Video might have killed the radio star but Daniel Dejan, Print Manager at Sappi, doesn’t believe print will die. It will instead evolve with, and alongside, new technology. We reached him in Chicago.

What is the future of print?

We love magazines as a culture because they speak to our special interests, they speak to our hobbies, to our desire for news and editorial opinion. There will be less volumes but more titles. Mr. Magazine, Samir Husni, verifies that. Last year, the US magazine industry had 567 new magazine titles.

People also love catalogues, it’s the best way for them to find out about new products. Even among the younger demographics. The catalogue industry can personalize a catalogue based on a reader’s shopping history, interests and data. With that level of data strategically, you can really hit your audience quite accurately. Catalogues and magazines are going to continue to do quite well. There will be lesser volume due to the three Ps: printing, paper and postage, all which have all increased. That’s the reality.

In terms of the larger overview of print, I think it’s either going to become a commodity, a focus on the cost per unit where companies are going to choose lesser quality paper, faster and more inexpensive printing, without special effects. But they’ll be able to get high volumes at a very low cost per unit. The alternative is that printing will follow the flight to quality: a great deal of market research shows that if magazines and catalogues use higher quality paper and special effects printing on their cover like foil stamping, debossing, specialty coating such as soft touch and sandpaper, this will give the recipient a sense of a quality product. It will increase the way they view and value the brand, the company and the content within.

In the long run, we’ve found a few things will continue to keep print healthy. First, the permanence of print compared to the transient effect of the web. It’s not a bad thing but in the case of direct mail, catalogues, magazines, you want to have them around for a while, you want to consume them at your leisure and keep them. We are a tactile species, we love to have our senses engaged and awakened. One of the biggest challenges we have is to get the policy/decision makers to migrate away from a cost-per-unit mentality and not only look at cost-per-response but look at cost-per-conversion. ‘How many catalogues did we send out and how many people ordered from our catalogue or subscribed or resubscribed to our magazine?’ Those types of metrics should become far more important than what the unit costs per se. I think in the larger business context model we’ve become very short sighted. The companies who do well, have long-term strategies and they realize it takes time to unfold strategies, to bring them to market. We have to be careful to not seek a quick, easy one stroke broad answer.

How has big data impacted the print industry?

If you’re looking at things like variable digital printing, or in other words customizable printing, it’s going to continue to grow – to me it is truly disruptive technology. In the very near future we’re looking at variable data printing at offset quality plus and at offset quality speeds that is going to revolutionize the concept of short run variable data printing, dramatically.

There isn’t a financial transaction that we’re involved in that is not captured by somebody to be sold to somebody else. What many don’t realize is that the underbelly of commerce is the exchange and sale of data. People make a lot of money selling data that they gather which is exactly why companies like Google have done exceedingly well. How do giant tech companies make money? It is their ability to gather extraordinary amounts of very minute information and create very sophisticated algorithms regarding consumer preferences.

While first class mail is diminishing at USPS, small packages and shipping has increased dramatically due to online purchasing that’s being delivered by the post office so it’s been very lucrative. And I honestly believe that we will get better and better at direct mail. Everybody loves well-designed, timely, relevant mail. Even young demographics, particularly when it’s personalized. It’s an extraordinarily powerful tool.

What have people done with print differently in the past 5-10 years?

I’d rather speak to the disruptive technologies in print in the last 5-10 years. Other than equipment evolution which has been dramatic, we can do things much faster and at a lower cost.

First of all, variable data has been a huge evolution as well as UV printing. It has an incredible benefit to the uncoated paper market. The ability to print high-quality images and colors through the use of UV ink has been extraordinary. One of the things that I also spend a lot of time on and that I believe in is image recognition and page mobilization, in other words augmented reality. Now, we’re seeing mixed reality where we’re able to use wearables like Microsoft’s HoloLens being able to link to a textbook, for example. I think it’s amazing that we’ve learned from the gaming industry just how well we can create extraordinary visualization. One thing we’ve realized is that we can absolutely use print as a trigger to get readers directly online to additional information, store fronts, videos, animations, or the type of information that is available only online. Photos, icons, borders, anything really can be turned into an augmented reality trigger that takes the viewer seamlessly to a continued online conversation. It could be a marketing conversation, an educational one, editorial, commercial even. The idea that we can integrate that into magazines, catalogues, textbooks has just been extraordinary.

Printing inks have changed dramatically, not only UV but electroconductive and electroluminescent inks as well. Those kinds of techniques are changing the way we define print in a larger sense. All of these can be viewed on YouTube for amazing examples of what can be done.

