5 Reasons Print Is Making a Comeback

Everyone loves a comeback story, and this year’s underdog media tale may star an unlikely protagonist: print magazines.

According to Folio, we’re on pace for almost twice as many magazine launches in 2014 as 2013; 45 magazines launched in Q1 2014, compared to just 23 the previous year. Indie publishers like Monocle, Port, and The Gentlewoman (amongst many others) are blazing trails with financial models that rely less on advertisers and more on subscription revenues. Newsweek returned to print with a big launch at SXSW. And big-time digital publishers like Pando (Pando Quarterly), Pitchfork (The Pitchfork Review) and POLITICO are trying out print for the first time, discovering that it helps them stands out in an increasingly saturated digital landscape.

“I think one of the keys we’ve had in terms of success was having a print product,” POLITICO CRO Roy Schwartz told Folio. “In DC, we have a magazine and a newspaper, and there’s nothing like that in the New York market.”

Similarly, Business of Fashion recently decided to publish its own print magazine. In an interview with The New York Times, Editor-in-Chief Imran Amed said that despite being a digital-first company, Business of Fashion chose print because it appeared to be a great medium to seize the moment and get the industry’s attention.

Brands are discovering this is true, as well, with companies like Net-a-Porter launching their own high-profile publications. According to a 2013 Custom Content Council study, brands still invest in print magazines due to their effective customer education, retention, and brand loyalty. Studies also show that print magazine readers recall specific advertisements better than digital ones.

So how is this new wave of publishers making print work so well? Here are a few ways they’re innovating for the modern age.

1) Publishers are focusing their circulation on key influencers and loyal subscribers

As I wrote for Hypebeast, the print magazines succeeding right now don’t rely on an enormous circulation; in fact, they focus on satisfying smaller numbers of subscribers and charge premium prices. POLITICO is adopting this strategy: Its monthly Capital New York magazine doesn’t have a large number of subscribers—at least relative to traditional circulation numbers. Instead, this monthly magazine is distributed to 8,000 specifically selected political influencers in New York City and Albany.

The strategy of low circulation works out for brand publishers. In an interview with the Guardian, Chango VP of Marketing Ben Plomion said that they landed a top-five retailer in the U.S. because of The Programmatic Mind, Chango’s print magazine. And that wasn’t the only success. Though the first issue of The Programmatic Mind was only shipped to only 1,000 clients, influencers, and prospects, it brought in some of the company’s biggest deals, said Bryan Bartlett, The Programmatic Mind‘s editor-in-chief.

2) Print is the vinyl of publishing

As Discovery Channel Magazine Editor Luke Clark said at WITnext, “Print is like what vinyl is to music. It’s nostalgic and it’s coming back.”

Similar to many people’s fondness for their first cars or their old high school, the physical objects of print magazines elicit memories of earlier eras of our lives, when most of our information was consumed through paper and found using dewey decimal systems. (It’s worth noting that this association will likely grow weaker with the new generations.)

Chango’s Bryan Bartlett explained that his team had suspected that—in spite of all the digital marketing they’re writing about—the nostalgia of print could seize the attention of their audience. As the issues of The Programmatic Mind rolled out, Bartlett realized he was right: Print magazines grab digital marketers’ attention. At the time of writing, The Programmatic Mind has become a crucial tool for Chango’s sales team, grown significantly in circulation, and been nominated as a finalist for a Digiday Content Marketing Award.

(Editor’s note: Contently’s print magazine, Contently Quarterly, utilizes a very similar strategy.)

3) Print is part of a larger publishing ecosystem

Although print has its value and specific uses, it’s best used as part of a larger effort in the marketing ecosystem. Sometimes, this can mean literally combining it with another media format—CBS commissioned a musician to compose a score for an issue of its print magazine, Watch.

Print magazines also supplement their digital counterparts, and vice versa. After publishing an issue of their quarterly print, Chango republishes content online during the following few months. There’s a similar symbiotic relationship between the digital and print versions of POLITICO, Pando, and Pitchfork; their print editions sell for premium prices and largely appeal to the publication’s most loyal readers—which is why it appeals to advertisers.

4) You can still track ROI

Although tracking subscribers could be a good way to measure the success of a publication, this isn’t always the best metric for branded content. As a company, Chango is a master at re-targeting and tracking conversion paths online, but offline, their system is far more rudimentary. Still, it works.

“Anytime a salesperson gets a call, and it’s clear that the prospect came from the magazine, they’re going to go into Salesforce and note that down,” Bartlett said. “It’s up to our sales team attributing leads and calls to the magazine.”

Bartlett also says that the sales team notes comments—positive or negative—in the system so that he can get feedback and ideas for the magazine. While he admits it’s not the perfect system, it still appears to be a systematic way of measuring results for now.

5) There’s still room for circulation growth

While the first print issue of The Programmatic Mind was shipped out to just 1,000 people, the second one doubled to around 2,000. At the launch of the third one, the subscriber base had doubled again to 4,000.

To continue its impressive growth, Chango will be partnering up with Adweek in the U.S, and distributed to a targeted list of agencies and marketers. In the U.K., The Programmatic Mind will be distributed along with Contagious magazine. These strategic partnerships allow for Chango to reach a circulation of 16,000.

Net-a-Porter’s brand-publishing play, Porter, started out with a 400,000 print run, but with circulation in over 60 countries, they hope to see that number grow quickly.

There’s also an added bonus for brand publishers: instead of carrying around standard content such as whitepapers or reports, Chango’s sales team can bring in beautiful magazines for prospects and clients. Similarly, during conferences, Chango’s booth has a newsstand stocked with stacks of the most recent print issue of The Programmatic Mind.

It sure beats a stack of business cards.

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