Paper or Digital?

The choice between digital communications and paper-and-ink publications is, in our opinion, much more important to our culture at large than the more familiar choice “paper or plastic?” “Digital” in this context means the world wide web, the internet, and various forms of keyboard, audio, and video and touch-panel communications. Of course there are all sorts of digital contraptions in the consumer market--digital watches, clocks, and whatnot, but they are alternatives to analog devices, and not what we address here.

What is your personal experience of the transition from paper to digital communications? For me, the transition appears to be largely a generational thing. In my family, I had the opportunity and pleasure to know one great-grandfather and three grandparents. They most assuredly had nothing to do with computers in their lifetimes. My parents are now both aged 84. My father accumulated five academic degrees and made some use of computers toward the end of his teaching career and into his retirement 20 years ago. My mother, on the other hand, grew up on a farm, married, and raised five children without any urge to even learn to type, let alone use computers.

My generation made the transition en masse. I and my siblings had no benefit of computers until early adulthood, and pervasive influence ever since. My children were using computers when they were still in grade school. Now grown, these young adults seek specific or technical information almost exclusively via computers and use of printed materials—paperback books, crossword puzzles, and that sort of thing-- largely for recreational purposes. To summarize, the transition in my family is almost black-and-white: from nothing by computer to almost everything by computer, in a matter of two generations. I think this is a typical transition pattern across the country.

All plastics publications in the traditional paper-and-ink format face the choice in this era of remaining paper-and-ink publications, of becoming exclusively digital, or doing both. Plastics Technology (a Gardner publication) and Plastics News (a Crain publication) and are among those continuing, so far at least, to appear in both print and digital form.

The former Plastics Machinery & Auxiliaries was discontinued as a print product and its product data was at least partially delivered in its sister paper publications Modern Plastics Worldwide and Injection Molding magazines. Those two subsequently abandoned print altogether and went digital under the current Plastics Today heading. Just weeks ago, Plastics in Canada merged with Canadian Plastics. As of Sept. 1, 2011 subscribers to the Plastics in Canada e-newsletter will get the Canadian Plastics weekly e-newsletter, according to a Canadian Plastics announcement.

Profitability is no doubt the nub of the matter in this overall transition. Publishing revenue historically came largely from advertising. Subscription revenue has only ever covered some costs in the B2B (Business-to-Business) sector. It was not considered a real source of profitability, but this is changing. Consumer and business periodicals such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times are charging subscription fees for use of some or all of their digital products.

Thomas Register is another example of “going digital” that many people in industry can relate to. Those huge green books used to be in every purchasing and engineering office. Roughly a decade ago, Thomas Register started switching over to ThomasNet. No more big green books, everything is digital.

Most suppliers to the plastics industry don’t have a horse in the “paper or digital” race. Typically, they have a horse in both races. They deliver information via the plastics related magazines, whether print-only, digital-only, or both. They also exhibit at industry shows, conduct Webinars and often provide equipment and material specifications in both print and digital format, but the use of digital forms of communicating with plastics processors will continue to increase.

Merle R. Snyder
--October 2011

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The Plastics Technology Drying, Conveying and Extrsion Knowledge Centers are sponsored by Novatec, whose personnel check each section for technical accuracy. This article is not a statement of Novatec policy. 

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