Buzzfeed just took a wild right into the world of print media, according to John McCarthy in The Drum.
“BuzzFeed has made a bold and brief move into print with the launch of a [newspaper] magazine that will be distributed in New York,” wrote John McCarthy in The Drum. “The digital publisher has printed the limited line of the issues which will be freely distributed by news vendors and staff in New York at Union Square, Penn Station and Herald Square today (6 March).”
“BuzzFeed, a company that was born on the internet and social media, is testing a new technology called print and unveiling a one-time, special edition BuzzFeed Newspaper, showcasing the latest news stories and favorite BuzzFeed content in an easy to consume mobile format,” the company joked in a statement. “Fans all across New York will be able to check out the must-read stories without ever needing WiFi.”
Things weren’t so funny for the brand earlier this year, when they made news for being part of the “media landslide” of job losses. According to the Wall Street Journal, those cuts were part of a restructuring aimed at moving the publisher toward profitability, as the digital ad environment becomes a tougher place to make a living.
Late last year, Buzzfeed chief Jonah Peretti spoke about a potential merger with five major media companies in an effort to break the Google/Facebook ad duopoly. As McCarthy wrote at the time, Peretti likened “digital media companies to polar bears stranded on a melting iceberg.”
“He says that mergers reduce the number of polar bears jostling on the iceberg, but they fail to address why the habitat is melting,” McCarthy continued.
Now, this news about print … perhaps a bid to get one foot on a firmer platform than a melting iceberg? While Buzzfeed characterized the move as a “stunt” by the CMO and new editor, it’s a fascinating development in what was until this month a digital-only publisher.
“As the print and digital worlds continue to blur, with brands creating their own publications and publishers throwing events, starting podcasts, launching product lines and doing whatever it takes to stand out from the crowd, BuzzFeed has now created its own newspaper—for one day only,” wrote Sara Jerde in AdWeek last week. She notes that 200,000 copies of the 12-page paper were distributed last week to, according to CEO Ben Kaufman, “put some joy in the physical world.”
Kaufman notes they’ve included printed coupon codes for other digital-first brands, to track the performance of the paper.
“We are measuring it in pretty great detail,” he added. Unless BuzzFeed sees an “overwhelming” response to bring back the paper, [last week’s] issue will be a one-off publication, Jerde explained.
Media reaction was swift. The Boston Globe echoed the “stunt” wording, while Breitbart called it a “vanity newspaper.”
“The company is not, apparently, looking to expand its advertising revenue through print — a model that has worked well for DC’s Politico,” wrote Breitbart’s John Nolte. “But according to a press release sent out Tuesday night, this is a ‘one-off’ event — paying money merely to goof on the site’s love of gifs and niche Internet subcultures using a medium which many legacy publications are finding too costly to sustain.”
“Print is dead. Long live … print?” wrote Jeva Lange in The Week. Her coverage of the news included some Twitter angst from laid-off staffers about the dissonance of spending money on a prank when people’s livelihoods are stake.
I get it; people lost their jobs and that’s awful no matter what the reason. Yet I find it ironic the situation was reversed for so many in print publishing not long ago. As we all know, job losses were fast and furious then as publishers retooled their staff to move resources toward the digital side. It seems inevitable to see the pendulum swinging back to a saner medium.
Was it a one-off? Clearly, BuzzFeed’s left the door open. What this hammers home is how important it is to consider all your channels when making decisions in the world of publishing. And how important it is to be ready for change … on a moment’s notice … no matter what side of the print/digital debate you fall toward.