Surprise! Audience Engagement for a Younger Market Might Require Print

The prevailing conception of today’s young adults is that they interact with the world digitally, from smartphones to Skype to college textbooks on iPads.

Sure, ''everybody'' may have smartphones and tablets, but print is surprisingly resilient in the digital world.
Sure, ”everybody” may have smartphones and tablets, but print is surprisingly resilient in the digital world.

However, these young adults still appreciate the experience of reading printed matter. In fact, Penn State students started a magazine titled Impact last summer and chose to create both online and print versions. And yes, they raised funds through a Kickstarter campaign. Co-founder and co-editor Frances Starn told, ”We feel print is really important… We feel that having people be able to hold the magazine in their hand and see something will help us reach the widest audience possible.”

A Pew Research Center poll from last summer found that young adults were more likely to have read at least one print book over the past year compared to adults age 30 and older. Furthermore, young adults are just as likely as older ones to visit libraries and check out printed books. Keep in mind that most of today’s young adults grew up using printed textbooks in their primary and secondary education, so they still grew up with plenty of tactile print reading experience. But can print magazines survive in the digital age?

Boundaries of Print and Boundlessness of Digital

Magazines and the digital world each offer different and useful ways of consuming content. Magazines have boundaries, beginnings, middles, and ends. The online world is endless. Today’s business magazine model is far different from what it was in the print era. Audience engagement online can be managed for revenue development from things like ecommerce and custom job boards. Audience engagement in print promises a contained, curated, tangible product that in some cases (think of the June, 1985 issue of National Geographic, featuring a haunting young Afghan girl) becomes an emblem of its time.

Striking the Right Balance Between Print and Digital

Print offers outstanding image quality, tactile experience, and pages that ”load” instantly wherever the reader is. Digital allows audience engagement in real time that helps editors deliver better content. When a print magazine is aligned with the objectives of the business model it supports and serves the audience’s needs, success is more likely. Combining digital and print can benefit both mediums.

Audience Engagement for a Younger Market Might Require Print
Plus, coffee shop WiFi isn’t necessary for enjoyment of print magazines.

As just one example, in March 2012, the UK edition of Elle live-Tweeted a cover shoot featuring actress Kristen Stewart. Even though the magazine was taking a risk by exposing its cover star well before publication, print subscriptions doubled. Furthermore, the attention generated by the live Twitter stream made the cover shoot Twitter’s top trending article for that day. It was a win-win situation for Elle UK.

Types of Magazines More Likely to Succeed in Print

Today, some types of magazines succeed better in print than others. Here are some examples of print products that are holding up well in the digital age.

  • University alumni magazines – because metrics show that contributions are directly tied to publication of these magazines
  • Tightly focused enthusiast magazines – because print publications that celebrate specific interests (such as bicycling, hobbies, or collectibles) are often kept and cherished by subscribers
  • Aspirational magazines – because they remind readers who they aspire to be. These include iconic magazines like National Geographic and The New Yorker.
  • Magazines in emerging economies – because audience engagement in some emerging economies is extremely strong. For example, women’s fashion magazines in print are wildly popular in China today, as Chinese consumers hunger for information about topics like fashion and luxury.
  • Local magazines – because whether ”local” refers to geography or niche topics, audience engagement remains strong, and advertisers have a great way to reach target markets

Print magazines remain popular with planners and media buyers, and surprisingly, with young adults. Audience engagement is the key to a successful print product, and a portion of that engagement should take place online, through social media channels and feedback on the publication’s website. Print still starts conversation, provokes people, and inspires people, and readers don’t want to give up the tactile relationship they have with print products.

The business model for magazines-print or digital-has changed fundamentally in recent years. Audience engagement drives revenue development online, through sponsored content, online subscriptions, and custom job boards, while print products deepen reader attachment to the brand and still provide a powerful way for advertisers to reach consumers. As Carol Pais Hammond told, ”[Print] defies a click-through mentality,” and even the youngest adults appreciate that.

Photo Credits: adamr/, Ambro/

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