It’s not just about Print and Web

Over on the Intermedia blog, Charlie Melichar recently posted Integration & Separation – print and web. I’d like to expand further on that with my thoughts.

When I was first hired as a Web Editor for a university in 1998, my position was created to re-purpose print documents for the Web. Print drove everything. Twelve years later this is still quite the hot, and rather unresolved, topic. The  transition now seems to be primarily financially driven. Due to budget cuts many are cutting back on printing to save money.

This topic is far more more than economics and a budget-friendly tactic. We need to be thinking about communication goals, along with the budget, for each project before we think about the mediums. (Strategy, then tools, right??) Once the goals and audience have been established, then we should discuss how to best execute, and which mediums will be best to use for a given project. It’s not just about print — we need to be thinking about how we’ll integrate with video, social media, fundraising efforts, admissions presentations, alumni events, e-newsletters, etc.

The Web should not be an afterthought. If the Web is to be utilized in conjunction with other mediums, what is its unique purpose? You are not taking advantage of the online medium if you just post a PDF of a magazine, newsletter or brochure. I know some may chime in and say they don’t have resources to do more. While I’m incredibly sympathetic to that, I’d argue it’s better to not post it online at all. Better yet, I think more can be done to supplement the print version with fewer resources. Assignments given to writers of the stories should be thinking cross-platform. What multimedia elements could go along with their articles, which can be posted as online-exclusives? Just post these on your site – not the entire article. Make them request a print version so you’re Development folks are sure to get updated addresses. Having online-exclusives drives people to your Web site. While you have their attention, use this opportunity to show them other exclusive things on your site, including a way to give back to your college/university.

I don’t want to interact with a Web page as I do with a print piece. They’re two completely different mediums. Issuu tries to make this experience gel, but that’s just not my personal reading style online — and I don’t think I’m alone. As Charlie suggests, this may change with the iPad (and Kindle, Nook, etc.), but those devices are not computer monitors or laptops. They are designed to be comfortable to hold and read, and applications are still evolving for those devices.

I’ve tried looking for user studies that test interaction with PDFs and PDF-like services, such as Issuu, but haven’t found any, and think this would be very valuable data to get our hands on. Better yet – do your own user study with your readers and see how they react.

So, what am I saying?

  • Print is not dead and will not completely die. Its purpose, connection and integration with all other mediums (not just Web) needs to evolve to reflect user expectations and take advantage of the strengths of each of the communication mediums.
  • The Web is not an afterthought. It’s an opportunity for multimedia-rich enhancements to print publications.
  • I don’t believe the ultimate online experience through my laptop or desktop computer is flipping through PDFs or the like. I want to see something different online.
  • It’s not 1998.
  • Budgets are tight. Get creative!