Digital won’t kill the print publishing star

Though print circulation may be declining, specialist publications are often bucking the trend. What might this mean for multichannel B2B content marketing?

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Print circulation is on the decline. There is no doubt about it. The most recently published circulation figures from the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) show a decline across all newspapers. This is mirrored in the National Readership Survey results, which show steady decline in people reading daily and weekly papers.

The cause seems clear enough. New digital channels have made it easy for people to access news around the clock for free. Papers naturally struggle to match the pace of this new news cycle and haven’t convinced people that they’re worth paying for. It seems like the unstoppable march of technological change will trample print beneath its binary clad feet.

So, why do we continue to beat the drum for print as a powerful medium for content marketing? To put it plainly, all is not as simple as it seems.


A complex picture

For a start print’s decline hasn’t been universal. For example economia – published by us for the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW) – has actually increased its print circulation by 1.6% over the last year.

And it’s not the only magazine that has seen trend bucking growth. Unlike newspapers, many titles have actually seen their print circulation grow. With publications like the Spectator, New Statesman and The Economist UK as prime examples.

Obviously something else is going on here. We’re not witnessing the slow but inevitable demise of print as a medium. Video didn’t kill the radio star; 90% of adults listen to the radio every week. Nor, as many predicted, did home video kill cinemas; box-office numbers are more than double their 1980s low. And home taping didn’t kill live music; gigs and concerts contributed more than £1 billion to the UK economy in 2016.

While the world is changing rapidly, digital publishing isn’t simply replacing print. Research by Oxford University and Thomson Reuters found that bundling print with digital was actually a major driving force behind people choosing to pay for news subscriptions. And over the last four years there’s been a growing conversation around the idea of ‘digital detoxing’ – actively switching off from the internet.

Print media can thrive alongside digital and for marketers it actually still has a lot to offer.


The marketing opportunity

For a start, there is a lot of evidence that people actually prefer print in many contexts. In academia, research shows a continuing preference for print over e-texts amongst students. In fact, reading print has even been shown to improve people’s understanding of the text. And in the consumer market, a decline in e-book sales has been matched by a growing demand for hard copy books.

Even in the magazine and newspaper market people are still devoting a lot of time to print (PPT download). On the days they do pick up a newspaper or magazine, they spend up to an hour and twenty minutes reading them. And, during this time, the research suggests that they are likely to be highly focused on the publication in their hand.

Looking at these trends a pattern starts to emerge. People turn to print when they are looking to devote some time to a longer read. They pick up a book or magazine during their time-off, potentially as a break from the screen they’ve been staring at in the office all day.

It’s no wonder that publications like The New Statesmen and The Economist, who pride themselves on their deeper analysis, still enjoy robust circulations.

This may not be a captive audience, but print definitely still delivers a captivated audience. And, interestingly for marketers, the benefits of print extend beyond editorial and academic content.

In one study that used eye-tracking technology to measure engagement, print ads were shown to get and hold a reader’s attention better than digital counterparts. And a similar study, which also included brain imaging, found that print marketing was easier to understand, more persuasive and led to higher levels of brand recall.

In a recent conversation on the effectiveness of the brand’s marketing spend, Audi UK’s marketing director, Benjamin Braun, highlighted the effectiveness of print to our very own Richard Cree. He explained that Audi magazine continues to be one of the biggest drivers of requests for test drives.

Print is still a medium to be reckoned with.


Mixing your media

The example of the Financial Times highlights how readers’ appetites for the speed and accessibility of digital overlaps with their desire for the quality and depth associated with traditional print channels. The paper now boasts over 900,000 paying subscribers (and rising) when its total print and digital audiences are accounted for, nearly as high as the Sun or the Mail. People will always want content – it’s just a case of reaching them at the right time in the right format.

As an example, an audience might turn to print for relaxation or when they want long reads offering deep insight. But they’ll look to digital channels to provide the latest news or to quickly check a fact in a debate with their friends. And combining both channels delivers better results than treating them as completely separate channels (PPT download).

Print is a great medium for content marketers who are hoping to engage people on a meaty topic. It is more likely to hold people’s attention than a PDF and people are more likely to absorb the content. While it might have a greater upfront investment, returns in the form of engagement and reaction can’t be overlooked.

In B2B communications, print publications are a great way to make your audience feel exclusive and wow them with your creativity. Ones and zeros can only go so far when it comes to demonstrating the high value of your client relationship. It’s far easier to communicate it with the additional tactile dimension of a high quality printed report or magazine.

For advertisers it’s an opportunity to get more focused attention from your audience in publications that target niche groups. This is an opportunity to go into more detail and really build awareness of your product or service. Combined with brand building activities on other channels the effect of print ads can be powerful.


The future of print

Print was the first form of mass communication. It enabled people to communicate ideas faster and more broadly than they ever could before. It enables us to continue to enjoy the works of writers who died centuries ago. And it should remain an essential tool in the marketer’s toolbox. It just needs to be used properly.