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The Credibility of Print: An interview with Phil Riebel

Editor’s Note: This article appeared on the Domtar Newsroom website on January 9, 2018. See link at end of article.

While the digital revolution is changing the way people learn, work, pay and play, print is still a preferred choice for many aspects of American life. New research shows that the perception of information credibility increases with print, and that people find reading on paper more enjoyable than reading on digital devices.

In 2017, Two Sides North America commissioned a survey of more than 2,000 adults in the United States to find out how print and paper are viewed in a digital world. Two Sides is an independent nonprofit organization created to promote the sustainability of print and paper. Its members, including Domtar, span the print and paper value chain, including forestry, pulp, paper, inks and chemicals, pre-press, press, finishing, publishing, printing, envelopes and postal operators.

Phil Riebel, president of Two Sides North America, spoke about the survey’s key findings and explored how digital and print play complementary roles in the ways consumers live.

It appears that the print/digital divide seems to be related not just to age, but also the type of information someone is consuming. Why?
When it comes to reading preferences, books and magazines are a clear winner over other paper products. Seventy-three percent say books and magazines are more enjoyable to read in print versus digital options, with minor differences between age groups. Sixty-one to sixty-six percent prefer print to digital when reading books, magazines and newspapers.

However, news consumption habits are changing and are also very age-related, with younger age groups preferring digital news to print. The frequency at which print magazines and newspapers are read also decreases with decreasing age, with younger respondents reading more digitally.

There is a clear preference for print when it comes to products like mailed statements from banks, utilities, etc., especially among older respondents. In fact, 76 percent said they are increasingly concerned that their personal digital information is at risk of being hacked, stolen, lost or damaged.

How are publishers reacting?
I am not a publisher, but I can see that print still commands a very good return on investment when it comes to advertising. It’s very hard to ignore a well-designed and impactful ad when you are flipping through a magazine or newspaper. You can’t simply delete it, as many of us do on our electronic devices.

Seventy percent of respondents said they find online ads annoying and usually irrelevant, and 71 percent stated they do not pay attention to most online ads. On the print side, ad mail delivered to homes is read by 60 percent or more of respondents at least once per week, with 55 percent saying they would be more likely to take action after seeing an ad in a printed magazine or newspaper than if they saw it online.

There also are other opportunities for print. Compared to digital, print provides a more emotional connection with the reader, allowing a deeper understanding of and engagement with the written word. This is due to haptic feedback — the touch and feel of paper — and the fact that there is no artificial light or distracting pop-up notifications. This uncluttered aspect of print has value in our current world of endless digital information bombardment.

In terms of information credibility, how does the medium affect perception?
In general, I believe a respectable printed newspaper or magazine commands more information credibility than other digital news sources. Our survey showed 74 percent of respondents felt that “fake news” is a worrying trend (with the number climbing to 78 percent among 18- to 24-year-olds). In total, 56 percent said they trust the news stories they read in printed newspapers versus 35 percent who trust the news stories they read on social media. Sixty-four percent said they would be very concerned if printed newspapers were to disappear.

Overall, the results suggest that having a printed copy, whether it be a newspaper, an invoice or a health or financial record, is generally perceived to be a more secure and trusted way of receiving information than its digital counterpart.

Why do you think print increases the perception of information credibility?
I believe many online news sources are uncontrolled and unchecked. Virtually anyone can post anything, and it’s instantly accessible to potentially millions of people. The traditional print magazines and newspapers operate a long-standing and very structured editorial process, and the cost of producing the final product is substantial. So they want to get it right and look professional.

Also, a hard copy of any document is in your control, and you can store it safely wherever you please. Digital files are at the mercy of your computer, servers, your backup drive—all of which can fail, as many of us have experienced.

Your survey touched on health concerns people have related to their use of digital media. What is the solution?
There is a feeling of digital overload in 36 percent of the overall population, and 47 percent of the 18- to 24-year-old group. An even higher percentage (53 percent) states they are concerned that the overuse of e-devices could be damaging to their health. This rises to 62 percent for the youngest age group (18- to 24-year-olds).

There is also a strong feeling among many people (67 percent) that it is important to switch off and enjoy a printed book or magazine.

I am seeing more and more research on the literacy and learning benefits of print on paper, and schools and other organizations are thinking twice before digitizing their classrooms. So, less screen time is not only healthier for us, but reading in print also can improve learning. This is definitely an area worth exploring further by our industry.

How does Two Sides raise awareness of security, sustainability, health, information credibility and other issues related to print and online publishing?
We use all existing platforms—digital, print and in-person presentations—to get the word out. Our growing network of member companies also has been greatly amplifying our message via their stakeholders.

We have been actively using social media and infographics to highlight key study results. We encourage readers to share our posts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Our survey report is available in print to anybody who requests it at info@twosidesna.org, and the full report and U.S. results are available online.

Source: Domtar Newsroom, January 9, 2018


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