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E-posters: the digital revolution that wasn’t (quite)

E-posters were once held up as the sustainable alternative to filling conference centres with reams of paper. But, according to new analysis, reports of the death of print were greatly exaggerated. James Lancaster reports…

Over the past decade, e-posters have become a common feature of international association meetings, particularly medical ones. They can appear on scattered kiosks by podiums for presenters, or on a forest of monitors in their own halls. Some are little more than enlarged PDFs of print posters, others multi-page PowerPoint slideshows. But while e-posters can provide more information in more arresting ways than printed posters, unlike other digital innovations, they have yet to sweep their paper counterparts away.

The number of medical congresses using e-posters has risen sharply since the mid-nineties when organisers first began putting abstracts and posters on CD-ROMS. The debate then was around how such ‘prior publication’ would affect authors if they subsequently wanted to publish the same content in a journal.

But attitudes change, and most publishers have now embraced the concept of immediate, and sometimes open-source, publishing via the internet. The rise of the internet and new rules on compliance meant the CD’s role as a vehicle for posters was short-lived, but the e-poster did not go away.

Now delegates submit their posters in PowerPoint or PDF form and these are then displayed on special monitors or television screens in the venue.

Clever software means e-posters can now be viewed using touch-screen technology, on tablets and smartphones, and can be managed online. Presenters can embed video and animation and make last-minute edits, should they choose, while organisers can more easily keep track of submissions.

You might assume that this technological leap forward would have simply blown traditional paper posters out of the water. But it hasn’t. In late 2018 Keith Foley, xstracta.com, carried out a major piece of research into the e-poster market for CTI Meeting Technology, and the results might surprise you.

He looked at 98 European and international medical meetings that generated 104,200 posters.

Keith Foley

Of those 98 meetings, 22 were classified as large, which is to say more than 1,500 posters, while the remainder had a minimum of 250 posters.

What is immediately clear from the research is that the larger medical meetings, with bigger budgets, have adopted e-posters in a big way, with 79 per cent of the total number of posters offered in electronic form.

But, significantly, this was not at the expense of paper posters.

The picture is muddied by the use of hybrid posters – in other words those presented electronically and in print. Of the 42,250 posters linked to large meetings, 22,800 were offered in both formats. Only 10,700 were offered in e-poster form only, while 8,750 were still being offered in paper form only.

So while 79 per cent (33,500) posters were offered electronically, almost half of that percentage (22,000) was also printed on bits of paper.

So what of the remaining 76 meetings – those accepting at least 250 posters?

As you might expect, these meetings did not have the same budgets as the larger ones so e-posters (31,590) made up just 51 per cent of the total (61, 950), while paper (45,660) made up 74 per cent of the total.

Here too hybrid played a significant role, however, making up 25 per cent of the total (15,300), while posters presented in electronic-form only accounted for 26 per cent (16, 290) and print-only made up 49 per cent (30,360).

Lump all of these meetings together and print, including hybrid, is still the dominant force sucking up 74 per cent of the total market, while e-posters, including hybrid, were able to claim 63 per cent of the total market.

Organisers value print posters and e-posters, but there is no evidence of the latter superseding the former. If anything there is a trickle back towards print.

What the organisers say:

Paper

Christine Dubois, European Cystic Fibrosis Society

“We value the networking possibilities around paper posters and paper poster sessions. These give great opportunities for exchanging ideas and discussing research. E-posters can only offer some limited interaction possibilities (like leaving a message to the author). You cannot talk to a computer!”

Hybrid

Helen Gregson, CEO of European Society of Endocrinology

“When we made the switch to e-posters in 2015, there were issues around paper waste and space, but more a sense of wanting to move with the times. We also thought it would be nice to give people different ways to access our abstracts, which we have always published in a journal. Another issue was quality control. Some people would turn up with beautiful laminated A0 posters, while others would turn up with four pieces of A4 stapled together. It didn’t look great, and neither did all the gaps left in the exhibition hall by no-shows. With e-posters these problems are eliminated. However there was some resistance and we haven’t made the full switch. People missed interacting with the author. At first we displayed the top 200 scored papers in print as well as on e-poster, which leant a certain a cachet to the physical poster. Now we have a hybrid model, where all posters are displayed electronically and, on rotation, in paper. This way we get the best of both worlds, but don’t have the problem of using so much space.”

E-posters

Kimberley Zimmerman, Head of Congress and Corporate Relations, European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology

“We went over to e-posters in 2012 because we really wanted to introduce some new technology to the conference. Some people asked us to go back to paper posters but we really didn’t want to. We tried a hybrid model in 2015 but that wasn’t successful so a year later we reverted back to just e-posters and so far it has gone really well. We use PC monitors as opposed to the standalone e-posters and have created a really cosy library area for delegates. It has been really popular, more popular than the paper posters ever were. At our last conference there was a queue for people waiting to use the monitors! I think people like taking their time and reading through the posters. At first the authors were less keen on e-posters because there’s pride in standing next to your work, but they have come round to the idea.”

To download the full report visit www.meetinglinq.com/poster