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Alistair Dabbs
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Print is dead..... revisited

Save your apologies because print is doing very nicely thank you.

Just after making ‘A Fistful of Dollars’, Clint Eastwood was dismayed to read that the western was a finished genre at the cinema. As The Beatles were returning from Germany at the beginning of the 60s, critics were hailing the demise of guitar music. Modern art was written off as a flash in the pan at the end of the 19th century when Picasso was still potty training.

And now I'm told print is dead.

Not only are the doom merchants so sure of this, they are touchingly apologetic for their murder of the print industry. Of course the Web and multimedia wizards generously accept that some things will always appear in print, usually offering the creaky old patronising example that computers and bath water don't easily mix. Well let me tell you that paperbacks don't look so great after being retrieved from the Jacuzzi either. Give me a waterproof e-book any day.

But let me offer an example in return. Visit the pyramids in Cairo, go trekking across the Sahara or hack your way through a remote jungle. In all these places, there's a distinct possibility that you'll eventually stumble over an old Coke can or crisp packet at some point. Conversely, you're pretty unlikely stub your toe on a DVD or Web site. Tins of fizzy drink and bags of ready salted have two things in common, and being a foodstuff is only one. If you can't guess the other, try to work out what the following objects might also have in common with Coke and crisps: clothes, taxi doors, carrier bags, cereal boxes, Internet-safe credit cards, CD-ROM covers and the little numbers on the buttons of your WAP mobile phone.

If you believe that print is dead, you'll never get the answer.

Sitting down for a quick business lunch with colleagues the other week, the conversation began quietly enough. I was in the middle of testing a number of professional quality flatbed scanners for a magazine which, incidentally, publishes simultaneously to print and the Web. Halfway through the meal, one of the guys offered me some freelance work to write for his hi-tech graphic arts publication but pointed out “We don't do stuff on print any more”.

This was about the 100th time I'd been delivered the “print is dead” line that week, and it was only Wednesday. There I was, testing scanners capable of sampling images at up to 2,000dpi when the rest of the world turns out to be perfectly happy with 72dpi. Then inspiration came out of the blue. Let's put the assertion to the test.

I ask if the magazine's desertion of print issues meant it was now a Web-only publication. “Well no, er it's still a glossy mag.” I ask for a business card, but refuse to accept a printed one - I insist on a Web or CD-based equivalent. “Don't be ridiculous.” I ask why he uses a Palm V and mobile phone which had numbers, icons and logos permanently marked onto them with such an outmoded technology as print. I point to the red check pattern on our paper tablecloth, asking if it is Web-based. I pick up one of the decorated plates we had been eating from, asking if the pictorial design on the glaze was an example of QuickTime streaming.

I continued in this annoying mode right to the end of the meal. Every time an object in the restaurant fell under my gaze, it became a new subject for testing the assertion: wallpaper, a plastic bag from Dixons, my colleagues’ t-shirts, cigarette packets, wine glasses and so on. All of these things had been printed upon. In fact, it's virtually impossible to find anything in the tangible modern world that hasn't been touched by print. One colleague triumphantly held up a cigarette paper, claiming that this at least was unmarked by print... until I held it up to the light to show the watermark.

People who say that online publishing is gradually killing off print are laughably blinkered in their perceptions. Because they tend to be journalists, print for them means books and magazines, almost exclusively litho. In reality, print comprises everything from ink and varnish to embossing and foil stamping, on anything from paper and textiles to plastic and metals. Can you read braille on the Web? Do the numbers on your credit card appear as an animated GIF? Are the scissor markings underneath a pair of Odor Eaters in Flash format?

Quite simply the Web can't even start to compete with print, let alone dream about killing it off.

Alistair Dabbs
About the writer: Alistair Dabbs is a freelance journalist specialising in digital imaging, graphic arts and prepress. Prior to a career in writing, he worked in print buying and magazine production, both advertising and editorial. He is the only member of the National Union of Journalists to have been accepted into the Alliance of Digital Artists.