Print versus Web – Pros and Cons

Feb 2, 2011   //   Spread the word

When you are trying to impart information to a particular clientele there are considerations of method, cost, distribution and effectiveness to bear in mind.  It may depend on the audience you want to reach, the deadline, the budget and the type of expertise available, but often one of the first decisions is whether you should produce printed materials or online content to achieve your aim. Print is still the most popular way of taking in information, because it is familiar, convenient and accessible to all.  However it is also perceived to be expensive and difficult to update.

Online content is increasingly seen as a more efficient method of disseminating information to a wide audience, but has its own drawbacks in terms of accessibility, integrity and hidden cost.

The ideal solution is often to use both these media in an important information campaign. But whether you are choosing just one method, or you are able to use both – then it is well worth bearing in mind some of these comparisons based on observation and practice.

Ease of use

Structure and design. There is no doubt that a large website (e.g.Directgov.uk) is comprehensive, but also complicated – the many navigation tools and hyperlinks are distracting and can take you a long way from the first search term you entered.
Also—web page design is more considerably complex in its structure of boxes and blocks of text across the screen.  These might be scrolled up, down and sideways, and be in motion at the same time, and are thus more intimidating for inexperienced users.
A printed publication is more likely to be immediately familiar and easy to use.  It is much easier to scan the contents page and flick back and forth with a printed book.

Tangibility. A printed publication as a physical thing can easily be stored, shared, re-read.  It can be highlighted, marked up and carried about.  Except for pages printed from the screen, website information is not conveniently portable without other devices such as laptops or handheld readers, needing  power or battery, connections etc

Reader Convenience. With a book this is high— it can be comfortably read in an armchair, in bed, on a bus. It is easier to focus on physical text than on a screen, eye fatigue is lower and we naturally read faster in print than from a monitor.  Website information can be accessed from various pieces of equipment and is convenient for those readers who regularly use a handheld device, or have a working computer easily available.

As an Information Resource

Quantity of information. A printed publication is limited by the number of pages and what these will cost to produce. Therefore it needs careful editing and must be selective about its content.  This can also be an advantage keeping a book relevant and more useful.

A website can carry unlimited information—as many pages as you like, but still must be well controlled and easy to navigate. The temptation is to throw in as much as possible, with multiple links which actually make it less easy to use.

Updating and Quality of Information. Once a publication is printed it represents a coherent set of information known to be current at a particular date.  Amendments cannot be added later, and as it goes out of date it must be revised.  When reprinted however, the new set of information will have the complete integrity of the original, having been updated all together to be accurate at a certain known date.

Web content can be amended and updated easily, but you cannot take for granted that all of it is up to date at the same time.  Dates are often not provided, or may only be shown for some pages. Many sites carry out of date information, so that this cannot always be trusted but must be checked.  This can mean it has less integrity of content than a printed publication with a date.

Some sites are excellent for daily updating, e.g. the Citizens Advice Bureau site, whose up to the minute pages can be printed out and tailored to a particular client.

As with print, so with websites – updating must be an ongoing commitment for both.

Assimilation Value.   If you give a client a publication to take away they can comfortably browse. It’s more readable than printout and less likely to get lost because it’s more substantial and perceived as generally more valuable than separate sheets.  Website information is more suited to small doses, we tend to scan a screen in less detail so that information is not absorbed as easily. It is good for looking up small pieces of information, and quick to search.

Distribution

Access. Those who have computers running on the desk all day forget how slow and frustrating a resource it can be for others.  Even where there is a computer available at home a less frequent user might have to switch it on especially to look something up, or go and get someone to help, or get stuck navigating through a query, or just not have broadband so that it takes ages. (And even broadband links can be unreliable.)
For people with no computer at home, they must go to an access point where they are even more likely to have    familiarity and usage problems, making this an off-putting barrier to finding information.

A printed publication, once delivered to the client, is always available.

Reaching the audience. Website content has the potential to reach a huge audience, but there is little control over making sure it actually does. You can’t force people to visit your site, and they may not have computer access anyway.  When they reach the site the information may not be easily found.  So it is quite possible that it will need a supporting promotion campaign to let people know it’s there, after which they must remember the address and log into the site later.

With a publication there is much greater control over who gets your message, as you can physically deliver it to those you want to receive it.  Print therefore is more certain of finding its target audience, giving it a wide reach and a more measurable one.

Distribution costs. With print this depends on the method used.  Delivery charges may be high for a large volume of copies.  For website information the costs may be simply the cost of maintaining the site.  However, if a promotion campaign is needed to make users aware of it, then the indirect costs could be much higher.

Heather Alabaster, ©Jan 2011
0191 386 5918
www.alabasterpublishing.co.uk