Print Politics

Low Cost Printing is a Cornerstone of Democracy

The creation of liberal democracy as we know it today is, at least in part, a result of the invention and spread of printing. As such, we may consider printing to be – by it's very nature – a tool of the democratic system.

Last week, my colleague Ms. Stewart brought up the topic of using the power of low cost printing to advertise voter support of the current election race. She called this, I believe, “the future of democracy.”

As usual, my colleague has brought up an interesting topic while failing to delve into its complexities in such as way as to drive home “the point,” as it were. Admittedly, Ms. Stewart's writings are more often than not muddied by her uncomplicated enthusiasm for our printing services. I can hardly fault her on this enthusiasm, but I am inclined to temper it with my own appreciation for the depth and history of the subject at hand. Which is to say…


Any historian worth his or her gold-rimmed spectacles will tell you it is no coincidence that the invention of the printing press preceded the advent of classical humanism by mere decades. As printing became accessible throughout the West, independent political thought flourished, and the slow downfall of monarchy as a largely unquestioned standard of government began.

In fact, some of the very first materials ever to be printed en masse were political pieces touting the virtues of democracy and liberal government. At first in the form of biting political cartoons, and then, as literacy increased, in forms such as pamphlets, political tracts, and slogan-bearing posters, printed materials allowed ideas to spread at never-before-seen rates. Average people began to think critically, and to believe themselves capable of influencing the course of major events.

Printing arrived in America, again, just decades before the major events that led to the American Revolution began to play out. Early American printers were at first reluctant to embroil themselves in the politics of the day, but it wasn't long before printed material that inspired us to believe in equality and human rights began to appear. These generated the widespread, passionate unrest surrounding slogans like “no taxation without representation,” and events like the Boston Tea Party.

It wouldn't be unreasonable to argue that without the invention of the printing press, democracy might not exist. The very nature of printing is democratic, as it allows a large number of people spread all across a country to become informed and to disseminate their own views for others to consider.

Now that we have radio, TV, telecommunications, and the internet, printing may no longer seem to be of paramount significance to our communications, but at the birth of democracy, it was very significant indeed. The printing press made printed material such as full color images and fiery political writings available to everyone, and as such, it got everyone reading and thinking in exciting new ways.

Today, as printing services like Hotcards offer extremely high quality printing at prices that make high volume, low cost printing available to all, we are again seeing the power that printing has to make democracy happen. No matter how much we are encouraged to get involved on websites, or how “intimately” a candidate connects with us in a fireside chat commercial, it can never stir in us the true spirit of democracy as does the act of walking the streets of our community and putting up posters, or seeing the signs fluttering in the air at a rally or a march.

I believe that it is due to the relative low cost of printing that this medium is able to connect with voters in a way that slick commercials and high-maintenance web campaigns cannot. On a wall of low cost full color political campaign posters, we see a candidate doing something that we ourselves could do if we chose to. Democracy, by its very nature, must be inexpensive in order to be accessible to all, and that's a value that printing continues to represent here at Hotcards. Throughout history and across countries, where you find democracy, you will find printers, busily bringing a message of freedom and equality to all.


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