A new reader survey suggests print investment opportunities
Posted on 13 Feb 2018
A new reader survey suggests print investment opportunities
Digital fatigue is a phrase that keeps cropping up lately in relation to people’s reading habits. I saw it again, most recently, in a global survey conducted by Two Sides, which included South African respondents. And South Africans, it seems, want to buck the trends.

We’re constantly bombarded by digital communications of all types – everything from advertising to content marketing and even fine literature. But, as the survey report points out, people share more than 2,4 million pieces of content on Facebook every minute. Admittedly, it’s not long form reading, but there’s just so much of the stuff that we spend a lot of time looking at our backlit devices. And that worries us.

The good news for commercial print service providers is that print is far from dead. But then most of us already knew that. And the logical conclusion, also reached by the survey, is that this because people like to read printed material.

But it’s what people prefer to read in print that I found interesting, because it shapes how print service providers can structure their diversifying businesses on the back of much more capable digital equipment sometimes sitting alongside litho equipment and a wider range of finishing kit than ever before. It’s a brave new world but exploring it can be daunting if you’re unsure which direction to pursue.

The survey report, and I encourage you to read it entirely as it is freely downloadable at twosides.info, finds that people prefer reading printed books, magazines and newspapers, even that people understand more when they read it in print, more of them trust news from print sources but, perhaps curiously, three-quarters still get their news from digital sources even when a majority are worried about fakery.

People like news on digital devices. They also prefer digital devices for reading bills and other transactional documents. Unless they contain sensitive personal information, like tax and health-related documents. For those they prefer printed material they feel is more securely stored in a file at home. And they definitely prefer printed magazines and books. Print dominates in longer form content. People spend more time reading printed books and magazines than the digital counterparts and they respond better to advertising and other marketing communications in print.

And their top concerns with backlit devices are that they cause eyestrain, headaches, and deprive us of sleep. So it’s most likely that people read printed material in the comfort of their own homes before they go to bed.

The survey finds one other very interesting fact. South Africans like print the least of all the nationalities surveyed. Germans, French, and Brazilians like it the most – upwards of 50 and even 60 per cent of them prefer it. But just 38 per cent of South Africans prefer print. But maybe that’s not the whole truth.

Recent statistics circulating local digital news sites suggest that just 14 per cent of South Africans read books and that we have too many illiterate countrymen. Maybe that’s the reason. But it can also suggest that nearly half of all literate South Africans like to read printed books, which is more in line with the global averages.

The literate, economically active portion of South Africa’s population is slowly changing, not always for the better, but it remains roughly the same size in absolute numbers. And, taken in context, the numbers appear to concur with trends elsewhere in the world. That’s a positive sign for print service providers who want more substantial information to drive their investments in advanced digital technologies to meet the resurgent demand for physical, printed material that meets basic human needs: sound sleep, healthy vision, and pain-free reading.

Editorial comment: Just prior to going to print statistics released for South Education show that one in four of all Grade 4 pupils in South Africa is illiterate. A sad indictment for the South African education system which has had a tumultuous history since 1994. It also means that the literacy rate in the country is actually on the decline. The potential for growing the numbers of readers is being lost, but with hard work can be immense.


By Vaughan Patterson, product marketing operations manager for Commercial and Industrial Print at Ricoh SA