It's 2010, but client research we recently completed revealed some users still prefer print.
Had we simply discovered the last of the Luddites? It doesn't seem that way. In fact, one of the markets in which we conducted research depends very heavily on online systems to do business. We have said many times that different markets get online religion at very different rates. Even so, to find so many enthusiastic fans of print at this late date was surprising.
Here are some of the reasons we heard about why print still retains its appeal:
The Wall of History - There is apparently a sizable population out there who still collect directories. Over the years, they purchased every edition published and have amassed a wall or shelf of them. This group maintains that it's important to have a "history of the industry" as expressed through print products, and don't want the print version to end. It sounds pretty loopy on the surface, but in fact very few data publishers have addressed the issue of archival information, and in fact their online version isn't satisfactory to those who wish to look back for various reasons.
The Traveling Salesman - It's a classic stereotype but there's truth here as well. When a directory is used for prospecting purposes, we regularly hear that salespeople who live on the road like print because they can throw the directory in a briefcase or in a backseat. We may all live on our iPhones, but it's dangerous to assume everyone else does as well. Related to this, we often hear mobile access being dismissed by users - salespeople in particular - because "you can't really browse." Being able to page through a directory to pick your prospects still means a lot to this group.
The Swiss Army Knife - Forget the purpose for which print directories were designed, there are a surprising number of people who turn them into virtual filing cabinets, appending Post-It notes, marginal notations, memory jogs, names of new personnel and more to the pages. We find this particularly pronounced where the print product has a comb binding or otherwise lies fairly flat on the desk. Sure, many online databases allow users to add private notes, but as print users correctly point out, they tend to be an afterthought: often not convenient, not highly visible, not searchable and not customizable. And the nagging thought of losing it all should the user fail to renew a subscription haunts many of these folks.
The Speed Racer - Don't ever contradict a print directory user who says print is faster to use than online. Right or wrong, they believe it, and passionately. And sometimes they are right. Print directories that get used in large part for quick contact information can in fact be faster and easier to use than elaborate online databases that sport lots of bells and whistles and incredible power, but whose designers forgot that fast contact information look-up was important to the user base.
There's more of course, but these are some common examples. More importantly, they point up that while online is better, online isn't automatically better.