Why isn’t print dead?

HP Color LaserJet Pro 3201dw during our printer test procedure
(Image credit: HP)

The rumors of print’s death have been circulating for a long time – in fact, the first recorded use of the term ‘paperless office’ was all the way back in 1975. However, while print may look somewhat different in the digital era, it's far from over.

Why isn’t print dead, then? Well, while a portion of paperwork has moved to digital, we won’t see printers go away anytime soon. That’s because there are so many continued drivers for paper. So, if print is dying, it will be a really long, slow, drawn-out death – and certainly not the sudden leap-over-a-cliff that people have been talking about for almost 50 years.

The transformation of printing

There's no doubt that the world of print has been transforming rapidly in recent years, with digitization ramping up efficiency and sustainability in its mission to replace many paper-based processes. However, there are still areas where paper remains crucial. In fact, research company IDC recently found that 63% of survey respondents say that print is either important or very important to their business.

When print management solutions are brought into a print environment, paradoxically their ease of use can drive an increase in printing. That’s because, previously, staff members found it hard to be able to print; now, they just hit a button and it comes out.

Larger companies are seeing that their digitization programs are creating an inverse relationship between printing and scanning. What’s driving the scanning is that now they’re starting to work their way through immense repositories of information that are all stored on paper, reducing their reliance on print.

It’s still that case, though, that while organizations tend to focus on automating and digitizing their most common processes, they're still likely to be dealing with paper invoices for vendors they only interact with occasionally, say once or twice a year. There are still a lot of organizations that take a PDF invoice they’ve received via email, print it, then scan it, and someone else has to do data entry.

But a generational shift will push businesses further to reduce their paper use. If you look at younger employees coming to organizations, they don’t print at all – it’s an alien concept to them.

Willem Groenewald

Principal Product Manager, PaperCut.

We’ve also seen a return to the office – and to print

The sudden shift to remote working during the global pandemic caused a downturn in all print-related interactions, including printing, scanning, and copying. But since employees have returned to the office, the trend has swiftly reversed. We’ve seen many customers increase the number of printers and devices in their organization. So, they’re actually expanding their print fleet as people are coming back.

Extended lockdowns also created a shortage of chips, as the boom on Chromebooks and take-home laptops placed unprecedented demand on chip manufacturers, causing a backlog on devices globally – including printers. According to copier resellers and manufacturers, their customers had to wait months for copier deliveries due to the backlog in manufacturing caused by chip shortages. But there’s definitely been an increase again in those printer and copier rollouts, and they wouldn’t do that if the demand for printing wasn’t there.

With many employers embracing a hybrid work model since the pandemic, staff members need the ability to do their job from anywhere – pushing a move towards remote printing solutions. That flexibility to print however you like is critical. And we’ve seen a big trend in that direction.

As companies try to optimize their resources, IT teams have become smaller with a broader range of responsibilities. Without a dedicated team to look after the organization's printing needs, there's been a higher uptake of print management software. They want a solution that just makes it very easy – both to manage all the printing and for the end users to do their job.

Industries driving demand for printing

Despite gradual downward trends, there are certain sectors where demand for printing holds steady. Education sits among the top industries using print management solutions as classrooms continue to use physical paper alongside laptops and iPads.

There are some activities where kids just learn better on paper, like spelling and the development of fine motor skills involved in writing. In schools, you’re looking at a couple of thousand pages per student per year, so in a school district of 100,000 students, that’s a lot of printing.

Despite efforts to modernize patient records, the healthcare industry remains reliant on paper, even as organizations try to make their document workflow processes run more efficiently. They’re looking for anything possible to make it easier for doctors or nurses to do their job. If a doctor walks up to a computer, they want a printer right next to them so they can hit a button and the relevant record or report comes out. It’s all about efficiency.

Retail and manufacturing are both experiencing growth in printing as traditional documentation essentials like shipping slips remain commonplace.

Similarly, professional services, such as legal, accounting, and financial services, are all still heavily paper-dependent as they keep up with rigorous compliance obligations.

In fact, legal is an interesting industry because while legal firms are keen on digitization, its use often comes down to the individual preferences of a judge or magistrate presiding over a case. Some of those judges who have a paper preference could be there for another 20 years or more.

So, is printing dead?

To paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of printing have been greatly exaggerated. The downward trends are still there, but it’s going to be quite a while before it’s gone – certainly long enough that businesses need to invest in better, more efficient ways of printing.

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Willem Groenewald, Principal Product Manager, PaperCut.