The case for print in a digital world

22 Sep, 2015

Ignore what you’ve heard – print isn’t dying, it’s just being refined. Stuart Thomas takes a look at the changing (type)face of print and where it’s headed.

Print is dying. It’s on its last legs, limping along to a slow and inevitable demise. At least that’s what most people in digital media will tell you. Except that’s not entirely true. Print is here to stay – just not in the form we’re used to.

It’s easy to see where the naysayers are coming from. Every month seems to bring fresh news of publications closing down and revenue growth slowing industry-wide.  In the US, print revenue is down from $47.41 billion in 2005 to just $17.3-billion today.

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But in the midst of all that gloom, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest print has a viable future. Less than a year after Newsweek went entirely digital, its new owners decided to relaunch the magazine’s print offering.

In November 2014 CNET, one of the world’s most read technology sites, launched its own print offering. The magazine – which runs to 128 pages in the first edition – is published quarterly, with CNET printing around 200 000 copies.

According to The New York Times, the first edition of the publication won praise from users as “portable, accessible and affordable”.

“The brand’s future is multiplatform,” says Jim Lanzone, president and chief executive of CBS Interactive, told the New York Times adding, “We know the audience wants to experience CNET in multiple ways.”

“This is a project we talked about for a number of years,” he added. “It gained momentum in 2013, the best year in the history of CNET.”

Lanzone went on to comment that the one thing they’ve realised in launching their print publication is that the brand has a lot more potential than they originally thought.

What makes CNET’s offering different is the content of the magazine is almost entirely original, with nothing borrowed from the website. That’s a good thing, because it takes advantage of the biggest thing print’s got in its favour.

May I have your attention, please?
Think about what happens when you open a magazine – you flip the pages and get immediate access to the content.

Now think about what happens when you try to find similar content on your phone or tablet. The content’s not just competing with other publications, but against every other app on the device. Games, social media, instant messaging, they’re all competing for your attention.

Magazines grab and hold your attention, and that’s as important to advertisers as it is to everyday readers.

Print advertising is interruptive and in-your-face. Of course you can always flick past it, but there’s no adblocking software in the print space – no banner-blindness either.

Looking to the future
I’m not saying everyone should go out and launch a magazine – just that it can be a powerful bow in any publisher’s armoury.

Digital publishers launching magazines makes sense for the same reason ecommerce giants like eBay have dabbled with brick-and-mortar stores: the more opportunities you give people to interact with your brand, the more likely they are to do so.

That’s not to say you can just publish a magazine: it has to be done right. You have to give people a reason to pick it up in the first place.

For one, you can’t just recycle online content – hundreds of print publications have died that way. You have to cut through the clutter and offer people something they can’t get online.

Film, radio, and theatre have all faced threats from new technologies, but they’re all still around because of the unique experiences they offer.

There’s a place for magazines and newspapers in our digital world, but they have to provide a unique experience. And if the people publishing them have any sense they’ll figure that out faster than the record labels producing vinyl LPs.