Here's why print isn't dead
Originally published in DigitalArts.
Think of your earliest memories. Surely some consist of sitting in a parent’s lap while he or she read you a book. You probably remember the book.
And when we talk about how new generations are being raised on pixels, we sometimes forget that they’re also being raised on books.
Data bears this out. No matter what has happened in the publishing world at large, the children’s book market has actually grown steadily in the digital age. The truth is, print isn’t dead, nor is it dying. It’s merely underutilised and overlooked.
A number of brands have also found it’s a great way to get noticed. Red Bull, one of the most digital of all brands, has its own print magazine that it sells. Airbnb stumbled out of the gate but is now going strong with a similar product.
On a personal note, my own agency publishes a print magazine. Count me originally among the skeptics, but the response has been overwhelmingly positive. Why should print be so successful in a world that has largely written it off?
After all, it’s broad stroke, untargeted, old school, and maybe even a little boring. And people aren’t reading magazines and newspapers much anymore.
Here’s why I think it works.
No one stands out in digital
We’ve become addicted to digital cool. When brands normally create experiences, they usually want to come up with an innovative interface into which they dump content. The problem with doing this is that if you come up with the coolest interface ever, it’s still only a little bit cooler than the other ones out there.
Digital is easy to abandon
Print not so much. For example, not every article in a magazine is interesting to everyone in its audience. Sometimes a publication does a deep dive on a particular topic that most people don’t care about. If that happens on a mobile site, chances are, the reader moves on. But that’s not how people use magazines. They’re used to turning the page for other content that interests them.
Print’s diversity overcomes targeting needs
With digital, the drive is to make everything relevant to the consumer. With print, you merely need a variety of content and a table of contents. That way people can browse for what they’re interested in—and this means you can target topics broadly, one of which will stick. Not everyone who reads Red Bulletin cares about wakeboarding. But if there is an article about it, some readers will love it.
Print occupies physical space
If you turn away from a website, you may never think about it again. After all, so many things are competing for your attention. However, if you put a printed piece down, it stays, reminding you of its presence. You could pick it up again. As a result, with each subsequent edition of our magazine, we’ve made the cover ever-more impossible to ignore.
It stands out in a modern office
Twenty years ago, most people worked in closed offices or cube farms. While we think of this as a cultural thing, it was also practical. We had to have shelves to hold dictionaries and company policy binders. We needed file cabinets to hide paper. Today, offices tend to be naked, with flat, drawer-less, Herman Miller tables topped with computers and monitors. In this landscape, print pieces become highly visible and social. People walking by desks say, “What is that?” As a result, they turn out to be very memorable and shareable objects that provide people with real value—exactly what we typically strive for in digital marketing.
In other words, the return to print is not a gimmick, but a strategic move that makes sense in a digital world. By going against the grain, you end up standing out in a positive way. With an arresting cover, a compelling variety of content, and great visuals, a quality print piece can go a lot farther than the best and most innovative digital experience.
Far from being dead in an age of artificial intelligence and automated processing, the humble printed piece often does exactly what those new technologies aim for, with far less cost and effort.
It’s just a matter of remembering that its takes time, craft, and commitment to create something that resonates with readers in terms of content and design.