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05 . 04 . 18

How print media defied the doomsday predictors

Words by: Print Power
FIPP’s new report carves out a lucrative niche for premium, highly targeted print magazines
Innovation in Magazine Media 2018-2019_Cover handheld.jpg

The power of print at a glance

  • Print 2.0 is about delivering exclusive content and a premium experience to more targeted audiences
  • Millennials are reading plenty of print media – as an antidote to digital overload
  • People are willing to pay a premium for quality – and for trustworthiness

“Doomsday predictors dominated the future-of-the-industry discussions [around print] over the last decade or so, with statistics documenting the undeniable structural change in publishing,” says the FIPP Innovation in Magazine Media 2018-2019 World Report.

“But what escaped the notice of the doomsday disciples,” it continues, “was a hidden but healthy substrate of print publishers who had managed to actually thrive in what was otherwise a print Armageddon.”

The old print media business model “was brutally treated”, confirms John Wilpers, author of the report and senior director at INNOVATION Media Consulting, in a recent interview with Print Power. “But the ravaging trimmed the blubber that once passed for meaningful reach.”

More exclusive, more targeted… Print 2.0

In its place is a meaner, leaner Print 2.0 – “obsessed with delivering exclusive content and a premium experience to smaller, select, lucrative… audiences”.

And that includes a younger demographic of digital natives that many critics claim just aren’t interested in physical media. According to the report, millennials – at least in the US – are reading print. And lots of it.

They’re opting in to the print edition of The New Yorker at a rate 10% higher than older demographics, while new subscribers to The Atlantic in the 18- to 24-year-old age bracket have jumped 130% since November 2016. Student sign-ups to receive The Wall Street Journal have also doubled in the past year.

Why is Gen Y backing this print media revival? So-called ‘new print’, Wilpers argues, has coincided with a growing desire to switch off from digital – with the print experience now seen as an antidote to our screen lives. It offers cut-through in a noisier, more uncertain social media news environment.

His report goes further, suggesting that “brands and agencies are even beginning to doubt just how well digital advertising works and whether they might have been spending too much for too little return online, while shortchanging other media in the process”.

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Now is our time

Cited in the report, Linda Thomas Brooks, CEO of the Association of Magazine Media, is bullish about a role for print in this new media landscape.

“This is our moment in time, because everything that marketers need to be effective ... in this age of confusion about media companies and what they represent and who you can trust… it all points back to magazine media.”

But Wilpers is quick to point out that, despite all the positive sentiment surrounding print, we shouldn’t expect it to return to the levels of revenue it once enjoyed.

And that’s OK, he reckons, quoting media consultant Bo Sacks: “There will be much less of it, but what is left will be of extremely high quality in both the physical product and the editorial content.”

We’re seeing a renaissance in print titles… which are intentionally luxurious, in beautiful high-quality paper, and... at a luxury price point
Lucie Greene
Director, J Walter Thompson

What readers really want

The quality of print – its tactile, finite, quiet elegance – is what Wilpers feels will differentiate it and define its success in the future. And that can mean a number of different things.

It’s a mandate for editorial uniqueness – for content that is valuable and exclusive, and not ‘cloned’.  

And it’s an exhortation to a premium experience – from the paper used, to the photography, design and even the advertisers brands choose to partner with.

In fact, says the report, readers demand all of the above – and will gladly pay for the privilege.

“We’re seeing a renaissance in print titles – particularly design and women’s titles which are intentionally luxurious, in beautiful high-quality paper, and priced at a luxury price point,” the report quotes J Walter Thompson director Lucie Greene as having told The Guardian.

Wilpers concurs: “The expectation is that print must be absolutely exquisite. Reader revenues will determine the success of print – and readers have proven that high-quality content does not have to be free. More than that, it cannot be free.”

The report implies that, superficially, what people are actually paying for when it comes to a printed product is the chance to be part of a premium community. And they would willingly tout that membership – particularly if a brand stands for values they most want to associate with themselves.

But what folks are really putting a premium on, it says, is the quality of trustworthiness.

The report refers to a Canadian Marketing magazine poll that shows the top-ranked factor for considering a reading experience prestigious is that the publication be a trusted source of information – while noting that print magazines embody “carefully researched, well-written, and masterfully edited and curated content”.

Survival of the fittest

So, what’s next for magazines in this more print-friendly climate, replete with opportunity?

For Wilpers, the answer is almost certainly a Darwinian one: evolve or die.

Some publishers, he says, will require a retooling of their mission, products, processes and even personnel.

Others might have to close a beloved legacy print product and replace it with more targeted, niche, exclusive, reader-funded alternatives.

If they do nothing, their species could simply disappear.

“Publishers must act now to ensure the transition of print products to their new role in the digital world – rather than ride a slowly dying horse until it expires under them.”

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