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Why we keep printing

Popularity of paper amongst younger workers slows decline of office print, new study shows

Optional printing
Optional printing

Infotrends has produced a new report exploring developments in office printing through the lens of required versus optional printing i.e. between documents that are printed for storage or as part of a business process (forms, documents that need signatures, contracts and invoices etc.) and documents that are printed not because they have to be, but because people prefer to work with them in hard copy form (email, travel documents, magazine articles, photos, maps, presentations etc.).

Based on a web-based survey of 750 offce workers in the US, UK, Brazil and Spain, the report provides further evidence of the decline in office printing (-4.4% over the next 3 years in Europe and -3.6% in the US), whilst also highlighting the enduring popularity of paper as a medium for recording, processing and sharing data.

Infotrends Associate Director Andrew Carroll said: “The office print market in developed economies is entering a phase of on-going gradual erosion. We believe that print volume in the office has peaked and that in the future it is going to shrink, albeit at a relatively low level. This survey very much reflects our existing beliefs about where print volumes are going to decline at the greatest rate, and that is in larger organisations. Smaller companies, we think, will continue to see the most persistent print. That is where the job growth is and where print will continue to be persistent.”

Required printing

Carroll says that the decline in print volumes in larger organisations will come principally from a reduction in ‘required’ printing, as organisations adopt electronic workflows to increase efficiency, reduce paper usage and decrease costs.

“Very large organisations expect to see their print volumes decline at the greatest rate, and we think that aligns quite well with initiatives like managed print and document management solutions that are having an impact at that end of the market far more than in smaller companies,” he said.

Infotrends Senior Consultant Barbara Richards added: “As companies continue to invest in electronic content management and workflow efficiencies, paper-based documents will continue to erode in the workplace. In fact, 67% of our survey respondents said that their company had taken steps to simplify, remove or automate their document related business operations or processes. This number was a bit higher in companies with 500+ employees.”

Across all respondents, the Top 5 reasons for a reduction in required printing are: the introduction of electronic workflows (40+%); the use of electronic forms (30+%); a decrease in hard copies needed for record keeping (30+%); the introduction of electronic document management solutions (25+%); and because clients prefer to receive information digitally (25+%).

Interestingly, in light of the debate over distributed vs. centralised printing, only a handful of respondents expect print volumes to fall due to printers being removed or placed further away from users.

No millennial effect

Nor is there any evidence of a generation gap in attitudes to paper. Andrew Carroll points out that consistent responses across all age-groups, including 18-29 year olds, challenge the received wisdom that millennials will naturally default to digital and accelerate the decline in paper use.

“One of the most interesting conclusions we’ve brought out of this survey, which reinforces learnings we’ve had from previous studies, is that younger people seem to have an equal if not slightly higher preference for using paper. By far the biggest reason people still print is for reviewing and editing – people still prefer to do things on paper. It’s reassuring for the industry to know that a younger workforce doesn’t necessarily equate to a lower preference for paper. When we talk about persistent print, the assumption shouldn’t necessarily be that print is only going to be persistent amongst the older age group,” he said.

Resilient and stable

Optional print volumes, which might be expected to decline more quickly as companies control and monitor printing, show surprising resilience and stability. This suggests that people will continue to print when a hard copy adds something to the experience, such as greater legibility, easy editing, improved understanding or ease of sharing.

In Europe, the ratio between required and optional printing is currently 57:43. Infotrends’ findings suggest it likely to stay at this level. When asked whether they thought optional print was becoming a larger or smaller share, 22% of European respondents said larger, 22% said smaller and 57% said no change.

Other findings
The top three reasons to reduce paper usage are to increase efficiency, reduce paper consumption and decrease costs. Increasing productivity was in fourth place, followed by environmental factors in fifth and security in sixth.

Two-thirds (67%) of respondents say their company has taken steps to remove, simplify or automate document related business processes

On average, survey respondents spend 36 minutes retrieving digital documents compared to 20 minutes for paper documents.

Almost 40% of respondents say less than one quarter of their business content remains on paper.

Workers spend 11% of their time travelling for business, visiting customers or working in the field. Yet, just 4% of printing occurs in a mobile environment. This suggests that vendors could do more to enable on-the-go printing, especially as many workers will not print a document if they can’t print it immediately.

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