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Paper Maps and Digital Maps, Friends Forever

As a company that makes software to create digital maps, that has a mission to create the largest repository of digital maps in the world, and has built a mobile app to consume them, we believe firmly that digital maps are the way of the future. Like it or not, digital maps will eventually (if not already) reduce the need for traditional paper maps. It’s a debate that many people are as passionate about as they are about the digitization of books and music.

Take Dave McIlhagga, Founder and CEO of MapSherpa, a company which has spent years at the forefront of developing new ways for map publishers to deliver maps and for people to consume them. MapSherpa offers on-demand printing of maps so you’d think he would be on the side of the paper maps. “In fact, I see digital maps as more of a way to promote maps and map use rather than a replacement for paper,” says Dave.  

A pioneer in the digital mapping space (read an interview with Dave on our Facebook page), Dave sees paper versus digital not as a competition for supremacy but as viable options that complement each other. “Digital maps offer new ways of interaction and help us visualize the world differently by viewing data in ways that may not have been feasible in the past. However, paper maps are simple, informative, and accessible by everyone. They aren’t being replaced. Offering both are important and will ultimately drive demand for map publishers.”

When we look at recent history, streaming services like Spotify and iTunes all but replaced physical forms of music, and Netflix and similar video streaming services are doing the same to DVD sales, not to mention delivering the knockout punch to companies like Blockbuster. However, while streaming is the heavy favourite of Netflix users, they still have subscribers hanging onto its DVD service. Isn’t the same scenario playing out here for maps? Let’s look at some pros and cons.


Distinct Advantages of Digital Maps

  • More accessible (download from anywhere, instantly)
  • Easily edited, augmented, personalized, and updated
  • More useful – more map data in one package, multiple layers
  • Flexibility to zoom in and out change perspectives with a digital map (replacing the need for multiple paper maps)
  • Navigation and routing capabilities


Paper Maps Will Never Die

  • Digital maps are the future, but paper will be around forever
  • Publisher and retailers still have a strong demand for paper map sales
  • Maps for recreation
  • Maps for visualization on a large scale
  • Maps as paper art


Neither Format is Perfect

  • Paper maps can become outdated quickly, are more costly to update
  • Paper maps can wear out, tear, and become unusable
  • Digital maps have a learning curve on how to properly use them
  • Digital maps have screen size limitations
  • Mobile devices run out of power, break, and become unusable


Best of Both Worlds

We recently partnered with MapSherpa on a project that will allow map consumers to easily get maps in both digital and printed formats. Now, when you view a MapSherpa map in the Avenza Map Store you’ll have the option to also purchase a paper copy in a variety of sizes, and printed on a variety of different materials from MapSherpa’s map store, MapTrove. Find a map on the MapSherpa site, in paper format, and get the digital version for use on your mobile device in the Avenza Maps app. “It’s the best of both worlds for consumers and for publishers,” says Dave.

Honestly, corporate vision aside, we have to agree.

See MapSherpa’s collection of Winter Games themed maps of South Korea, featuring Pyeongchang Seoul and Gangneung regions.