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I have spent the better portion of my career as a print specialist. I have seen my share of changes to the publishing industry over the past couple of decades, but nothing like what's happening right now. Should print professionals be looking for another career? Well, don't dust off your resume just yet folks, but certainly take the time to educate yourself on digital publishing solutions. In fact, I'm going to bet that's exactly why you're here. Even if you're not currently tasked with converting your printed content to an eBook, you very soon will. It is inevitable, as sales of tablet devices increase daily and thus the demand for digital content skyrockets.
Back in the early 90s I began hearing, "print is dead," being preached from every corner of the digital publishing world. As a printing professional this statement struck a nerve with me and still does. This was a time when the PDF document was first introduced and everyone was convinced that it would revolutionize the publishing world. And in a way it did, but not in the way that the doomsayers were suggesting. In fact, PDF made professional printing easier and thus helped to solidify the industry for a number of years to come. Certainly there was a contingency of business professionals who used the new PDF format to go green and develop a paperless office.
But it would be some time before there was a significant decline in professional printing. Commercial printers were the first to see this decline in the form of printed product catalogs. As the World Wide Web crept into our homes, consumers could simply download a PDF catalog for free. Manufacturers began to see the potential for this new form of media and started developing an online version of their catalogs. These online catalogs could be freely distributed to anyone and everyone who wanted them. They were easier to keep current, thus less costly than their printed counterparts.
Very soon consumers could order directly online with the advent of the eCommerce site, and the demand for a catalog diminished. Today it's difficult, though not impossible, to find a printing catalog. As the Internet developed, the technologies behind websites and the tools to create them did as well, making it easier for designers to create beautiful, easy to read pages. This let a few newspapers to start thinking about moving to a digital format. Order a subscription to the New York Times is one of several major news publications now, and you get a choice between digital, print, or both.
That is where the trend seems to have stay for the past decade or so. Most any subscription to a magazine includes access to a digital form of the same magazine. I think with the popularity of tablet devices, we will see a slow dissolve of this hybrid offering to a digital only, or a print on demand option, in the near future. Many literary and textbook publishers are joining this hybrid offering of both digital and print versions of their books. Public schools and colleges are experimenting with tablet devices in place of textbooks, allowing students to not only read the assigned text, but make class notes.
If you had recorded lecture or discussed a topic via Instant Messaging or Online Forum, Apple has partnered with a few of the major textbook publishers to create and offer many new titles as iBooks. These digital publications have the most current data and are considerably cheaper to produce than a printed book. There is also no fear of the student damaging or losing their books. I think that we'll see a decline in promotional printing as large-screen signage develops and becomes more affordable. Electronic billboards are already popping up all over the interstates of most major cities.
Modern movie theaters are forgoing the movie poster for large monitors that deliver more than a static image. Even a communication standard, the lowly business card, is slowly becoming a thing of the past. So is print dead? In my honest opinion, no. It is evolved, as it is the process by which we published this new printed word. There will always be a need for ink on paper when it comes to packaging, so the technology of printing is not going away. There is also a large population that prefers the tactile sensation and smell of ink on paper when it comes to literature.
This leaves me to believe that there will be presses cranking out publications for sometime to come. Yes, there is a definite trend to put print to death, but it will not go gentle into that good night.
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