Why Some Publishers are Going Back to Print

If you’re convinced that digital publishing is the future of trade publications, then you might be surprised at how many publishers seem to be looking to the past. An increasing number of online publications have made a point of either maintaining their print editions or have changed their focus to re-emphasize the printed page. Why are they returning to their analog roots — and in what ways might you want to re-evaluate the relationship between these two methods of delivery for your own publication?

Cases in Point

Some publications gave their hard copy products a second chance after experiencing less than satisfactory results from the shift to an all-digital format. One such magazine, GOOD, decided that it had lost its way after transitioning to an online, social network “community” model, giving ground on original content in the process. The publication has since performed an about-face by revamping its website to feature its native media — and by returning to print. The new GOOD is centered around a hefty, 132-page quarterly publication. Newsweek, the venerable weekly magazine that shut down its presses in 2012 to try an online-only platform, announced in 2013 that it was going back to its tried-and-true print edition after its Web incarnation failed to provide an upswing in its fortunes.

Other publications that originated online are now launching print editions. These include Pando Quarterly, a hard copy version of the technology blog that will include print exclusives in addition to its Web articles, and Pitchfork, a music review quarterly hoping its magazine issues will be viewed as collectibles by discerning music (and music journalism) lovers.

What’s So Special About Print?

Why has print become the hot new thing, either as a complement to an online publication or as a replacement for it? There are good reasons for maintaining a high-quality print presence:

Emphasis on editorial – As GOOD discovered, a digital publication can quickly morph into a whole bunch of things above and beyond the publication’s core content, and this split focus can take away from the perceived value of the written word. Print editions are free to emphasize powerful, thoughtful, original, in-depth content that wins new readers and retains old ones.

Premium product – Even the most brilliantly designed online publication is just an arrangement of pixels on a screen — a disembodied experience. By contrast, a thick magazine printed on heavy paper has a physical presence that lends both a tactile experience and a sense of genuine gravitas to the content within. Today’s publishers are playing to that specialness by printing small runs with high page counts and relatively high subscription/issue prices.

Advertising impact – Readers of online publications tend to have their attention spans batted around by ads, links, and other distractions, while the print environment offers a deeper, more focused experience. Advertisers covet the opportunity to make a stronger impression in such an environment — and they’ll pay accordingly.

Ultimately, many trade publications can benefit from a combination of digital and hard copy formats. For instance, you can position a print edition as a premium niche product with its own share of exclusive content, making it a natural complement to a wider-ranging but more easily-digested digital edition. Each product can promote the other — while both promote your brand.

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