 percent saying they do not pay attention to them. Many in both age categories (66 percent) could not remember the last time they willingly clicked an online ad.

When advertising turns up in our inboxes, do we read it? Less than half the time, according to the survey: 49 percent of all consumers and 43 percent of the youngest age group say they read marketing emails at least once per week.

As with the news, trust is an issue in advertising. Well over half the respondents (59 percent) do not trust many online ads. About half (54 percent) pay more attention to messages and ads on printed leaflets and mail than messages and ads delivered by email. A similar number agree they would be more likely to take an action after seeing an ad in a printed newspaper or magazine than if they saw the same ad online.

What about printed ads that turn up in the mailboxes of our homes? Of all the consumers surveyed, 59 percent said they read leaflets, flyers and other unaddressed mail delivered to their home at least once per week. Slightly higher numbers of respondents (63 percent) read advertising mail (at least once a week) addressed to them and delivered to their home.

Is digital overload starting to set in?

The survey found that consumers, particularly in the younger age categories, are concerned about health issues associated with spending time looking at screens and show a desire to “unplug.” About half of those surveyed (53 percent) felt they spent too much time on electronic devices, and that number was highest (81 percent) in the 25- to 34-year-old group. While 53 percent of consumers were concerned the overuse of electronic devices could be damaging to their health (ex: eyestrain, sleep deprivation, headaches), the number rose to 65 to 75 percent for consumers under 44 years.

The Toluna survey commissioned by Two Sides points out that print on paper plays a strong role in our daily lives, whether it is reading recreationally, carrying out financial transactions, maintaining our personal financial records or responding to advertising. The push to digital communications by many companies suggests that there is a disconnect with what their customers, young and old, actually want.

The full survey report and key findings for the US are available at www.twosidesna.org/Survey2017. To obtain a printed version of the materials, please contact Two Sides North America at info@twosidesna.org.

Phil Riebel is President of Two Sides North America, an independent non-profit organization created to promote the sustainability of print and paper. Two Sides is active globally in several countries and includes members from the entire print and paper value chain. For more information about Two Sides North America, visit www.twosidesna.org.

Endnotes

  1. Two Sides and Toluna, 2016. The Attractiveness and Sustainability of Print and Paper – The U.S. Consumer’s view. June 2016.