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Most debates in board rooms about the future are not about trends which are usually obvious, but rather about speed and precise timing. For example, despite many predictions of the cashless society, this year more paper money is in circulation across Europe than ever before.

And while similar predictions have been made about the paperless office, the fact is that more paper is printed each day per manager than ever before in most corporations. Paperless offices are such a last-century idea.  92% of executives print things each day, 45% print 10 pages or more and 15% print more than 50.  As I predicted years ago, paper will be with us for a long time yet, for reasons I explain below. 

The main reason is speed and efficiency - the more senior the leader, the more valuable their time, the more they are likely to need printed material to read or refer to. Board papers or legal documents are two important examples.

Future of newspapers and magazines

Traditional newspapers will rapidly decline in almost all developed nations over the next 5-10 years, while readership will grow in news-loving nations such as India, driven by growth in middle class.  In 5 years, newspaper readership fell in America by 47%, but expect 17% growth in India in the next 5 years.  India is the world’s largest consumer of newspapers.

One in five of the entire world’s daily newspapers are published in India – more than 100 million separate titles – and newspapers benefit from around 45% of all advertising spend.

At the same time, in a strange paradox, many free newspapers will do rather better, whether dailies given out in metro stations with minimal editorial teams, or local weekly papers in areas with robust local advertising, particularly from estate agents. 

Specialist magazines will be more resilient – indeed throughout the last few years, magazine titles in many countries have boomed in number, each for ever more niche groups of readers.  Magazines will continue to benefit from convenience, and superior look and feel to a mobile device.

Future of physical books and e-books

Expect rapid growth of e-book downloads, and a gradual decline in sales of physical books, except in niche areas such as glossy travel books or “experience books” for children.  

The physicality of books will become more important: touch, look, feel and smell.  That is one reason why UK sales of children’s printed books grew 17% last year. 

Why paper print still benefits from a biological fact

Despite the huge growth of e-readers and online news channels, e-books and all electronic media to continue to face a significant challenge from paper printing until well into the late 2020s, because of one single fact: reading speed, due to larger page size, format and resolution.  

As every busy executive knows, the fastest (and safest) way to read and mark up a set of lengthy board papers, or a long contract, is to print it out.  Most people can read paper documents at up to ten times their on-screen speed, using unconscious techniques such as page scanning, and are less likely to miss important sections, than if they scroll down endless screen-fulls of text.  

Their recall is usually better, especially if they have “photographic” memory, and they will be better able to reproduce important thoughts eg at the relevant part of the board meeting, because of their notes in the margin.  And they will usually find what they are looking for more quickly than using FIND in an e-version.

The same applies to speed-reading of a big newspaper like the Financial Times or a magazine like the Economist, compared to online.  Set the challenge to any group of friends and see for yourself.  

Most senior leaders can read a maximum of around 500 words a minute on-screen, but can easily make overall sense of an entire 40,000 word publication in less than five to ten minutes.  

So any corporation running a paperless office is wasting a huge amount of leadership time and money.

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