Here is why people (still) use fax machines in 2020:
- Network effect
- It can work with the internet
- It can be isolated from the internet
- Confirmation pages (proof of message receipt) – the most import reason.
- Legal familiarity
- Can be quicker for some users
- Paper is an open ended format
- Easy interface between two companies
- Japanese, Chinese, and Korean characters are often written
- Easy way to send signatures
- Less anonymous than email
- Faster than letter mail
- Open ended addressing
- Low signal-to-noise ratio
- It’s a filter on communication
- Analog methods are back in style
1) The network effect – “Because other people are using it”
Fax (still) has a massive user base in the business world. It acts as a “network effect.” Many businesses still use fax, so businesses feel the need to use fax to communicate.
There is an argument that email (invented in 1971) is technologically obsolete. In 2009 Google released “Wave” to be a replacement for email. It went mostly ignored, partly because of email’s strong network effect. Today there are over 200 billion emails sent per day.
Social media is an example of a strong network effect. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest are popular because other people are using it.
2) It can integrate with the internet
Fax has can work with the internet via an online fax service. These services can send a or receive a fax over email, the web, or a smartphone app.
3) You can isolate it from the internet
Fax machines can exist off a network and communicate over the phone networks.
There is a move in some security circles to remove communications from the internet. In 2013 the Russian government re-introduced typewriters to keep information off the internet.
An encrypted fax transmission can stay on the phone lines and not touch a network. The information is only seen (on paper) by the people sending and receiving the paper.
There is a way for a fax demodulator to intercept and decode a fax. An encrypted fax should provide a higher level of security.
During the U.S.-Iran crisis of 2020, the U.S. and Iran communicated via encrypted faxes. It was a direct, confidential way of communicating.
4) Confirmation pages (proof of receipt) – the most important!
Confirmation pages are the most important reason faxing is still in use.
When you send a fax, you receive a “confirmation page.” This is a printout that the fax machine on the receiving end has said: “message received.” It includes details such as the date and time of the transmission and the fax numbers of both fax machines.
Confirmation pages are an electronic equal of sending registered mail. There is a record of the other fax machine receiving the message.
Other electronic methods (e.g. email) are closer to regular mail. The message is sent, and there is no confirmation of its receipt. Did the message go in someone’s inbox? Was it the right person’s inbox? Did it go in a spam filter? Nobody likes or email read receipts (or has to send them).
A confirmation page is that it makes it more difficult for someone to claim that they “never got the message.”
5) Legacy familiarity – Many legal systems are used to it
6) It can be quicker than alternatives
Drop a piece of paper into the document feeder, press ten digits, and a green button. Your information is transmitted.
No need to scan to a computer, realize the document is upside down, then go back and re-scan it, go back to your computer, look up someone’s email address, and then send the document (did you send the right file or the one that was upside down?).
7) Paper and contracts are completely open ended
Last-minute bargaining is chaotic. Lines crossed out. Terms written in by hand. Initials from both parties everywhere. There is no time to go back to the office to print a new copy.
Sign the document and fax it to head office because the customer needs the order immediately!
8) It’s an easy interface between two companies
Every business-to-business relationship has paperwork. Accounts receivable. Accounts payable. Purchasing orders. Error escalation. No two companies have the same forms. “Standard forms” are only ever standard to a specific company.
For companies that rely on a paper workflow (and in B2B that is most of them), paper (and fax) is a quick and simple.
9) Japanese, Chinese, and Korean characters are easier to write by hand
10) It’s an easy way to send signatures (as a bonus: without an image of those signatures touching a network)
Fax prints the document automatically. You can simply sign it, initial, and fax it back to the other party.
Since fax works over the phone line, there’s no need to worry about an image of a signature stored on a network. (Old faxes can be stored in a connected fax machine’s memory and access by a hacker. If the fax is not connected and only attached to a phone line).
11) It is less anonymous than email
An email address can come from anyone, anywhere.
A fax machine needs a fax number as well as a physical fax machine or online fax service account.
Phone records help back up the transmission, as well as confirmation pages and records of the transmission.
12) It’s faster than the postal service and easier than licking stamps
Businesses still communicate by mail. The US post office processes 187 million pieces of first-class mail every day. The reason fax was so popular in the first place was that it could do the same thing as mail but faster.
For some people, the reason they use fax is that if they didn’t have it, they’d be using regular mail.
13) It mimics the general delivery addressing of letter mail that email can’t
Like sending a letter, you can send a fax to a vague address. You can send a message to a business named “City Printing Inc.,” or to “Alice in Accounting,” or to “The assistant to the treasurer.”
Email has always had a problem with vague addressing. Not everybody knows the internal labels and specific addresses of an organization. Email addresses are safeguarded, and each organization handles departmental emails differently.
14) Low signal-to-noise ratio
Every fax gets seen. Not every piece of mail, email, or social media does.
Mailchimp’s statistics show’s an average email open rate of 21.33% across all industries. It hi-lights a problem with email – that it is easy to lose a message with all the noise and spam filters.
Yes, junk faxes (spam, often for office supplies and cruises) are a thing. Fax hacking is too. The volume of fax information is so low that you will look at a fax (and so will the people you’re faxing).
A fax message can sometimes get through to places an email or tweet can’t.
15) It acts as a filter on communication
Only want to see the important messages?
Sending a fax is more work than sending email.
Many lawmakers use fax to screen messages. It is sometimes used by activists who mass-fax lawmakers for political campaigns.
16) There’s something human about analog communication
Could fax be one of those analog things?
Hand-written messages are a powerful business tool. CNBC called them the “ultimate personalized message,” so much so that robots are now trying to replicate the hand-written look.
In the age of everything digital there’s something human about being able to add a handwritten message with “thanks!” and a hand drawn happy face to a document.