Adding Digital When Print Still Pays the Bills

For Leif Jonasson, editor-in-chief for four PC titles at Bonnier Publications, print is not only profitable, “it’s extremely profitable to us!”

“We still publish mainly magazines,” said Jonasson in an interview with Jamie Gavin at FIPP. “There are some apps and digital products but 90 per cent of our business is still print.”

The company is, naturally, making some investments into the digital space, to accommodate the habits of their multi-platform readership. But they take a careful look at what they are digitizing and why. They have the distinct advantage of being able to add in their digital component from a position of strong print revenue, rather than out of necessity.  This, Jonasson believes, makes a world of difference.

“It’s interesting that for so many publishers the website is at the centre, but for us it is more of a supplement,” he continues. “What we are beginning to establish now is that new news about hardware, computers, or tablets, is published to the website as soon as it is announced. But the magazine will provide a lengthier and ultimately more informative piece on that story, which is important particularly in areas of specialist interest content.

“We want to make sure that our readers get the impression that what they are paying for now is not only a magazine but a package: high quality print content, but also a lot of digital add-ons too.”

So how are they making money from digital? By truly understanding their audience and the information they need. For instance, their comment sections and forums are highly popular, with readers engaging with Bonnier staff and each other. Subscribers to the magazine can post their questions and get help; non-subscribers can see the questions and answers, but can’t post their own questions. This added feature helps sell subscriptions, with benefits that extend beyond the print magazine itself.

For publishers like Bonnier, print continues to be the primary reason for their existing. And while it’s true that digital advertising has put a big dent into print ad revenue in the magazine sector, many in the ad industry are helping their clients understand the unique benefits of print.

“Print is interesting because it actually provokes people to read it,” said Britt Fero of ad agency Publicis in an interview with Molly Soat with the American Marketing Association. “Just buying it or getting it in the mail provokes the reader to engage in a way that digital doesn’t. If you have time to read a magazine, then you’re going to really engage with the ads in there. Print ads should inspire you to look at them even longer.”

“With print, I have to be interested enough in the totality of the content of a magazine to subscribe to it,” Fero continued. “Online, you can find me alone, looking at me solely through my demographic, but when I’m looking at a magazine, that matters much less. The way people consume print, it just doesn’t work the same way as digital.”

Should you add digital? For most publishers, the answer is probably yes. Should you go all in? That answer truly depends on how and why your readers engage with your content. Meanwhile, consider your advertisers and sponsors, and the true value they derive from your print publications.

“Print is still a top-of-funnel medium,” explained Andy Blau, senior vice president of finance and advertising at Time Inc., to Soat  “It’s really for establishing brand worthiness in the marketplace, for establishing the value of the brand, for communicating very broadly, with broad reach, to the right target audience. It’s really pure brand advertising. And digital tries to do some of that, but it’s still much more of a direct response.”