While e-mail is here to stay, what is fading gradually from offices and our lives in general is paper. Certainly the office printers have not slowed down in 2012, but other forms of paper, in particular paper mail, books, and to a lesser extent so far magazines, have been disappearing, driven by several business forces.
The most obvious of these are paper books of all kinds, from traditional novels and business tomes to looseleaf technical manuals. Early in 2011 this trend reached a watershed when Amazon.com announced that it was selling more e-books than paper books. The collapse of Borders later this year was a more dramatic sign of this same trend – unlike Barnes & Noble, Borders never had a corporate e-book strategy, and it paid the price. Inside the book publishing industry the trend has been visible for the last two years, as the sales of paper books have gradually diminished month-to-month, being replaced by a generally equal amount of e-book sales. This is being driven in large part by costs – e-books are no more expensive to publish than paper books – actually the creation and design phase is unchanged. But they eliminate the entire cost of printing and physical distribution, plus the huge expense of maintaining retail outlets. The result is that they can be offered at a lower price while still providing higher profits per sale both to the publisher and authors. They are a better deal for everyone.
On the hardware side, the last couple of years has seen the growth of the reader tablet market epitomized by the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook. These are basically single-use devices for book and to a lesser newspaper/newsletter reading only as opposed to the more versatile iPads and Android tablets. However this steady growth in e-book sales is also attached to the steady increase in smartphone sales. IPhones and Android smartphones in particular, with their full-screen design, make excellent, light, easy to hold e-book readers. All the e-book publishers, including Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and eReader.com, have software readers for both iPhones and Android phones. And since smartphone owners carry their devices everywhere, they always have their library in their pocket.
Magazines and newspapers are following this same path, although they are several years behind. In this case the main driver is advertising – advertisers vastly prefer electronic media which lets they offer instant click-throughs and gives them statistics on how many readers top to look at the ad and then how many of those readers actually are motivated to buy something. And of course they also save the huge cost of paper printing and distribution.
The hardware behind this trend is the color tablet, and particularly the iPad, with its larger screen size that can display a full page of a full-color magazine. The e-book readers, with their gray-scale displays, are not adequate
Users, including business users, also seem to appreciate the convenience of having their business books, magazines, and newspapers in electronic format, all available on one device, easily searched and carried.
Technical manuals are moving in the same direction for different reasons. Electronic technical manuals are much cheaper to “print” and distribute, cheaper and easier to update, and, with computer search and indexing, more efficient to use. They also can include full-motion video clips of specific test and repair procedures and other multi-media content that can make them superior to the paper versions they replace.
Action Item: All of this mandates one thing – tablets in the office. So far most businesses have flirted with tablets, but in the coming year some businesses at least will begin rolling out full support for employee tablets and in some cases handing out company standard tablets preloaded with business software including reference material, business books and other publications that last year were only available on paper. Once that happens the stage will be set to replace at least some of the paper streaming out of office printers and copiers with electronic versions.