Paper going away? You decide.

It has been fifty years -- half a century -- since Businessweek ran a cover story predicting the paperless "Office of the Future." In many respects, Businessweek was correct. Paper has virtually disappeared in the office for bulk data storage and correspondence. (Email has made the interoffice mail envelope a curious relic from the Olde Days.) But rather than "going away," printing adapted. Businessweek prognosticators couldn't foresee the rise of affordable laser printers for small businesses, schools, and libraries. New technologies like inkjet printing opened entirely new markets: the home and home office.

Without question printing is changing -- what we print, why we print, and where we print. But is there any convincing evidence that paper is going away? Decide for yourself. Here is a graph of the worldwide installed base for all makes of inkjet printers, the type most popular with consumers. 

 

Worldwide installed base of inkjet printers (Lyra Research Inc.)

 

Look closely at that steady parade of bars. Do you see any evidence that "paper is going away"? Can you spot the advent of the iPhone in 2007? The Android phone? How about any of the social media darlings: Facebook? Twitter? Instagram? LinkedIn? Pintrest?

Perhaps smart phones and tablets have curtailed growth in the desktop printer market, but rather than write off printing as an outdated technology, consider how new apps can tap the existence of almost half a billion printers.

If you have a good example or a best practice, let us know. We may feature you in a future blog post.


<p>On its website, Businessweek has preserved the June 30, 1975 cover story about the &quot;Office of the Future.&quot; However, the online archive doesn&#39;t have the magazine&#39;s cover. If you have -- or can find -- a copy of that cover, I will add it to this article and credit you.</p> <p>The Editor&nbsp;</p>