BoSacks Speaks Out: On PRIMEX and the Proven Haptic Power of Print

By Bob Sacks on April 15, 2016

Leo F. Buscaglia (1924 -1998) was a teacher at the University of Southern California in the late 1960s when one of his students committed suicide. This so greatly affected Professor Buscaglia that, in his pursuit for meaning of the sad event, he formed a non-credit class titled Love 1A. As you might expect, there were no grades for Love 1A, because how could you possibly fail someone in this class on that subject?

He became a cheerleader for Life, and he was most closely associated with the topic of love and human relationships, emphasizing the value of positive human touch, especially hugs. He once said, "Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around."

You might ask, what this has to do with media and especially my review of the PRIMEX Conference held in New York City two weeks ago? Well, it was the professor who came to my mind when my good friend Daniel Dejan, who is the Print & Creative Manager of Sappi Fine Papers, opened the event.  I know a world full of nice and wonderful people, but I'd have to rack my brains to find a man or woman with more glowing love for life and humans and the pure joy of creativity. I know Daniel quite well, so it was no surprise that his presentation that day was "The Haptic Brain/Haptic Brand and the Neuroscience of Touch." And, as Professor Buscaglia said, "... too often we underestimate the power of a touch..." 

Using serious scientific terms and research by Dr David Eagleman, Daniel discussed the psychology of what happens in our brains when watching TV or reading on-line or reading a printed product. Not only is there a physical permanence to print, but also our brains perceive print as permanent. Both the fact and the perception of the physical permanence of printed products increases our ability to learn and remember. This is the haptic (the science of touch) experience.               

 Daniel said that 80% of what is on line is entertainment-based and is not meant to be permanent; it is just part of a "flow."  He went on to say, "What is going to keep print alive is the tactile sense of the process." It's the craftsmanship that attracts the attention. The sound of paper - the fact that newsprint doesn't sound like coated paper - contributes to the haptic experience. The sensual pleasure of reading on paper creates an enormous connection that produces positive results and a call to action. Science has proven that paper gives a longer mnemonic memory.

Dr David Eagleman called it the "Endowment Effect"- owning or having something in your hands adds perceived value to it. Daniel went on to say that catalogs are a part of our decision making process because they give us the "feeling" of ownership. He said orders were stimulated by the power of touch. The value of touch through print adds to the perceived value of the ordering process.

Here is my take on this. I believe every word and don't for a second doubt the science. It makes sense to me, and I believe it is accurate to a point. That point and the part that I don't/didn't understand is the haptic feeling regarding holding a digital substrate. Yes, there is no smell to a smartphone and pages don't crinkle when scrolling. Perhaps it is my limited understating of the science of the haptic process, but I am holding, touching and feeling the weight and presence of a physical product in my hands when I read on my smart phone or tablet. And let's not forget that soon the digital substrates will be both more flexible and more importantly reflective, rather than light transmitting and in a sense more like paper. Does any of that matter to haptic science?

Regardless of my questions it was a great presentation on the power of "feeling" the printed product.

Following Daniel Dejan was David Remnick, who has been the editor of The New Yorker since 1998 and a staff writer for the magazine since 1992. He took the stage bemused I think by the previous speaker's analysis and stated in no uncertain terms that his experience contrary to the science has found long-form reading alive and well in digital formats.

He said that we have to admit reality, take an honest assessment - not just good news and not just bad news - just where we are.  He told us that he got to the newsroom when the typewriters were leaving.   By 1969 The New Yorker had a well-educated, highly interested class of readers and had 6,000 annual ad pages. In those days the biggest problem was producing enough quality edit to compliment the ad pages.

 "Then as time went on we were losing money, display advertising was going down and the biggest consumer boom in history was ending."  And then the world changed - printed ad pages diminished and the internet came into being. The magazine world was slower to react to this major change than the newspaper world. Although newspapers didn't make all the right choices they made changes quicker than the magazine industry.

Since then we restored The New Yorker in many ways. Today we admit that print is a magnificent technology, which we sell much less of.

The questions are: who are we, what are we about as publishers? Our old institutions that seemed permanent aren't.  Life magazine or the cover of Time magazine was the ultimate achievement in the old days.

At The New Yorker we risked the worst to prevent the worst. The idea that information needs to be free forgets that information needs to be paid for.

The belief that no one will read anything of any length on the internet is wrong. Our model is to get $100 is based on greatness - on the web, on the radio and in print. We don't give it away to our readers. They actually want it and are willing to pay for it. They care about the words and the beauty of the thing. We are succeeding in long form everywhere we place it.

In the end both Daniel and David presented fascinating points of view - one from a more scientific point of reference and the other from the actual experience of a successful long-form publisher.

 This must be the end of my review of the PRIMEX conference, or I will be testing the limits of long-form e-Newsletter reading. That might be a good exercise, but I'll leave it for another day.

By Bob Sacks| April 15, 2016

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Bob Sacks

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