Print is the New Vinyl? An Unlikely Audience Development Strategy for Newspaper Publishers

Playing records is a hands-on experience; so is reading a newspaper.
Playing records is a hands-on experience; so is reading a newspaper.

Think a digital format is the way to grab and hold the attention of a younger, tech-savvy audience? Maybe not. The same crowd who loves vintage styles and pores over racks of vinyl records might just yearn for the tactile experience of reading a newspaper the old-fashioned way.

This doesn’t mean that you need to scrap your digital strategy. In fact, it opens up new possibilities that you might have considered dead. Tech junkies will still likely go to mobile devices for their everyday news fix, but print gives them something more.

Technology Has to Mean Something

New technology can sometimes render the old ways obsolete. But that’s not always what happens. Sure, you’re not likely to run out and sort through boxes of Betamax or audio cassette tapes any time soon, but what about those vinyl records? Record shops are enjoying the attention of a younger, hip, niche crowd. Interestingly, so might newspaper stands.

According to Michael Skapinker for Financial Times, ASCl record sales are predicted to double in the UK in 2014, topping 700,000 copies. The trend is worldwide, with record sales at an all-time high in 2012, higher than at any time since the late 1990s.

This is happening in a world where music is available a la carte on almost any digital device, including smartphones, for much less than the cost of a record.

But What Does Vinyl Have to Do with Newspapers?

Reading a newspaper takes time to slow down and experience it.
Reading a newspaper takes time to slow down and experience it.

More often than not, a tech advance that introduces a major change doesn’t oust an old standard just by virtue of the fact that it’s new. There has to be something in it for the user. Digital offered convenience, better clarity, and a cheaper price point, and users responded enthusiastically; but there’s nothing wrong with vinyl. And that might be the key.

Lovers of vinyl think there’s something to be said for the sound of a record, even if slightly imperfect compared to digital, which explains why record collections are still prized, even by a generation who never had to buy one to hear the latest music. There’s also nothing wrong with the news as it’s presented on the paper page. It’s a different experience, but digital didn’t make reading it any better. For some, digital is more challenging to read.

It’s true that a digital recording might sound more perfect than the music produced by a turntable and altar to stereo. It’s also true that a digital page won’t tear or fade out like a hard copy. But that doesn’t mean digital repaired a flaw, it just offered an improvement in one or two areas. When it comes down to it, you can’t destroy an album by spilling your drink, and a newspaper won’t shatter and cost hundreds to replace, unlike an e-reader, if you drop it on the sidewalk.

It’s All About the Experience

What’s in it for the user is the overall experience. Putting a record on a turntable, and turning the pages of a newspaper — they both offer a different experience than tapping a screen. You can sit in your living room, pull a record from it’s sleeve, and admire the artwork while you listen to music as it was heard at the time when it was created. You can also do this while turning the pages of a newspaper spread out on the floor.

The bigger experience, or sense of occasion, as Skapinker calls it, might mean there’s room for both — digital and print — in your newspaper’s future. Reading a newspaper over coffee takes time and space, neither of which your audience may have on a daily basis.

But when there is time, even a younger generation can appreciate the the joys of experiencing media sans digital. It might seem like a step back to a different era, but not all vintage ideas are bad ones. And tech advances aren’t always better, just different.

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