Reading this will make you smarter – but only if you print it out

Print may no longer be the only channel in your membership publishing portfolio. But, if you believe the science, it’s still one of the most powerful. The question is, for how long?

When was the last time you flicked the pages of a print magazine, while simultaneously checking your email, browsing the news online and tweeting about your innermost thoughts on social media? Probably never – unless you really are taking the notion of ‘continuous partial attention’ to extremes.

We may not be able to function without our smart phones, but there is something about a print magazine that still grabs the attention of its audience in a way no longer channel can. We may be opting out of the printed page in all areas of our lives – from itemised bills to annual statements. But, the truth is, if it’s important, your messages are still more likely to stick if you print them.

And, that’s not all. According to a series of neurological surveys, print makes you smarter too. The magazine Print Power (yes, the name might suggest a bias, but the science is fascinating) covered the subject in a recent edition and wrote: ‘A major neurological study by Millward Brown found that printed material left a deeper footprint on the brain, involved more emotional processing (which helps with memory and brand associations) and produces more brain responses connected to our internal feelings.’ It went on to add that physical paper produces more activity in the parts of the brain associated with emotional engagement and students who take comprehension tests after reading information in print score significantly higher.

It is unsurprising that the so-called ‘lean back’ medium delivers such results, given it remains the channel to which we give the most focused attention. But, with magazine frequencies dropping and commercial publishers closing down titles and reinventing themselves as event organisers, the future of print is unknown.

How long will we remain clever and retain information? According to futurist Jim Carroll, not very long. By 2025, Jim believes that paper will feel like it belongs ‘in the olden days’. His belief that it will have disappeared by 2019, however, came as a bit of a surprise (us being in 2017 already), so I called him up to see if he stood by his prediction. His answer now is that 2019 may be a bit quick, but that we tend to underestimate what can be achieved in 10 years (Twitter only came into being in 2007 and can you imagine life without that 140-character challenge)? He also added that print will die not because of paper prices or younger generations turning away from the medium, but because the attention spans of those currently committed to paper are changing. Apparently, even print lovers will find the medium obsolete – and the move will be sooner than we all think.

By this point, you are now either rejoicing at the demise of the printed page or clinging on to your favourite subscription title or piece of stationery in desperation.

Of course, what we don’t know is how quickly this shift will affect the membership sector – although the results of our 2017 Re:member survey into trends in professional membership communications (see right to sign up and take part) will be a useful indicator to see whether print usage has declined in the last two years.

What we do know, however, is that its role in the communications mix has already changed (no longer a repository for news or an independent brand that sits aside from digital content channels) and that ripping out interesting articles and liberal use of a highlighter pen will, one day soon, be a thing of the past.

For now, I would advise you print this out or share it with a print-loving colleague to keep the hope that we might all still be ripping off the polywrap of our favourite print magazines in 2019 very much alive.

In short

  • Studies confirm that information is far more likely to be retained if consumed in print form
  • Futurist Jim Carroll believes that print will soon be considered as being ‘from the olden days’
  • If his theory that committed print lovers will turn away from the medium is true, it will be interesting to see how quickly this shift will affect the membership sector

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