By Jonathan Kantor
Look around and you’ll see the newspaper industry on the ropes. Denver’s Rocky Mountain News, the Seattle Post Intelligencer out of business. The New York Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune and a host of other dailies are having their caskets measured by their financial undertakers.
The bottom line is that our relationship with printed material is on the decline. Today, the preponderance of material that we rely on to inform us, educate us, and assist us with our daily decisions comes from online sources. White papers certainly fall into this category.
As evidence of its growing popularity, if you had performed a Google search for the term “white paper” ten years ago, the number of returns would have been in the thousands. Today that same search yields over 100 million items!
So given the decline in printed information, why do white papers remain so popular? In my opinion, there are three things that represent this trend:
1. Print Transformation—At the beginning of the decade, a large portion of white papers were printed, warehoused, and distributed in a similar fashion to brochures and fact sheets. Today the majority of white papers are distributed as PDF files, read online, and distributed via websites, email attachments, and online library sharing sites such as Scribd.com or DocStoc.com. This has made white papers easier to read, more popular, and more widely distributed to millions of readers with one click of a mouse.
2. Fact-based Reporting—Many opinion analysts attribute the decline in newspapers to the rise of opinion journalism; in other words, the substitution of fact-based reporting with opinion and agenda-centered activism. In comparison, white papers are fact-based deliverables. Without referenced facts to back up assertions, a white paper quickly loses its credibility and audience. With factual information as a foundational principle, many business executives frequently seek out white papers as part of their decision-making process, growing the popularity of the medium.
3. Commercial Innovation—While many newspapers attempted to supplement print with corresponding websites, their heart just wasn’t in it. Most turned out to be online versions of their printed newspapers, and most did not leverage the “connectedness” of the web to build online social communities. Conversely, the commercial influences on today’s white paper have transformed the medium from the stark printed government document of the 1920s to today’s interactive, colorful, multi-platform, social media environment. As a PDF file, I can read and share the same white paper via Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, and a host of handheld devices such as the iPhone and Blackberry with complete font, image, and content integrity. I can also discuss its content on many online blogs, wikis, forums, and social media sites.
I can’t say whether the traditional newspaper will be around by the end of the next decade. What I can say is that as long as white papers continue to demonstrate the level of innovation shown so far, their longevity will certainly be assured well into the future.
About the author: Jonathan Kantor is the principal of The Appum Group, “The White Paper Company”, and a 25-year enterprise-marketing veteran with over 11 years of white paper marketing expertise. You can read more about ‘Short Attention Marketing’ via his blog at www.WhitePaperPundit.com, and follow him via Twitter at Jonathan_Kantor.