If the question is print or web, I (still) choose web.

#2 in my series of Lessons Learned blog posts
Print is harder than web

I now have enormous respect for communication professionals who had print as their only option. My first go at the major university publication cycle (April through August) was unbearably hectic; in part because it was my first time around but I submit to you that the medium contributes to the difficulty.

There’s the commencement program, the catalog, the student handbook. You get the drill. Seriously, last summer, I felt like I was back in college on the day I found out that all language majors had to establish fluency in a second language. Time and attention for my beloved Spanish was usurped by learning French. I trudged off to the language listening lab (yes, I am that old) and over time gained enough command of the language to student teach it. But, frankly, I never developed a similar love of French. Learning it did not come easily. Maybe because I learned Spanish first?

You see where I’m going  here. I used the web as a primary communication tool starting in 1998 when the team I was on developed the first IT website at William & Mary. If the question is print or web, I still choose web.

I could go on more than you’d like, so I’ll collapse my rant about the difficulty of print over web into three points (they are humble opinions, of course).

1. Print is a less flexible medium.
Yes, we have core messages that are stable, so how much flexibility do we really need? A lot. As we develop a piece, we get new information. Or, better yet, we get an excellent idea about how to convey something once we roll up our sleeves. With web, that’s cool. You can quickly change the structure, you can embellish the design. And, the best part: you can see your work almost instantaneously. Up to a certain point, you get this flexibility with print. But I’ve struggled with how difficult it is to “see” how it’s really going to look. A printer’s proof comes late in the game and God help you if you get a better idea at that stage. The process begins again and there’s little flexibility to fast track through the stages of production.

2. Print requires much more up front attention to detail.
As I was overseeing the production of the student handbook in 2010, I thought back to the night before we launched a new William & Mary website. Until the go-live time, we were making changes – many were edits, some were enhancements, and a few were big improvements that resulted from last-minute, too much junk food moments the night before. You simply can’t do this with print. At a point in time, you lose control; you move from design to production. And, usually, if you take back that control, you hear a faint cha-ching.

3. Way too much time gets spent on print layout.
I suppose this is one of those good news/bad news things. Heaven knows we’ve all seen websites that are too wordy. But, seriously, the complication of making stuff fit really stands out for me. Too much copy, too much money. Too few words, not enough impact.

Please know I’m aware I’ve stated the obvious here. In 2010, I had a front row seat for seeing print and web projects, side-by-side. This experience was a good one since I have a mandate to reduce William & Mary’s reliance on print. Knowing the limitations of print will help me make the case.

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