It was supposed to be a paperless revolution.
But even with the explosion of Internet-based e-mail and e-commerce transactions, a new study shows paper consumption continues to increase around the world.
The study was conducted by the PaperCom Alliance, an international coalition of associations, including companies in the paper, mailing, software and publishing industries.
It shows that electronic communication is helping drive higher levels of paper consumption, with the biggest increase coming from e-commerce companies that use direct mail, catalogues and print advertising to build brand awareness and increase sales.
“While we expect electronic communication to increase, we believe it will largely be in addition to paper-based communication, not in place of it,” says PaperCom executive director Bob McLean.
Asia recorded the fastest growth — 10 per cent — in paper consumption, measured in this study by the new supply of communication-grade papers in each country. European demand for paper has risen more than 27 per cent in the last six years.
Canadian consumption is no less insatiable, with demand for communication-grade papers growing from 2.7 million metric tonnes in 1990 to 3.4 million metric tonnes in 1999.
“Computers have been a very good friend to the paper industry,” Pablo Conde of the Pulp and Paper Products Council in Canada said. “The computer portion of it is considerable. Anyone who’s worked in an office over the last couple of years will recognize the fact that we’re printing more and more documents and making more photocopies of everything.”
While the paper industry boasts a growing bottom line, it’s being chased by a new kind of competitor — electronic reusable paper.
Xerox Corporation is developing a patented digital document display technology that it claims will be as portable and flexible as a plain sheet of paper. The company will initially use the technology to develop applications for signs and point-of-purchase displays found at retail outlets.
Last month, Xerox launched Gyricon Media, an independent venture that will use electronic reusable paper to provide networked retail signs that can be updated with the click of a mouse.
“Electronic reusable paper is really the paper of the future. It will dramatically change the way people think about printing, and it will revolutionize the way that stores communicate prices, promotions and other information to their customers,” said Bob Sprague, interim chief executive officer of Gyricon Media in Palo Alto, California.
The first commercial products are expected to be launched this year. New Jersey-based Lucent Technologies is also chasing the paper tiger, and, in a partnership with E Ink Corporation of Massachusetts, is developing a flexible, paper-like electronic display.
The companies recently demonstrated a working prototype built on thin sheets of plastic, using a 25-sq.-in. display area made up of several hundred pixels. Unlike conventional LCDs and other kinds of reflective displays, an electronic ink display is exceptionally bright and is readily viewable under both bright and dim lighting conditions.
McLean agrees that the prospect of electronic paper may eventually put a dent in the paper industry, but not until it becomes affordable. “I’m sure that it’s eventually going to take some sales away,” he said from Washington, D.C. “But it’s impossible to predict at this point.”
The PaperCom study surveyed paper consumption in 93 countries. Further results are available at www.papercom.org