Why Print Matters in a Digital World

As we move everything online, the value of tangible experiences is more important than ever.

For years now, advancements in technology have dominated our imagination. Our seemingly inevitable transition to a new digital age brought about all sorts of questions about security, culture, business and marketing. And for many, one giant question loomed overhead; does physical media still matter?

At a first glance, it can be very easy to believe the doomsayers. According to statista.com, the average person in the UK spent 3.4 hours a day online in June last year, an amount that increased dramatically since the 2020 lockdowns.

If you’re looking to reach out to new customers, then surely advertising online is the only option we have, right?

Well, not so fast. While people are spending more time connecting with others online than ever before, simply focusing on the numbers ignores the user experience. According to The Guardian, 85% of people worldwide worry about online disinformation. And that makes sense. We all know how easy it is to fake anything online, and as a result there’s an enormous desire for authenticity that you just can’t guarantee online.

That’s not to say that online advertising isn’t useful, but it’s the difference between receiving an email and a leaflet. I was once given a flyer for a bible study that I had no intention of going to, but I still took it home with me just because I liked the look of it. If that had been an email, there’s no way I would have remembered that a year later, because I get dozens of similar emails every day.

That is the key difference.

Paper to Digital

Physical media is so important because there will always be a need for interaction. More than twice the number of people still prefer to buy physical books as opposed to their electronic counterpart. Even with the additional perks, such as the ability to download and read instantly from home, or to look up the meanings of new words with a single click, we’re still drawn to the tactile experience. Physical books look great on a shelf, feel good to hold and, as strange as it might sound, have a distinct smell you can’t get anywhere else. Going to a bookstore immerses us in a space full of hundreds of other books, and when you leave you interact with a, hopefully, cheery cashier, and all that can affect our reading experience. Compare that to a plain website with a big yellow ‘Buy with one-click’ button that deliberately doesn’t leave a lasting impression, and the difference is palpable, even if the end result – you exchange money for a book – is the same.

There will always be a place for both physical and digital media, but they ultimately fill different roles. Digital media engages the logical side of our brains, offering all the necessary information in a convenient package, while physical media engages the emotional side, inspiring us to form connections. A website is useful for looking up information, but a business card feels like a personal extension of whoever gave it to you. Millions of people love online shopping, but hiding a menu behind a QR code leaves a different taste in the mouth.

Neither physical nor digital are inherently better; just differently useful. There will always be a place for both, and one will never replace the other.