GOOD Magazine and the Print Pub Renaissance

Start the presses everyone: Print is back. Well, sort of. While big-name newspapers and print magazines may still be dying a slow death, niche print publications are having something of a renaissance.

The latest, most ambitious example of the print resurgence comes in the form of GOOD Worldwide’s relaunch of the quarterly GOOD Magazine, which was nixed back in 2013 as part of an effort to restructure the popular publication as a social media platform.

While recent print efforts seem to be focused on small, visually-oriented publications covering beats like fashion and design, GOOD boasts a large global audience. Its tagline says as much—”A magazine for the global citizen”—and the social engagement bears that out as well.

The magazine has a diverse editorial strategy that spans all sorts of topics and formats. Take, for example, the headlines of a few recent featured pieces: “Walking the Maze: A Unified Theory of Pope Francis,” “Turbulent Calm: Dispatches from the War on Distraction,” and “False Utopias, Fallen Empires, and Backyard Chicken Coops: An interview with the stars of ‘Portlandia.'”

Suffice it to say, the diverse editorial focus doesn’t quite fit into the general mold of a niche publication that wants to do print. In fact, GOOD Magazine, in many ways, may actually be able to provide larger publishers with a way to leverage print’s distinct advantages.

GOOD co-founder Casey Caplowe said that he and other longtime employees have always had a soft spot for the tactile, distraction-free experience of print; the publication was launched as a print magazine, with subscriptions that went to charity, back in 2006. When the company decided to pivot back to editorial last year after the social media platform failed to gain traction, the print magazine was almost immediately revived.

“[The magazine] felt really important to us, just as part of who we are as a company and as part of the brand that we have and want to be,” Caplowe said. “The company rallied around that pretty quickly, and we decided that this isn’t something we want to lose.”

So far, the move back to editorial has paid huge dividends for GOOD. In February, for example, the company’s website traffic rose from around four million visits to six million, according to SimilarWeb. A lot of that increase has to do with how the Internet has changed: smart longform content, the kind GOOD is now pushing both in print and online, is now being rewarded by search engines and social media algorithms.

“The power of shareable media is even a bigger force these days than SEO for us,” Caplowe added. “People love sharing stories and ideas that make them feel a certain way and learn something.”

The relaunch of GOOD Magazine plays into this idea of high-quality storytelling full of glossy photography, and contains a variety of article formats, from longform to photo essays. (And lots of them, at 132 pages.)

“We really made a deliberate move to make it more book-like, a publication people would really want to hold on to and keep around,” Caplowe said. “We’re aiming for something that’s a little bit more timeless. It’s not about covering the latest trends or breaking story—it’s about taking people on journeys.”

Caplowe loves print—that much is obvious—but he’s also quick to note that the reissuing of the print mag wasn’t done merely out of nostalgia.

“I think that magazines are just a really wonderful brand and community building product that serves a wonderful sort of marketing function, as well as a revenue producing one,” Caplowe says. “It’s rare that there are those sort of things out there in this day and age.”

For GOOD and Caplowe, the print magazine serves a number of critical purposes for a media company in today’s chaotic climate: It builds a dedicated owned audience through subscriptions; serves as a high-quality marketing product; and brings in revenue through subscriptions, single copy sales, and a limited amount of advertising.

The base readership is relatively small—125,000—but the subscription and single issue rates are premium: A year-long subscription in the U.S. and Canada costs $40, while a single copy will run you $14. Overall, GOOD hopes to build the subscribers and newsstand issues first, rather than forcing growth and advertising.

While Caplowe believes this business model is sustainable, he also noted that the company sees the print magazine as more than just a revenue product: it’s also an excellent marketing tool.

“I think the value of it in being this physical manifestation of the GOOD brand and being able to put that in newsstands and into people’s hands is a really awesome marketing thing,” Caplowe said. “That is certainly part of why we decided to get back into the level that we are.”

GOOD isn’t alone in seeing the marketing potential in print. Many brands—including Airbnb, Net-a-Porter, and Uber—have recently launched print magazines, while established digital media companies such as Pitchfork have launched experimental print efforts of their own.

In our digitally dominated age, a high-quality print product can differentiate a media brand from their competitors. Print magazines are a unique, immersive experience; their virtues haven’t gone away just because online versions have arrived. In fact, Caplowe believes that, like podcasts and radio, print magazines will always have a place in media.

“When people establish great forms of media they will persist,” Caplowe said. “They may change, the economic models for sure will change. But I think creative people who both love to make them and love to consume them are always going to be out there.”

Image by Hein Nouwens

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