Is Your Publication Coffee Table Worthy?

Social signaling – we all do it to some extent. Some of us post on Facebook about their last vacation. Others sport the latest shoe style or sneaker brand. Others wear their social signal on their wrist, casually flashing their Apple Watch.

It’s human nature, and it can help us tell the story of who we are without saying a word.

For Erin Peterson of Capstone Communications, this human tendency to use social signals can be leveraged by savvy publishers. Peterson’s agency works with university publications and alumni magazines, and she sees a surprising hidden value in those print titles.

“As humans, we’re constantly sending subtle social signals about who we are,” Peterson writes.

“And your print alumni magazine that folks set out on their coffee table before friends or neighbors come over helps your alums send a social signal about their intelligence and skill,” she continues. “Depending on your institution, your magazine might also send signals about their religious or political leanings, too.”

Peterson gives the example of The Economist, which has an impressive one million print subscribers.

“Yes, the highbrow magazine consistently provides readers outstanding reporting and insight in its pages,” she writes. “But the magazine’s print popularity — particularly among the millennial subset, which makes up a huge proportion of its subscriber base — is also about something more subtle.”

That something is what it signifies about the reader, explained Tom Standage, an editor with The Economist.

“We assume younger people want [the print] The Economist as a social signifier,” Standage said. “You can’t show others you’re reading it with the digital edition. You can’t leave your iPad lying around to show how smart you are.”

Your print publication sends its own signals … and it does so either intentionally or unintentionally. The choice of image, paper stock, colors, overall quality; they all say something about the person displaying it. So it makes sense to look at this strategically to be sure your publication is signaling with intention, taking advantage of that velvet rope appeal of quality print.

“Make. That. Cover. Beautiful.”  That’s Peterson’s first piece of advice, saying the cover is the billboard of your magazine. You want to capture attention “at least from the mailbox to the recycling bin,” ideally with a good long stay on the coffee table in between.

People value print for a number of reasons, including the social signal it sends. Be aware of this as you design and create publications that earn a spot of honor.