With the rise and rise of smartphones, the feverish consumption of content on the go is now very much the norm. Bah, I say! And I’m not a lone Scrooge. In fact, there has been a deluge of cartoons, memes and jokes making fun of how addicted contemporary society is to this gadget.

Never an early adopter of anything remotely IT-related, I was perfectly happy with my Nokia dumb-phone until a colleague — who shall remain unnamed — convinced me that a powerful smartphone would change my life.

That’s a bit of a reach, I thought.

Okay, it made catching up on the news a lot less stressful on public transport — you wouldn’t believe the number of dirty looks I get when I turn the page of the local broadsheet on a crowded MRT!

But having worked in publishing for a long time, I still prefer print to digital nine times out of 10. Here are three reasons why.


1. Lost in Digital

As I said, I am not the most tech-minded of people. I sometimes get confused by the multiple links that are available on digital content. I also get annoyed by the numerous logos pestering you to share the article on an ever-growing list of social media platforms. It all seems to be designed to keep me trapped in a never-ending cycle of updates.

With print, there is no such disorienting process. In fact, there is a sense of comfort reading printed material. And if that material is something beautiful and artistic, it can even beautify that coffee table of yours (and handily cover up coffee rings, too).


2. Touchy Feely

There’s something about holding a book or magazine that makes the reading experience that much more engaging. Firstly, you appreciate the layout and design more, because they are now real and permanent, not things you can finger-swipe away.

Secondly, the smell of something hot off the press can be as addictive as glue sniffing — that’s, um, something I heard, not that I’ve tried glue sniffing! My third and favourite point is how evocative various paper stock and print finishings can be, from the smoothness of a matt-laminated sheet to the shiny and slightly sticky spot-UV effect. Compare that with the cold touch of a tablet screen, and I think you’ll find analogue trumps digital.

I’m pretty sure that brands — especially the luxury ones — realise this. Think of the direct mailers that come from credit cards, jewellers and designer fashion labels: they normally come in thick paper stock with glossy, shiny finishes that scream “quality!” Then think of IKEA’s catalogues. Quite a contrast between the two.

Now that advertisers have taken to the digital platform in a big way, perhaps brands need some print presence to stand out from the crowd. Don’t just take my word for it. Researchers from Temple University conducted a study on behalf of the US Postal Service about the way humans respond to print and digital ads.

Respondents were checked using an array of methods, such as eye tracking, biometric measurements, MRI scans and questionnaires. Out of nine attributes, physical ads performed better than digital ads in five and performed as well as digital ads in three. The researchers also showed that physical ads better stimulated the part of the brain (ventral striatum) associated with value and desire.


3. In-depth Reading

I have no patience for long articles on my smart phone, no matter how keen I am on the subject matter. If I have to scroll for more than eight to 10 pages, I lose interest. Worse, if the article indicates the page as “1 of 25”, it could very well have lost me at the beginning of the article. The exception would be if the content were written as some sort of list or some other easy-reading format.

On the other hand, I don’t mind ploughing through multi-page articles on complex matters in magazines, especially if the layouts incorporate great visuals, pullout quotes and interesting infographics. I don’t like going through wall-of-text type of layouts, although I can live with it if they crop up only occasionally.

A study by branding agency Millward Brown agrees with my experience. Its research suggested that physical material is more “real” to the brain than digital material, making the mind confer meaning, place and emotional engagement to the content, thus leading to better engagement and recall.

Looks like the score is three-nil to print. What are your thoughts? Share your opinion via the (shudder) online comment form.


Long Live Print!

BY Chua Kim Beng