They Predicted The End of Paper Too

Apropos of my post on Monday about physical objects being valued more than digital copies, there was a fairly long piece in The Guardian about how a paperless society hasn’t been achieved yet. The implication being that people perceive a need for physical representations of ideas.

Since the death of various arts disciplines at the hands of technological developments have been predicted for ages now, there are a number of parallels with the arts in the piece.

The central focus of the article is on a paper manufacturers conference in Chicago last March. Since there has been discussion about a need to update pretty much every element and experience at the arts conferences I have attended, I had to wince when I recognized some parallels in the mild criticism of clinging to antiquated approaches at the paper conference.

…the latest issue of the Paper2017 Convention Daily, published in three separate editions for each day of the conference, and printed on obscenely large 16in by 11.75in glossy tabloid that serves as an oversized “screw you” to palm-sized devices. It is printed by O’Brien Publications, which also publishes PaperAge magazine, the newspaper of record for all things pulp and paper since 1884.

I stroll through the CL, drawn to an unmanned National Paper Trade Association table piled high with juicy-looking literature on paper’s many virtues. I take one of each and sit down at a cocktail table to thumb through my haul of brochures announcing paper “myths” and paper “facts”.

While the paper industry may be showing some resistance to the growing use of digital at their conference, they aren’t blind to the changing environment. Use of printing and writing paper has been in decline since 2008. At the same time, with Amazon packing small items in boxes surrounded by paper and placed in bigger boxes, and increasing resistance to plastic waste, there is growing opportunity for other types of paper products.

Mohawk Paper on the other hand, says they are ignoring the consultants and have been growing their business 3%-4% a year just focusing on the core value of manufacturing really great paper.

To make it work, they have been positioning their product in the context of the satisfaction found in a physical product. (my emphasis)

It’s not that Mohawk ignores the digital revolution; rather, they have made a choice to sell the ethos of paper to the digitally fatigued. Melissa Stevens, Mohawk’s senior VP of sales, hands me Mohawk’s Declaration of Craft, an absolutely gorgeous piece of printed material chock-full of new-agey thingness. Its thesis: “In an era of impermanence, an extraordinary movement has emerged. A movement of makers where craftsmanship and permanence matter now more than ever.”

Mohawk’s communication strategy is built around this “maker” movement, which is illustrated with hipsters throwing clay in their basements, forging wrought iron and side-hustling in saxophone design. It’s impossible to tell if this is brilliant marketing or sheer impudence, or both.

I see parallels for the arts and culture sector in this as well. First, is the renewed focus on personal creative expression advocated by groups like Arts Midwest

Even more immediately and literally, I emailed Drew McManus last night observing that since he updated the design of my website to include a print option in the social sharing tool bar, I have been surprised how many people have used it. I added that over on the Arts Hacker website, an entry that hasn’t been printed at least once is the exception rather than the rule.

Even though it may be more convenient to bookmark an article and access it on demand, people are apparently printing them off for themselves or to share with others.

I started to wonder–does the knowledge that an article has been printed out 1-4 times have more value for Drew and the Arts Hacker contributors than some number of times the articles are shared on social media since printing represents that extra investment of time and material?

Speaking for myself, the fact someone did take the time to print my last AH post out is probably worth 5-10 shares. On the other hand, I was really pleased when I saw the Pennsylvania Arts Council shared the post since they are influential. So it this issue really isn’t clearcut, especially since I have no concept of the identity or influence of the others who shared the post.

About Joe Patti

I have been writing Butts in the Seats (BitS) on topics of arts and cultural administration since 2004 (yikes!). Given the ever evolving concerns facing the sector, I have yet to exhaust the available subject matter. In addition to BitS, I am a founding contributor to the ArtsHacker ( website where I focus on topics related to boards, law, governance, policy and practice.

I am also an evangelist for the effort to Build Public Will For Arts and Culture being helmed by Arts Midwest and the Metropolitan Group. (

My most recent role was as Executive Director of the Grand Opera House in Macon, GA.

Among the things I am most proud are having produced an opera in the Hawaiian language and a dance drama about Hawaii's snow goddess Poli'ahu while working as a Theater Manager in Hawaii. Though there are many more highlights than there is space here to list.


3 thoughts on “They Predicted The End of Paper Too”

  1. My husband the tech has been laughing at “paperless workplace” for years.

    He also laughs at outfits that keep everything in the cloud and forget to back it up. “Could the cloud company go out of business? Have a failure?” he asks.

    There are reasons to have backups, including hard copy, of some things.

  2. Random marketing-related thoughts…

    There are still benefits to postcards and season brochures, which don’t get buried in the inbox before forwarding, but are instead waved around at the spouse or friend. “Do you want to go to this?” (Using both is fine, of course.)

    How many people print out your posts is interesting. For our organization, our will-call sees a number of online ticket buyers walk in with a printout of their purchase.

    I’d love to see someone research no-shows of ticket buyers, to see if there’s a significant difference between those with hard copy ticket in hand vs. e-tickets vs. online orders with will-call.

    Just recently, Joe, you remarked about printed programs, which are valuable at the event and even afterward. Seeing them in the car or on the counter a day later helps audience members remember you and the experience.

  3. We like getting a playbill at the theater with actor bios. We spend the time before the play reading the bios, often checking to see whether we know any of the actors from previous performances (we also like the amusing things some actors include). We are not about to carry laptops into the theater to check bios online, nor try to read from tiny phone screens.

    We generally take home one playbill as a memento and leave the other(s) for reuse.

    I prefer a fairly short playbill to the fat books of ads that some opera companies seem to favor. I don’t mind a few ads (indeed we always look to see what private schools and bookstores have advertised), but if I wanted something that looked like Vogue, I’d go to a newsstand, not a theater.


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