There has been a lot written to promote digital archiving and moving records to digital storage. It is a practice that offers many benefits and can prevent serious setbacks. However, if you believe that the information stored on CDs, DVDs, flash drives or any other type of digital media will last as long as the printed word, think again.
“Innovation in the computer hardware, storage, and software industries continues at a rapid pace, usually yielding greater storage and processing capacities at lower cost,” writes Margaret Hedstrom, associate professor in the School of Information and Library Studies at the University of Michigan, in her paper Digital Preservation: A Time Bomb for Digital Libraries. “Devices, processes, and software for recording and storing information are being replaced with new products and methods on a regular three- to five-year cycle, driven primarily by market forces.”
Paper for Lasting Impressions
While there are paper documents more than 2,000 years old that are still plainly legible, digital media will simply never last that long. Images and archives stored digitally face two major threats: the deterioration of the media itself and the rapidly changing technology used for retrieval. Got any floppy discs lying around? Have you tried to access them lately?
USA Today ran an article in October lamenting the unforeseen losses of recent historical documents that had been stored digitally, including recordings and documents relating to 9/11. Classic films, early television shows, and audio recordings once thought safe are declining in quality and some have already been lost completely.
This wake-up call that is slowly being sounded sharply points out one of the most significant benefits of ink on paper. It endures. And that’s where printers come into the equation.
Archivability is really not an issue for documents that are intended to be short-lived, such as marketing materials. However, if your customers need to print materials that need to be kept for more than a few years, they would be well advised to keep tangible, printed backups of everything they have stored digitally.
Legal, financial, government, and architectural companies are prime examples of the types of businesses that create documents that need to be accessible over the long term. One can easily imagine a scenario in which a blueprint or legal document is needed and the only copy left is a digital image that was stored on obsolete digital media and can no longer be accessed.
The same goes for your personal records. Kodak ran a PR campaign a few years ago urging customers to “Print Your Pictures.” The slogan was inspired by more than enlightened self-interest. Turns out all those nifty JPEGs of your vacations, weddings, and graduations may not be around long enough to share them with your grandkids. Contrary to popular belief, just because something is on the Internet today does not mean it will always be available.
Every printer knows that in order for a document to last through the ages, it has to be printed on high quality, acid free paper, using good quality ink (not toner). Of course, you are unlikely to be called upon to print something that needs to last for a couple of millennia, but there is plenty of work out there that should be around for reference 50 or 100 years from now.
This very old marketing concept may well see a new surge in popularity as people become more cognizant of the transient nature of digital data and the media that store it. Talk to your customers. Find out what their archival needs are and let them know that you can fulfill all their requirements.
Be sure to remind your customers that ink on paper never forgets.
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