Is Print Making a Comeback?

Article ImageWith Newsweek's December 2013 announcement that it is reintroducing a print publication and many continuing to stand behind print as a viable option, even in the internet era, content providers are beginning to reconsider their distribution strategies. While the race has been on to "go digital" over the past few years, many are realizing that print is still relevant-particularly in certain niche markets and with certain target audiences.

Newsweek isn't alone in recognizing the role that print may play in a content strategy. An October 2013 article in The Week also made a case for print, and research reports from JWT such as "The Future of Correspondence" and "Embracing Analog: Why Physical Is Hot" also support the notion that there is still a role-and a demand-for consumer information in traditional print formats. In fact, there is a place for both, say content providers-just as live performances still coexist in a world that contains televisions, movie theaters, and streaming video.

Heather Logrippo, publisher of Distinctive Homes, a luxury real estate magazine in New England, says: "The bottom line is that print is a viable advertising source if it gets your story or product in front of the right target audience." In her case, she says, "[M]y magazine gets in front of the affluent home buyer and seller in New England." With the increasing clutter of the online world, says Logrippo, the value of print is definitely increasing.

Amile Wilson, a producer and director with Hapax Creative, agrees. Hapax launched a print publication, Mississippi Aesthetic, in 2013. For niche markets in particular, says Wilson, print continues to resonate. Still, he cautions content providers, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to finding the right balance between traditional and online content.

As with any form of communication, of course, it pays to know your audience. Polly Hyatt, principal consultant with Bright Arrow Marketing in Atlanta, says, "I tell my clients that it is essential that they understand both how their audiences get information and where they say they prefer to get information." The two are often not the same, she cautions.

"Many times a prospect may say she prefers email, when in reality she notices a well-created postcard that stands out in her dwindling volume of snail mail rather than an email buried in the 200 or so that clog her inbox every day," Hyatt adds.

Different audiences have different consumption patterns as well, says Michael Shepherd, a public relations practitioner of 30-plus years and president and CEO of The Shepherd Group. "To paraphrase, the reports of print's death have been greatly exaggerated," says Shepherd. "I can tell you that the impact of print articles in the C-suite and boardroom surpasses digital," he says. "To senior executives, it's often perceived as more tangible, more visually compelling, more influential-often because of the contextual content around it-and certainly less disposable."

One size does not need to fit all, notes Pam Pease with Paintbox Press, a producer of limited-edition pop-up books. "The great thing about the digital revolution is that it has caused us to pause and think about the best format for specific content," says Pease.

"Does news need to be printed and recycled every day? No. But are there stories and ideas that are best enjoyed slowly and mindfully, like a delicious meal, a fine bottle of wine, or a bicycle ride through the countryside?" Pease-and others-believe there are. Pease says that her work is "based on an understanding that the tactile experience of engaging with content in the form of an object can be extremely satisfying.

"Experiencing paper quality, marveling at feats of paper engineering, and knowing that favorite pages can be easily accessed again all provide different and equally important ways of interacting with words and images."

Wilson agrees: "One of the comments we get with Mississippi Aethestic all the time is people will hold it and say, ‘Wow, I love the feel of the paper.'" Modern society, he says, has had a tendency to overlook the value of appealing to the senses. "Having something that people can hold in their hands and carry around with them is, I think, never going to go completely out of style." That, he says, is just as true of the younger demographic as it is older audiences. In fact, says Wilson: "Speaking as a member of the 18 to 35 demographic, as much as we're talked about as being children of the digital age, we still want something tangible." His perspectives are supported by JWT's research findings.

In the 21st century, says Pease, the true art of publishing will involve "envisioning how content can reach its ultimate audience in a way that both delights the reader and fulfills the desire for relevance and immediacy."

And, of course, that ability will drive bottom line results. For content providers, it's results that matter. Fortunately, today's analytics are sophisticated enough to allow them to critically assess where they are getting the most traction-not just in terms of the visits, views, and clicks they may monitor online, but more importantly in terms of the revenue generated through their various communication channels reflected in both subscriptions and ad revenue.

Ultimately, content providers need to find the "sweet spot" between providing content in traditional formats and through electronic media. All of these formats can provide value and, in combination, can serve to strengthen and reinforce the brand.

"We all know the old saying that it takes at least seven impressions before the message sinks in," says Hyatt. "These impressions have more value if they are experienced in multiple media rather than in the same place over and over. When you feel you're hearing similar information from multiple channels, it seems more like a consensus," she notes. The most effective content strategy? A cross-media strategy, advises Hyatt. "An integrated content mix in several formats, all of which complement and reinforce each other."

After all, keep in mind that although Newsweek is reintroducing its print format, it isn't moving away from the delivery of online content. In 2014, it is increasingly likely that we will see content providers move beyond "print-bashing" to find a balance of traditional and online content delivery that will most effectively boost the brand and the bottom line.