Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Riding the tsunami

First come the tremors. Then comes the earthquake. Then comes the tsunami. Then everything is up for grabs. No, I'm not talking about the invention of the laser printer or Acrobat or digital printing or the Internet. For print manufacturers, that's old news.

I'm talking about the reorganization of the global financial system. While we are still in the middle of the earthquake and its aftershocks, keep in mind that the real damage on the ground is usually from flooding.

In yesterday's Williamsport Sun-Gazette, published in North Central Pennsylvania, I found this:
Top lawmakers predict massive deficit in state

Harrisburg - The deteriorating economy and rising costs for for such big-ticket items as health care and prisons is leading the state government on a path to a massive deficit that will require a tax increase to erase, two senior state legislators said Monday.
. . .
They also said that it will be difficult, if not impossible, to make up the difference by cutting costs alone, either because legislators and unwilling to take money out of programs and services or because state government is already squeezed.
This story could probably be used in every state and city in the United States. In many states, you would probably have to add education as a big ticket item. Once you consider that most people don't have the money to pay more taxes, the shape of the tsunami becomes more clear.

What does this have to do with selling Print?

For a while, I've been on a soapbox about advertising being a shrinking market. Those who are in the game should take what's left on the table and move to greener pastures. The greenest pastures for Print are in education, health and government. Since everything needs an acronym, it's the EHG market.

Once the borrowing costs for education, health and government become unsustainable and real people don't have the money for more state and local taxes, something is going to have to change. Since improved communications is the low hanging fruit for cutting expenses and improving service, it's a pretty safe bet that there will be an eager market for communications that are better, faster, cheaper.

The Internet is good for giving and getting information, goods, money, or entertaining a niche market of users. Print is very good for changing culture and improving learning on the ground. Print is a "must have", not a "nice to have" in the communication ecology when dealing with the Public. State and local governments are required by law to serve the Public.

Bad news for government could be good news for print manufacturers.

The trick is inventing, producing and selling the Print based products that make EHG faster, better, cheaper. Digital printing is at the leading edge because it allows economical print for groups of 30 to 150. That's where culture changes.

Consider the problem of education. The purpose of schools is no longer separating out the smart ones and making sure everyone else shows up on time to work in a factory. The chances for a good life now depend on an ability to think, solve problems and play nice with others. The best media to learn how to think, not "get information," is Print.

Here's what I mean. Thinking is based on "compare and contrast." To think you need to hold at least two things in your mind at the same time. Then compare them, Then figure out which is more plausible and maybe right. Electronic media is slow, worse and more expensive to compare and contrast.

To see how that works out, try this. Read a newspaper on line. Then get a printed version of that newspaper and also get a highlighter, or a pencil will do. Put the newspaper on a flat surface and get a cup of coffee. The TV can be on in the background. Scan the newspaper while sipping your coffee. Every time something catches your "interest", highlight it. After about a half hour, go over everything you highlighted and mull.

Probably new connections between seemingly disparate pieces of information will connect, in some new way you hadn't thought of before. That connection is called a "new idea." After a bit of compare and contrast, that half baked idea might get fully baked. When it's ready to take out of the oven, it might lead to an innovation. Innovations are very valuable. Sometimes you can sell them for lots of money. Plus the cost of production is very, very low.

Then consider if you could do the same thing with any electronic media.

So it may turn out that the best, fastest, cheapest, most interactive way to learn how to think is a printed piece and a highlighter. Since everyone now has to learn how to think, it should be a growing market.

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