European governments are even encouraging the switch to electronic communications by channelling funds into the expansion of the internet.
In the UK, the government is proposing to impose a monthly 50 pence ($0.82) tax on telephone fixed lines to raise finance to enable everyone in the country to have access to a high-speed Internet service by 2012.
Nonetheless, the European paper industry is confident that the shrinking of the graphics sector can be slowed down, if not arrested, with the help of ink producers and other segments of the printing business. Ink makers themselves share this confidence.
Improvements in print quality, bolstered by innovative inks, can provide a platform for a revival of paper graphics.
“We’re optimistic about the future of printing on paper, although obviously we’re not being complacent about it,” said Terry Parry, UK head of technical sales and development of UPM, the leading European graphic papers producer.
“We need to work closely with the publishers and the ink suppliers, as well as the equipment manufacturers, to make printing on paper more attractive to readers and advertisers,” he added.
Some of the most positive messages about the prospects for paper are coming from organizations involved in the development of new technologies.
The paper industry is looking at a “very promising future” said Pia Waegberg, head of creative business development at Innventia, a Swedish-based R&D company in paper and the graphics media.
A major objective behind innovation has to be to find ways of making printing on paper more appealing to the millions of young people who have turned their back on the print media.
In addition to demographic factors, other causes such as environmental issues and cost pressures have to be tackled as well, according to Sun Chemical, Europe’s market leader in printing inks, which was a sponsor of the UK report.
"As a result, we need, as an industry, to promote and emphasize the benefits and value of print,” said Bertrand Lousteau, marketing director, publication inks at Sun Chemical Europe. “It is essential to highlight that print is a very good way of protecting copyright. Print has a cost but it has also a value. “Last but not least,” he continued, “the print industry must work together to develop new technologies that will enable the total cost to print to decrease. Innovation is absolutely key.”
Currently, however, the short-to-medium term outlook for printing on paper appears bleak with the Internet continuing its relentless advance in Europe, even during the economic downturn.
The UK market served by Internet access will grow by 40 percent over the next five years, with Internet advertising accounting for 36 percent of all advertising by 2013, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers. This will put its advertising share ahead or at the same level as newspapers and magazines.
Similar inroads are being made by the Internet into the major advertising markets elsewhere in Europe, such as those of France and Germany.
The UK report, drawn up by NLK Associates, a paper consultancy, for the London-based Stationers’ and Newspaper Makers’ Company, forecasts that in the wake of the relentless advance of the digital media, printing on paper will decline in volume terms in Western Europe by 32 percent between 2008 and 2020.
“By 2020, total demand for graphic papers will have fallen back to the levels of the early 1990s,” the report predicts. “Pixels are replacing print – to survive the industry must find applications where print can still compete effectively.”
Among graphics segments, the biggest fall is expected to be in the volume of newsprint, which will plummet by 55 percent. Demand for paper for magazine will decrease by 32 percent by 2020.
“There will continue to be big falls in the amounts of advertising going into newspapers,” explained Simon Smallwood, business development director at The Stationers’ Company, a 600-year-old trade guild covering the printing, paper and publishing sectors. “Although a lot of magazines are moving online, magazines will be less severely impacted with a lot of people still wanting the experience of reading them.”
A tipping point could have been reached in Europe in the use of paper for business, with signs of the start of a decrease in the application of paper in offices. This comes after a period in which the universal introduction of desktop computers led to more demand for office paper rather than less.
“The arrival of the paperless office has been expected for years and it hasn’t happened yet,” said Mr. Smallwood. “But there is now evidence of a decline in printed downloads from computers. As a result, the report is forecasting a 45 percent fall in demand for office paper. Probably by 2020 only a relatively small proportion of information on a computer will be printed out.”
The paper and printing sectors believe that the biggest potential for reversing the decline in graphics demand lies in publishing, particularly magazines. This can be achieved by adding to the value of print by interacting with a wider range of human senses, especially those which cannot be reached by the electronic media.
“Print is a unique sensorial experience that goes hand-in-hand with our learning and cognitive capabilities, which is why print is still appealing to consumers,” said Mr. Lousteau of Sun Chemical. “Like others in the industry, we have to highlight why print should not be replaced but instead co-exist with electronic media.”
Within the PrintCity alliance, which brings together European companies in the printing supply chain from paper makers to consumable and equipment suppliers, Sun Chemical was involved in the publication of an event magazine for a major international publishing conference in London in May.
The objective behind the magazine for the World Magazine Congress of the International Federation of the Periodical Press (FIPP) was to demonstrate a variety of new technologies, many based on innovative inks and coatings.
It showed a range of tactile, visual and other sensory enhancements, including thermochromic and fluorescent inks, “scratch-and-sniff” features, cold foil and soft touch effects. In addition, it exhibited pearlescent coatings and the hexachrome printing of an image of oranges combined with an orange fragrance.
“Print appeals to the senses in ways that cannot be reached by other media, offering endless combinations of colors, surface treatments, shapes, substrates and smells,” said Sarah Tunstall, chief operating officer of the UK Periodical Publishers’ Association (PPA). “Unlike digital media, printing is an infinitely variable, three-dimensional medium that allows magazine publishers to differentiate their products – by size, touch, feel and perception – to suit a specific audience and purpose.”
The demonstration magazine also indicated a growing trend for direct interaction between the print and digital media. There were printed codes in the text offering immediate connection to an Internet site via a mobile phone.
UPM, which provided the paper for the publication, has recently diversified into printed electronics. In April, the French publication Amusement was distributed in Europe and the U.S. with an UPM Raflatac RFID tag fixed onto one of its pages, which could be linked to a computer to provide exclusive online content.
Pulp and paper manufacturers appear confident that they have the technological capabilities to provide papers with the right properties to accommodate inks with innovative features such as new effect and smart pigments and even electronic components.
The introduction of nanotechnologies into the design and production of paper coatings into which inks are absorbed is helping to extend the scope of paper as a printing substrate. But paper companies believe that existing paper products based on well-established technologies can also be efficient substrates for new inks.
“The important thing is to have the right balance of different fibers at the beginning of the pulp process,” explained Riika Sederholm, product specialist at Sappi’s thin paper mill at Kirkiemi, Finland, which makes the Galerie Lite magazine paper range of 35-54 grams per square meter (gsm). “The right fibers provide the strength of the paper and help to tailor its properties, including its coating.
“We have tested added-value inks on the paper with positive results,” she added. “We’ve found there is no need to redesign the paper.”
Paper makers want to ensure that as they extend the scope of their products, they do not increase their weight significantly because of the need both to keep down costs for customers and also to curb the consumption of raw materials.
Among sections of the European public, paper production is still seen as potentially environmentally damaging because it destroys trees. The industry recognizes it needs to do more to convince people that paper is much more ecologically sustainable than rival substrates like plastic or even the Internet.
Properly managed forests providing the raw materials for paper can help to reduce CO2 emissions. The forests of Finland, one of Europe’s biggest centers of pulp and paper production, achieve a net absorption of CO2 annually – around 30 million tons.
“The industry needs to stress it proactivity on the sustainability front,” said Mr. Lousteau. “It needs to provide factual and balanced information to avoid any misconceptions about print.”
With the right figures the industry believes it can show that printing on paper has a much more positive carbon footprint than that of the electronic media. This is just one among many fronts on which the industry has to fight successful public relations battles in order to ensure its survival.