The power of print

The oldies have fought back—successfully. A dyke has been dug by the nation's old folk to prevent the incursion of the online world. British banks had unilaterally (not that they are a cartel, you understand) proposed that cheques would be withdrawn by October 2018, with all transactions migrating to the internet. This would have made life unliveable for many old folk—including my bed-ridden mother, who cannot use the internet, let alone visit an ATM. In the face of much strident waving of walking sticks, the banks backed down in July. You probably knew much of that.

Less well publicised has been another line in the sand drawn by grey power. The Financial Reporting Council oversees the way in which British companies report their performance to their shareholders. The cost of producing and sending annual reports to shareholders is immense. Indeed British posties are said to fear that time of the year when they have to cart the granddaddy of them all—HSBC's telephone directory-sized tome—to their customers' letter boxes. Not that all of its 396 pages are read by many; they are very, very dull, and mostly incomprehensible to all except market professionals.
The FRC proposed some time ago that printed annual reports could be abolished, and shareholders would be expected to read a digital version online. In the face of widespread opposition, they were forced to drop the proposal at the beginning of September.

It was said that it “would disadvantage small shareholders, many of whom are elderly and/or have limited access to the internet”. It is not just shareholders who  have commented that they would rather read long and complex documents in printed form. Indeed, a few companies are facing a degree of resistance for sending their directors an iPad, and expecting them to read board papers on that.

So two lines have been drawn in the sand to preserve the printed word as the medium of choice—for at least one segment of the population. To mix metaphors—am I clutching at straws? Yes. Those who have children addicted to BlackBerry Messenger as the communicative method of choice will find it difficult to believe that that generation will ever lose a preference to read (and write) digitally. Just think of their frustration when that generation hits the stage of infirmity, and arthritis prevents a quick chat with their friend in another care home!

What to take from this? That there are many—at least for the moment—who retain a preference for printed matter. But sadly this segment is not big enough to prevent those lines in the sand being overcome by the “perfect storm” so movingly described by Simon Gaul in his elegiac news feature in The Bookseller on his late and lamented Travel Bookshop.