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Understanding the Unlikely Chemistry Between Millennials and Print

Millennials are widely considered the first generation who grew up with the internet, which makes them unique in the way they engage with technology and the world around them. Researchers and marketers are only beginning to grapple with this reality, and many predictions they’ve made about this generation and the future of “analog” products have surprisingly fallen flat. Despite endless access to streaming music, millennials are at the forefront of a revival in vinyl record pressing. Small local bookstores, considered dead on arrival since the very emergence of big box book retailers like Borders (RIP), tablet readers and online stores like Amazon, are alive and thriving.

Similarly, against all odds, the print world is still going strong.

In order to understand the chemistry that goes on between millennials and the printed page, first we need to address some of the behavioral factors that influence the way this vanguard generation operates.

A desire for tactile experience

Of the five senses, touch is one that is perhaps most socially important and, yet, the least cultivated by our modern, digital culture. Frank Rose in “Embracing Analog” describes the “emotional void” in digital that drives people to do things they could do online using “outmoded” analog methods. His survey for J. Walter Thompson suggests that millennials are drawn to digital when storage or speed are of the essence (e.g., streaming music) but still find the interpersonal experience of receiving physical goods more rewarding. Human beings have a natural desire to collect keepsakes, identity markers and status symbols. These desires stem from a tactile experience you can’t get from the smooth screen of a tablet or the megabyte total in an MP3. It’s telling that millennials, more than any other generation, like the smell and feel of books by a wide margin—7% more than the runner up, their grandparents’ generation.

Physical forms hold value

Similarly, millennials have a strong emotional connection with paper. TRU’s 2011 survey of 600 people aged 16 to 26 found that 87% of respondents would rather receive a birthday card than an e-mail, and 57% prefer paper invitations to eVites. I know from personal experience that many people in my age group will send out a digital invitation for their own organizational purposes—to keep track of RSVPs and order enough catering for a wedding, say—then also send a paper invite as well. Millennials have generated a push toward using traditional letterpress techniques thought to be dying in the digital printing era, in part because of the value placed by the younger generation on uniqueness and crafting a sense of identity.

Paper is a source of authority

Whether it’s misleading political memes or scam websites looking to scoop your credit card number, the online world lacks the security and authority that tangible means of purchasing and information represent. The same TRU survey found that 71% of millennials polled preferred magazines to reading digital sources, and even newspapers were preferred by more than half (52%).


Millennials, more than any other group, will use multiple resources when shopping for products and services. They are attracted to websites that offer reviews and will often go to bricks-and-mortar stores to “check out” a product before seeing if they can get a better deal for it online. According to an eye-opening conversation hosted by Knowledge@Wharton with retail expert Cathy Hotka, this is why department stores are now starting to focus on curating unique physical shopping experiences for consumers, creating compelling apps as well as opening up their doors to a wider range of payment options.

In the coming years, millennials will make up the largest buying demographic in the world. This past year, they overtook the previous title holder, boomers, and their influence over the market will only continue to grow. As they get older, their wallets will only grow too. Millennials have unique tastes, and understanding what drives them towards print will give you a great leg up on your marketing for years to come.

Nicholas Brown is a research editor for LD Products where he frequently writes about the ways businesses in various industries can utilize printing technology for improved efficiency in design, marketing, and overall office operations.