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Microsoft continues to develop Word and add features. The software is mature and stable.

I use it every day in work as a writer, but I’m frustrated I can’t use it to create professional, high-end output.

You couldn’t produce a great-looking printed book with Word. There’s little point sending Word manuscripts to professional book printers. And Word is not much better when it comes to top-flight on-line layouts or creating classy PDFs.

Word does basic page layout well enough. It seems designed for people who still print documents using laser printers and ink-jets. It is fine for emailed documents.

Word’s new fonts are gorgeous. Calibri works particularly well on-screen. The problem is you never know which fonts Word will use when you send a document to another computer. Things can go wrong when you send Word documents to commercial printers or pre-press companies.

Colour is also a Word danger-zone. You never know what colour you’ll see at the other end.

I’ve found if I’m just doing low-resolution work, Word is good enough.

When I’m creating high-end documents or working with professional printers, I still have to use Adobe InDesign. At around NZ$1,500 that’s an expensive sledgehammer cracking my layout nuts.

I’m not surprised an HP executive called the paperless office a fallacy – why would the world’s largest computer printer maker say otherwise.

HP senior vice president Bruce Dahlgren says: “It is unrealistic to think that printing is just going to go away”.

Computerworld Australia reports him saying: ” the way people print and copy is changing.” Dahlgren says people are printing more documents but fewer pages. They take more care about what gets printed.

I do the same.

Since starting my paperless journalist project I’ve managed to cut the number of printed pages by more than 60 percent, but zero remains a long way off.

I rarely print incoming documents for reading. But I still need to proof-read on paper – especially when I write important or longer pieces.

There’s no question I catch more errors in my work when proof-reading paper documents. I’m not alone. Online reading is tiring and online proofing is less accurate.

People spend less time reading online news than reading printed newspapers because reading a screen is more mentally and physically taxing.

I’ve no hard and fast evidence to offer. This is just my observation. It would make a great research project for someone.

People certainly do read less online than in print. I discovered this today in a different context at Newspapers online – the real dilemma.

Here, Australian online media expert Ben Shepherd was examining why online newspapers earn proportionately less money than print newspapers. He says it comes down to engagement. A typical online consumer of Rupert Murdoch’s products spends just 12.6 minutes a month reading News Corporation web sites. In comparison the average newspaper reader spends 2.8 hours a week with their printed copy.

Print still better in some ways

There are other factors. But I’d argue, the technology behind online reading is part of the problem:

  • Newspapers and magazines are typically printed at about 600 dots per inch.
  • Computer screens typically display text and pictures at 72 pixels per inch. Some display at 96 dots per inch.
  • The contrast is usually far better on paper than on screen.
  • Screens often include distracting elements. This can be particularly bad where online news sites have video or audio advertising on the same page as news stories.

Lower resolution means it takes more effort for a human brain to convert text into meaningful information. Screens are fine for relatively small amounts of text, but over the long haul your eyes and your brain will get tired faster. You’ll find it harder to concentrate and your comprehension will suffer.

I’m a reader who can stay up all night with a decent novel, but I found it hard to stick with most eBook readers for more than ten minutes.

Also, sub-editors and proof readers generally find more errors on a printed page than on a screen.

What does this mean?

  • The online reading revolution is going ahead without anyone worrying about readability, but it’ll be better when improved screen technology arrives.
  • In the back of my mind I suspect this is one reason Twitter’s 140 word limit succeeds. Again, I’ll leave the research project to someone else.

Music magazine Paste asked readers to help it out of its money troubles. The print magazine needed $300,000. After ten days it collected $175,000 in reader donations.

Some public broadcasting radio and TV stations raise money through donations. This mainly happens in the US but the idea is starting to take root elsewhere.

Can this model work for print publications?

The answer is, in a way it already does. Print magazines earn revenue from copy and subscription sales. If there’s less advertising, the cover price is higher.

Many publications already carry no advertising, or very little. They make almost all their money from copy or subscription payments.

New Zealand’s Consumer Institute magazine Consumer doesn’t carry advertising. The same applies to Choice in Australia and similar titles elsewhere in the world.

This means the magazine’s readers know its articles are written without any pressure from advertisers.

It can a good business model for publishers. Subscription revenue is a more reliable income source than advertising. Better still from the publisher point of view, you get it before paying for publishing costs. Advertisers often pay a long time after a magazine goes to print.  I think we’ll see more subscription-driven print titles in the future. And more titles that rely on reader donations.

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