The Fax Machine: Reports of its Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

“Do you own a fax?” Either you say you do, or you quickly reply that you don’t, but you can be contacted via email. Although most web workers snub the fax machine, it keeps finding its way into our lives when someone asks us that question. I’m willing to bet that most of us aren’t too happy about that. In fact, we might feel tempted to bring our fax machines to the museum and proclaim it a technological relic.

But let’s not be too hasty. After all, there are some reasons why we won’t be digging graves for fax machines any time soon.

Some documents require signatures. This includes contracts or forms that need to be signed with someone’s actual handwriting – not a digital signature. Electronic signature laws vary from country to country, and as web workers, we’re likely to do business with people all over the world. If you want to make sure that your agreements are legally sound, faxing might be your better option.

Not everyone is as web savvy as you are. Throughout your career, you’ll gain many business contacts, whether they are your clients, vendors, or suppliers. You’ll find that some or even many of them prefer to exchange documents via fax. True, you can request to be the exception to their rule, but there’s no guarantee your request will be granted. These businesses have their own procedures and to divert them from that requires extra hours and effort on their part. I’ve had my fair share of scanner-less clients who were getting a website for the first time. I would’ve missed out on some great projects if I wasn’t able to send in paperwork via fax.

There are places without stable Internet access. You urgently need to send a report to your client, but she’s on a trekking trip in Nepal. Her hotel doesn’t have Internet access, but it has a fax machine. One doesn’t need to step out of the metropolis to encounter this type of scenario. There are many reasons for the lack of a stable Internet connection, including natural disasters, Internet service provider malfunctions, and even Murphy’s Law. When the web fails us, we need to work with other technologies at our disposal – no matter how archaic they may seem.

Other industries require paperwork – in actual paper. Companies involved in pharmaceuticals, health care, finance, law, and other similar fields require a paper trail for all transactions or communications. They don’t necessarily frown upon electronic options, they just need hard copies for safekeeping and record purposes. If you’ll be working closely with people in these fields, you might be sending and receiving more faxes than the average web worker.

It improves credibility. This is especially true if your target market is located in a different country from your own. Outsourcing firms in South America or Asia can get a credibility boost by having a US or European fax number – assuming that’s where most of their potential clients are based in. You can acquire a local or toll free fax number from most e-fax services, if that’s the case. Plus, with the extra costs associated with faxing (in terms of the equipment and fees) some people see it as a symbol that you’re part of a real business. Especially since it’s still an essential communication tool for the corporate world.

For most of these reasons, getting an e-fax account with an attached fax number will be sufficient. Let’s face it – until the whole world bends over and cooperates, we’ll just have to be reachable via fax. Unless there’s a low cost, well-distributed, highly secure, and legally acceptable alternative to the fax machine, it will be here to stay.

Photo Credit: Image by Daniel Battiston