Why Print Lingers –

Why your content development strategy MUST still include print.

What was it that they said when the "information super-highway" was first launched? Oh yeah. Print is dead. And it seemed like it almost died. But not quite.

A sea change occurred. People who use computers found that they longed for the smell of newsprint, the portability of a slick magazine to tuck under their arm. More important, they've rediscovered the simplicity of popping open a magazine for a pleasant read. Bottomline - we're clinging to our print! And this should have a profound impact on all content development plans.

Read on.

Right around 2010, an amazing thing happened. According to Publishers Information Bureau (PIB). Both total magazine pages and rate-card-reported revenue posted gains.

Magazine audiences grew — and young adults were identified as the heavy readers. The number of young readers (18+) grew more than 4% over the previous five years just as older audiences (50 and up) grew by almost 11% in the same period. And they're still growing!

As of this year, 91% of adults overall and 94% of adults under age 35 now read magazines.

I grok these stats.

I read untold thousands of words per day - all from my various monitors and digital displays. My eyes simply cannot keep up with the strain. I need a break from the glare and the lumens. There’s the computer at work, the computer at home, the flat panel TV, the cell phone, cameras, iPods, e-Readers, camcorders. Ouch.

At various times and for various reasons, more than one doctor has recommended that I take a break from my electronic world. One time, I had a pretty bad time with carpal tunnel, so I invested in a left-handed trackball, curved keyboards, special chairs, and other special stuff. The arms and hands feel a bit better, but you can't hide your eyes from the glare.

Only two years ago, 91 North American magazines closed their doors. That was up from 51 in 2013. Those that didn't close decreased issue frequency by 25% or more. Newspapers have suffered quite a bit with total ad revenue in 2013 dropping 49% from the previous decade (Pew Research), and according to various news sources, Tribune Co. has cut their payroll by 6% in 2013, with more cuts coming.

Print fought back by raising subscription prices to offset at least some of the losses in dropping ad revenues. The smart ones invested heavily in digital delivery platforms to help enrich both advertisers and subscriber access to content. Magazines, at least, have seen a return to profitability. The road is long and narrow for newspapers still groping for theirs.

Despite the gloom, print hangs on. One element of surprise: the fact that despite the drop in circulations, many publications are enjoying dedicated readership has engaged in the medium and interested in the content (a big positive for advertisers). Print remains "interesting" because people are provoked into picking it up and looking at it. People buy print because they're invested in the information portrayed by the cover, the headlines, and the photos. Digital just doesn’t do that. In the time it takes to read one print magazine article, readers have skimmed two or three in digital platforms, distracted by email, popups, and popunders. 

Various surveys have been conducted on the reasons that print persists in a digital world. In one survey, respondents overwhelmingly cited the tangible experience of print as a positive experience. According to various studies cited by AdWeek, PR News, BusinessWeek and other publications, the greater majority of adults prefer to read print and paper communications rather than reading off of a screen. The last bit gives perspective to the PIB data - apparently, younger adults are the power readers.

Another powerup for print are the personalities of longer articles, uninterrupted by animated ads and other distractions. In digital media, publishers have to fill every available space with ads - just to break even. In print, the full page ad at the start of the feature article and the fractional ads at the end are about all you see. And NO animation! Print also brings you the long feature story; 5,000 words or more of well-done narratives, compelling storytelling, and excellent authorship. By the end of the article, you know a great deal about the writer and the topic.

I believe that I'm just the tip of the berg here. Lots of readers crave excellent authorship in a wholly non-interactive media - easy to read with no distractions. Lots of readers also miss discovering wonderful editorial tidbits by accident while thumbing through the pages of their favorite magazine. There's time for browsing and sifting through the online guano. Yes, you find the gem or two; and most of the time we find things that would have never found its way into a magazine anyhow. But the effort takes a toll on me physically.

Which leads me to content development. If print still works, what does this say about your content development strategy? Have you allowed for print? Do you have any offerings that go beyond PDF documents? Have you developed collateral brochures? Pamphlets? A book? Print has portability. I have a laptop, and two tablets - but what's the point? What about the ultimate portability of human-to-print interfacing with good old fashioned ink? Do you really take your laptop everywhere?

Print lingers because it still meets the basic marketing paradigm: it serves a useful purpose. I suppose there will come a day when 100 perfect bound pages of 80-pound gloss stock will be as rare as a rotary phone, but it hasn't happened yet. And if the stats are correct - it'll be quite a while yet before we will truly say, "print is dead."

About: Ray Wyman, Jr is a content creator, communications professional, and author with more than 30 years of experience. Visit LinkedIN or Raywyman.com for more information.

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