I’m a designer by trade, I always see design as a solution. The truth of it is that when we use design effectively we know how to engage a reader, viewer. Great design will always do that. I don’t think that we should try to save money on design. What is going to make augmented reality a reality is great design. It’s that perfect combination of print and computer  programming.

I was told that 12-17 year olds love print, why is that?

Technology as we know it, has grown exponentially and there’s so much money to be made in mobile technology. The downside is that mobile only stimulates two senses, the visual and the auditory. We love videos. The thing is the more technology we have, the more dehumanizing technology gets. It takes away so many of our senses, touch, the smell and the sound of paper. It takes away from the larger reading experience. We’ve come to realize that young demographics love really well-designed, beautifully printed, pieces that have a special effects printing, wonderful paper, because it’s so completely outside the digital experience. Young demographics love magazines and catalogues. The fashion magazine industry is very much alive and healthy because of young women subscribing as an example.

Between you and me, the big concern is when I make that statement about young demographics loving print and magazines, it’s a global statement. It’s unfortunate that the United States ranks in the low 20s globally  in reading comprehension. If you look at Scandinavia or Australia or Asian Countries, they devour magazines and books.

I think we have a challenge, Aldous Huxley made a comment that non-stop distractions was the greatest threat to humanity. Technology has become incredibly proficient at creating distractions.

You call yourself a futurist. What do you say to those who think that print has no future?

I don’t think they have all the information. Have you heard of Riepl’s law? It says that new technology will not make old technology obsolete. It forces old technology to modify itself so that it can be melded into new technology. You do not have to displace old technology in order to fit new technology in. The market just expands. Magazines were invented in the late 1700s, when radio came to be in the 1800s everyone thought radio would replace magazines because people would prefer having somebody speak to them than to have to read. But it didn’t. We had both. When movies came out, they thought it would replace live theater. But it didn’t. When TV came out, they thought it would replace movies but, again, it didn’t. The fact that we can now stream on a digital device all kinds of entertainment, you would think it would replace live theater, movies, television and all those forms of entertainment, but it hasn’t. It has impacted those industries, absolutely because what we have to understand from 30 000 feet is that we have a lot more choices. Not long ago we were talking about the big 3: Television, radio, print. And everybody would show you a pie where TV would have the largest portion of the pie. Suddenly, that pie became much, much larger with many slices. Now you have digital offerings and different ways to watch movies. What’s happened is that the pie has just gotten larger. When people say print has no future, they’re not looking at the larger picture, the mega economy. There’s still people making astronomical amounts of money in film, print, radio and television.

See also: The Coming Wave of Audience Empowerment

Let me put it this way, who do you think created the concept that print is dead? Digital people. If I have a huge capital investment in new digital technology the first thing you’ll hear is don’t spend your money on print, spend your money on my new technology. The people who typically say that print is dead are people who have investments in new technology and too narrow sighted to see that they can both live together comfortably. In fact the companies who’ve done the best from a revenue and a growth perspective are the companies who’ve figured how to incorporate both and use them in a collaborative manner.

If you had one piece of advice for marketers who were thinking of foregoing print, what would it be?

I consult a lot of companies and the one thing that I still believe, and I may be a print evangelist and people may see my devotion to print possibly as a fault but I think for the next easily 10 or 20 years is to use print as a springboard to get a viewer online. Most digital companies launch their companies using print to let people know that they exist, whether it’s magazine advertising or direct mail. What’s the first thing that they do? They give you a URL or they use augmented reality so that you can get to it very quickly. But the idea of using print is still extraordinarily valid. Another part of it is, that there’s nothing more exquisite than a beautifully printed photo. And for me, I happen to love oversized magazines and books because when you have this big piece of print and you open it up to a two page spread of a well-executed, well-printed photo, it’s incredibly moving. Somebody made a comment once, and I do believe it, in the future, the greatest luxury gift will be coffee table books.

I can put a headset on or a virtual reality headset and take a tour of a museum and it’s wonderful because it puts me right there but give me a coffee table book of those images and it’s so much more personal and human. It makes your brand come across as very human and valuable, we want to be taken seriously and we want people to see us as a value to whatever our endeavor is. Print really has that immediate and primal connection. We’re still surrounded by an astronomical amount of print, books, magazines and catalogues. We’ve come to take it for granted unfortunately, because as a consumer society we love new technology.

Taking some time away from screens has become important and that may be what the young demographics are looking for.

Neuroscientists have told us in no uncertain terms that we’re reaching a point of monitor fatigue where you reach a point in the day when you just can’t look at a phone or tablet or laptop anymore. What most end up doing is retreating to print. The beauty of it is, that as soon as you open a book or magazine, your heart rate goes down, blood pressure goes down, you slow down and we need to find ways of slowing down. It’s the whole concept of mindfulness. Print is still very mindful.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.