It has only taken 541 years, but eventually he had to go.
In the Great British tradition William was a multi-tasking renaissance man – Merchant, Diplomat, Writer, Printer and Retailer.
He is credited with being the most likely person to have introduced the Printing Press to England, in 1476, thereby starting the first information revolution. Whether he realised the impact it would have is anyones guess – but as he went on to be the earliest forerunner of Waterstones he obviously knew a good idea when he saw it.
Increasingly, from that point onwards the printing press is woven into history, spreading everything from religion to sedition, revolution(s) to education – a case could be made for The Caxton Press being the innovation that informed and allowed changes in human interaction and opinion for centuries to come.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries the presses and methods used with Printers Devils toiling away, were still being used to produce Wanted Posters for Wild West Outlaws while providing news of the wars in the World and the politician punch ups on Main Street.
But now Caxton is dead.
541 Years after introducing us to multiple impressions of the written word. I heard someone say he – or at least Print was no more.
It isn’t difficult to believe, with all those eyes glued to smart phones and hybrid tablet/laptops – simply by reading this you are proving the demise of William’s dream.
I have sensed a change coming for a few years now. A resistance to the onward rush of technology and every lighter screens.
The legacy of William Caxton looked under threat from the moment smart phones could do more than send one line text messages, it became very shaky indeed when Amazon released the Kindle e-reader, with the subsequent saving in production and distribution costs and in 2011 when digital books outsold physical books for the first time.
A lot of shifts in thinking, imperceptibly at first, almost below the radar or the usual commentators – but there was a mood change, that probably started as early as the Financial Crisis of 07/08.
While the money saving and convenience of online shopping continued to grow unabated, larger purchases in business and commercial transactions slowed and sales became harder to close – it wasn’t about the money – no one had put all the cash in a big pile and burnt it, business failures slowed down, mass redundancies as witnessed in the 70s and 80s didn’t appear to be happening, those “green shoots of recovery” did poke their noses out of the earth by 2013, but something more was definitely happening to attitudes and opinions.
Then in 2015 the sale of old fashioned vinyl records had risen so fast a new chart was created just for music played through the turntable and needle system.
In 2016 Vinyl sales grew again by 60% and in the same year sales of real, physical, made of paper books increased by 4% while ebook sales fell by the same percentage. In 2014 after declining every year for 6 years Britain’s independent book shops had fallen to below 1000 – in 2017 new independent books shops are opening as far apart as North Yorkshire and Suffolk.
The ghost of Caxton was stirring.
There’s a lot involved – the new deal Amazon made with publishers that made ebooks closer to the price of the real thing and the end of arrangements that would have made it impossible for retailers to sell at the ridiculously low prices they do – you can find racks of real books at the end of 25% of supermarket aisles now- Supermarkets don’t give away that amount of prime space if there isn’t the demand for it – or a substantial profit.
But there’s more to it than that I am sure, we buy into tech for the novelty and excitement of gadgetry, not just the price of ebooks – but the mood is turning against all things tech. Maybe we are no longer surprised by it, maybe everything has gone has far as it can and having found ourselves heading towards the third decade of the century, with still no Star Trek transporter system to dematerialise us in Yorkshire and Re-materialise us in London (the direct cause of HS2) we are starting to wonder what all the fuss was about in the first place.
If you take time to anaylise trends. “Mood” effects business and public purchasing decisions differently – no one walking around a supermarket in 2013/14 was allowing the fall in the oil price to effect which baked beans or booze they put in their basket – likewise the business owner or director in 2016 wasn’t aware an increase in physical book sales and the kids asking for the old 33rpm albums out of the loft, had any effect on their view of business relationships or buying decisions.
But the mood of corporate decision makers and private individuals do have one thing in common – at home or at work we are all human.
THIS is where William Caxton has his 541 year old victory renewed, this is where “Print is Dead” is shown up as a myth.
Side bar: There’s a half remembered story I heard about BAE and Boeing – two companies that have links and joint projects going back nearly 40 years – during one of these projects – with full confidence in secure internet links between the US and UK it was decided that the two project teams would run “paperless offices” everything would be collaborated on via email and internet – The result was the biggest orders for Post It notes ever placed.
More and more our clients don’t just want re-branding, a website and an email template – (there is so much Spam filling inboxes – e-shots are gradually falling out of favour) – they want a brochure. A good old fashioned feel it your hands, look the guy in the eye as he hands it to you, leave behind to remember me by, piece of print work that is worth keeping hold of.
Don’t get me wrong – this hasn’t been a sudden revolution or reverse in the fortunes of technology. It is more Continental Drift than Earth Quake or Tsunami – the heady days of up to a decade ago when print reps from different firms would call in on their round trips twice a week, to discuss paper stocks and available capacity, are long gone – but specialised papers, good design and short, often digitally printed runs of brochures and other print collateral are definitely back on the agenda.
But the change is definitely real – and growing in impetus – maybe a Hare and Tortoise tale?
All those businesses selling services and manufactured goods in business to business enterprises, can now have the best of both worlds – a physical brochure without stock rooms full of them.
We now have the joy of being able to provide high quality printed work that the client can just have one off, or ten or thirty traditional finished brochures (or whatever) each individually designed or personalised for each of our client’s end customers – if that’s what they need – high tech, meets traditional trades, meets the current Mood.
Like Paperback books and Vinyl records a good brochure feels solid, comforting – a business with a good brochure is somehow more trustworthy than a simple emailed proposal – it possibly proves they are going to be around for a while, it proves there is someone real that is going to discuss your needs and solve your issues.
Maybe, just maybe, the reports of William Caxton’s demise have been a little premature…
(With apologies to Johann Gutenberg for the lack of a mention)
© 2017 Blue Strawberry Elephant Ltd