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Digital migration presents greater potential for printed pages

Issue 0926/1 – Related to the recent article , Hewlett-Packard admits that the traditional hardware sales model will no longer work and that the company must do whatever it can to access pages rather than printers. It is the migration from analogue to digital that has prompted this reappraisal of the marketing approach needed but why has the electronic age actually resulted in a rise in the number of pages being printed when we are told that we are supposed to be expecting a paperless environment?

Hewlett-Packard is certainly not the only printer manufacturer to recognise this change or to adjust its sales model to keep pace with the shifting environment. But it is one of the few to be openly talking of the shift and why it is adjusting its strategy.

Put simply, an increasing proportion of the graphic and text material being created now is created specifically either for publishing to the internet or for distribution by email, rather than for printing. This decade, there has been a massive migration of created pages from traditional analogue technologies to digital technologies and this is almost entirely due to this explosion of the internet as an information distribution and business vehicle, along with the associated pervasion of email and instant messaging as communication technologies.

Think of all the times you use one of the internet search engines to look up some technical information; buy a product; research a film, celebrity, historical fact, product or service; find a geographical location; download music, photos or video; access support services or documentation; register for a service; etc.; etc.; etc. Each and every one of those ‘pages’ that you look it is potentially a printed page! Printing may not be the reason many of them were created, and most will never be printed.

However, while this move to digital pages has, in itself, reduced the need to print in many instances (emails instead of letters, documents distributed by email attachment, etc.), the sheer volume and growth rate of pages migrating to a digital format vastly increases the number of pages that can potentially be printed. The result is that the total number of pages being created is growing so fast that the reduction in the number of pages being printed, because of email communication and digital workflow, cannot compensate for the increase in the number of pages actually being printed. Thus, we see a growth in the gross number of pages printed at a time when we would expect the number of printed pages to decline.

Printed page growth

Hewlett-Packard estimates that the total number of pages created per year increased from 30 trillion in 1992 to 49 trillion in 2002 and will rise to 58 trillion in 2012. Of these, 6% were digital in 1992 but, by 2012, this proportion is expected to have grown to 12% – representing an increase of nearly 4x in the actual number of digital pages over two decades. The analogue to digital conversion is estimated currently to account for an additional 200 billion digital pages per year.

At the print level itself, there is the contribution from a proportion of pages that used to be printed by lithographic offset methods but are now printed using digital presses, with all the personalisation potential that this technology offers. However, this is merely a printing technology shift and does not account for the rise in the printing potential that Hewlett-Packard refers to and which certainly has implications much wider than Hewlett-Packard on its own.

More pages available to be printed is good news for every printer manufacturer and will continue to drive revenue in the industry until there is a definitive technology that avoids the need to print altogether.

However, there is another side to the story here. What we are actually talking about is largely a migration from copied pages to printed pages!

Previously, most pages would be created either by analogue printing methods (offset litho printing, etc.), or (going back far enough) on a typewriter. If (or rather, when) any further copies were required, they would be produced using an analogue photocopier, often for physical distribution by hand or by post.

What we see now is that original document creators may never print those documents themselves. Documents are distributed electronically or published electronically on the internet and the choice is left to the end user as to whether those pages are printed or not. Then, if they are printed, they may be used for review or collaboration purposes and rescanned to become a digital document again, opening up the potential for them to be printed yet again. The need for photocopying is not what it was – having been replaced by a ‘distribute and print’ process or by ‘scan and store’ or ‘scan to distribute and print’.

So, it is work practices and social demands that determine the printing potential and the need for a document to exist as a physical hard copy or not. But, when the volume of digital documents is rising at such a rate, there is every opportunity for printer manufacturers to experience an increase in the number of pages printed on their hardware and the challenge is for them to find ways to capture in increased share of those printed pages – so the battle continues!

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