One of my first realizations after studying the PDF industry was the high cost of PDF software. For reputable products, the cost of desktop software ranges from $150 - $500 for a single license!
As I began to explore why businesses and individuals were prepared to pay so much money for PDF software, I came across another startling fact: most businesses still use paper! Not only do most businesses still use paper, their use of paper is actually growing by leaps and bounds. Consider these amazing facts from a recent Wired article:
- There are four trillion documents in the US, and this number is growing at the rate of 22% per year or 880 billion paper documents a year (Source: PricewaterhouseCoopers)
- The annual growth rate of paper produced by a company is 25% (Source: Gartner)
- Every day, one billion photocopies are made (Source: Forrester Research)
Using paper is expensive and inefficient for many different reasons
Despite all the enabling technology in the last few decades such as the internet, email and PDF files, most businesses still rely on old-fashioned printed paper documents for their day-to-day work. I found this very surprising, given the many disadvantages of having a paper-based process. Even without any deep knowledge of business processes, here are a few obvious issues:
- Paper requires secure storage, and physical storage is expensive
- Paper requires proper archiving (as physical documents are not easily searchable), and this is also expensive
- Paper can be easily destroyed, and thus requires secure transport (you guessed it, secure transport is expensive)
- Paper forms can be easily manipulated, leading to issues such as employee error or even fraud
- Printing a document is a surprisingly expensive activity, and printing costs add up very quickly
So just how expensive is paper?
With all of those points in mind, I set out to explore the full cost of using paper. I didn’t have to go very far, as the cost of printing alone justifies using an electronic alternative (like PDF, hint hint). According to a recent blog post in Mashable, the average US office worker uses 10,000 sheets of copy paper every year. That’s the equivalent of a 100-foot tall fir tree in paper and wood products per person per year!
Given that the average cost of printing a document is between $0.06 and $0.13 (adding up costs of paper, ink and printer maintenance), this means the average employee is spending $600 - $1,300 per year on printing costs alone. Note that this cost doesn’t include storage, archiving, transport and other issues that arise from using paper (such as difficulties in searching for stored documents, errors and fraud).
Turns out, businesses are willing to pay
As the business world drowns in ever more paper, it turns out they are willing to pay for electronic solutions that solve their issues. This fully explains the premium prices that the top PDF software companies are able to charge.
PDF software today is great at archiving existing paper documents (by creating PDFs), making small edits to existing PDF files and converting PDFs to and from a variety of other formats such as Word, Excel, or Powerpoint. But PDF solutions are still far away from helping businesses reduce their use of paper.
Why has the ‘paperless office’ not become a reality?
As I’ve mentioned before, PDF software companies today have many issues: most PDF products are far too difficult to use, they don’t replace paper entirely or just don’t work as advertised! PDF solutions still have a long way to go in helping office workers complete their day-to-day tasks such as:
- Filling out and signing forms
- Creating fillable forms that can be filled and signed
- Sharing files across a variety of formats (email, social media, mobile)
- Adding comments and highlights to files
- Securing files from being altered or manipulated
- Providing solutions so that files can be securely transported, archived and stored
Once PDF companies finally get their act together (I’m doing my best at PDF Pro!), the paperless office will one day become a reality.