the World Loves Paper – And Here is Why
In the decades leading to the dawn of the 21st century, many trend watchers in the tech space giddily predicted the end of paper in many of its uses. They said the newspaper, hard copy books, the almanac, paper money, and all things paper were on a fast track to becoming relics of a bygone era.
Well, we are now 20 years into the new millennium, and paper is still holding its own while remaining an incredibly important feature of modern life. Indeed, the global production of paper has risen significantly in the last 20 years, with paper consumption in the United States increasing from 92 million tons to 208 million, a growth of 126%.
Paper is one of those easy to overlook, and yet crucially important feature of our lives. It is a cornerstone of our formal education system and a crucial cog in the wheel of the economy. For example, the average office worker in the U.S. requires about 900 sheets of paper every month or 10,000 sheets per year to remain productive and efficient. An estimated 2 billion books and 24 billion copies of newspaper are expected to be printed this year in the U.S. alone.
Globally, paper manufacturing is an estimated $256 billion industry, producing 490 million tonnes of merchandise and providing direct employment for millions of workers around the world.
And while paper is often pilloried as a major contributor to the degradation of the environment, that is hardly the case anymore as the paper industry is now one of the biggest advocates of resource sustainability initiatives. The industry has indeed been a major driver of reforestation programs as it works very hard to protect its raw material sources and promote biodiversity.
While the paper industry may see a decline in the distant future, what is likely to happen in the immediate term is a shift in the usage of paper. A possible shrinkage in demand for graphic paper (printing and writing) would be more than countered by a growing demand for packaging paper (cardboard and carton), and hygiene paper (tissue and towels).
Electronic books have become mainstream, but they have not exactly fulfilled their promise as the replacement for paper. Digital media hasn’t quite disrupted traditional book publishing in the same way it has changed the music or movie business. For example, in 2019, e-books made up less than 10 percent of the $22.6 billion worth of books sold in the U.S.
One explanation is that physical books are very appealing, beautiful objects. And the ardent bibliophile likes to have them around as a collector’s item and a physical record of what they’ve read. They argue that it’s hard to have an emotional relationship with an e-book.
The argument is much the same for items of memorabilia like greeting cards which don’t quite feel the same and are completely lacking the emotional significance when they come in an electronic format.
Also, a desire to escape the screen and the many distractions on the average electronic reading device has seen many people abandon e-books and make a return to hard copies. And then there is little chance that the thousands of people who swear by the sweet faint vanilla scent of a good old book are ever going to quit on paper, now or in future.