10th Jun 2024
3 Min Read

Print vs digital: which can you trust?

Charlie Feasby
Charlie Feasby
IC & Engagement

The York Festival of Ideas returns for 2024, and one event in particular caught our eye. With York St John University right by scarlettabbott HQ, we sent senior creative Josh McRandal and editorial assistant Charlie Feasby to scope it out.

Charlie: We’ve just weaved our way through a midday traffic jam to hear a famous academic talk about paper and trust. So, Josh, do you trust paper?

Josh: I like the feeling of paper in your hand – it’s a lot more tactile than gripping a digital device.

Charlie: Me too. I like a physical book. And this talk shows that we’re clearly not the only ones. The room was packed!

Josh: It was an interesting topic: ‘the impact of paper on your trust in news’. The speaker [Dr Sarah Cooper] focused on haptics – essentially communication through touch. I’d never heard of it before, but it makes a lot of sense. As a designer, we know that different mediums create different emotional reactions. It’s cool that you can measure that.

Charlie: Yeah definitely. Dr Cooper talked about the ‘Need for touch’ scale and Autotelics and Instrumentals – that’s people with a high/low need for touch. We did a test asking about how you interact with products when shopping – do you have to touch things before you buy them? I definitely sit in the Autotelics need-to-touch-items camp.

Josh: Me too, and I think that’s why I love working in print. When you hold a magazine you’ve worked on – thought about for weeks while you’re been designing and editing – it’s validating. You perceive a physical magazine differently too – in a good way. On screen, it seems a lot bigger and pictures can look different. In your hand, that presence adds a lot.

Charlie: You can tell a lot from a magazine just by the paper it’s printed on. Dr Cooper did a test with three bags where she got someone from the audience to guess what information was in each without looking. One contained a copy of Vogue which was super thick and glossy. Another had a free magazine – the kind that gets posted through your letterbox. The audience member easily guessed both. The type of paper told them a lot about what to expect. In the third bag was a smartphone and, of course, you’ve no idea what to expect without actually looking at it.

Josh: The test wasn’t saying that one medium was better than the other, it was more about our reaction. If that local paper came through your letterbox super shiny and on premium paper, you’d wonder where they’re getting their money from.

Our clients care about the impression their communications give. Richard Bibby, our procurement and partnerships manager will often help clients decide which paper to print their magazines on – it’s a balance of budget versus perception.

Charlie: Our clients care about the environment too. We can think print is the unsustainable option, but I’ve since learned that’s not necessarily true.

Josh: We can forget that digital information is stored on servers which take a lot of energy to run. So it’s not a simple case of print bad, digital good.

Think about the message you want to send. Print is a lot more impactful, so if you’re saying something meaningful, a printed piece will get that across way better than a digital post. But if it’s a quick update, digital is the better option.

Charlie: For long-form, print is a lot easier to read. It’s been proven that the way we read online is different from how we read print. People are more willing to invest time in print. They can put it down and come back to it later when they have more time. It’s given me a lot to think about.

Josh :Me too. Well worth the midday traffic jam.

Our recycled assumptions

We can’t mention the word ‘paper’ without getting a few words from our resident print and procurement guru Richard Bibby.

“With the ‘hand-in-the-bag’ test, attendees commented on the flimsy and cheap feel of the free magazine and assumed it was recycled paper. It was, but so was the glossy Vogue, so why didn’t they make the same assumption?

“We think recycled paper is lower quality but that’s not true. You can make all kinds of paper from recycled materials: silk, gloss and – my personal favourite – uncoated. You can add lamination and other special finishes to get a look indistinguishable from unrecycled paper.

“In fact, printers are all really conscious of their environmental impact and so we’re seeing the whole industry turning to recycled materials and vegetable-based ink. All our suppliers get their paper from sustainable sources – that’s the industry standard now.

“If you’re thinking about doing print but worried about the environmental impact, remember, it’s never just black and white.”

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