Hard Copy: The Case for Sticking With Print
In his August 2012 story “Wondering How Far Magazines Must Fall,” New York Times media reporter David Carr addresses the declining fortunes of print magazines. Carr uses as his basis the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations’ figures, which show newsstand sales falling precipitously across a number of categories. Titles “punished in the pile-up” include Vogue, Cosmopolitan and People (percentages all down in the mid- to high-teens) and Time, down 31 percent. In the first six months of 2012, 21 of the top 25 U.S. titles dropped significant points in their single-copy sales.
Is the end imminent for the “print artifact” as it fades from view in the crossover to digital? Carr’s conclusion, after speaking with publishing leaders including Barry Diller and Tina Brown, is that “continued investment in magazines is going to be a little tough to explain.” Continuing, he opines that, “The best case story involves investing a lot right now in the hope that someday, years from now, the businesses will stabilize. That doesn’t sound like a very attractive place to store capital.”
In these strained economic times, spending over $1 billion each year on paper and postage, as Time, Inc. reportedly does, is not a good return on investment. With consumers increasingly liking their brands to embrace green practices, there’s natural eco-tension against running printing presses each day or every week. And, of course, there is the significant disruption of mobile technology and consumer crossover to digital content.
Yet, much as it has yet to kill paper, technology has far to go before completely vanquishing print. And even as pronouncements of the death of print media grow more clamorous, with some even calling outright for its merciful end, the persuasive psychological power of print is something brands must not ignore. Newsstand sales are one thing, but custom magazines are different animals entirely.
For categories as diverse as fashion and law firms, no format can communicate brand identity like the print magazine. As the creative sensibilities and aesthetic standards of branded content publishers have evolved, the visual landscapes of branded magazines not only make powerful statements, but they reinforce the traditional appeal of the print format—one that is familiar and trusted, and that creates a pleasurable, engaging and immersive experience.
While conveniently, economically right-sized for the short-attention span world that it has created—which makes it perfectly sized for getting video and visual messages across--digital content, boxed within the immutable confines of the mobile device, can also create more fleeting moments than deep impressions.
The physical page-turning of print content and its accompanying images and graphics, on the other hand, offers a greater range of motion and interaction and stands to find greater purchase with the reader—especially if you deliver that magazine right to the point where the right reader is likeliest to spend meaningful time with the content.
Take custom publications for law firms and other professional services organizations, for example. Removed from the hit-or-miss shuffle of the newsstand, these are often strategically placed in airport lounges, within easy reach of the business travelers they are custom-designed to influence. These firms are not spending billions on paper and postage, either, or on wasted hope.
Custom publications do not come cheap, but in the professional services arena as in healthcare, automotive, fashion, food, retail and just about any other category you can think of, each marketing dollar invested in content is the best marketing bet on generating a multi-fold return.
Print is dead? Long live print!
Jeff Heilman covers business, marketing, law and travel for a range of custom and trade publications. Also an award-winning photographer and copywriter, he ghostwrote Courageous Counsel, a book on the history of women general counsel in the Fortune 500, published September 2011.