Print Led vs Digital Based & Why It Matters

It’s getting exceedingly rare for a brand to exist solely in print. 

Digital-first and e-commerce brands are embracing print, knowing readers are wired for tangible experiences. Conversely, even Monocle, the brand that famously eschewed social media five years ago, has a strong digital presence and content-rich website.

In this classic “chicken or egg” discussion around your brand, does it matter which came first? According to Media Voices podcast host Peter Houston, it does indeed. Houston was recently interviewed by International Magazine Center, asked to answer one question: 

“… if you wanted to launch a successful new title in 2021, would you opt for a print magazine brand with a digital presence, or an online media brand that published a print magazine?”

 His answer is a fascinating discussion of the difference between the two.

“It’s easy to look at that question and think, ‘What’s the difference?’,” Houston said. “But I actually think there’s a huge difference between a print brand with a digital presence and a digital brand with a print presence.”

He gives the example of print-led titles The Week and Delayed Gratification and compares them to the digital-first Digiday, which launched their print channel in 2016. All three brands publish print magazines. All three brands have strong digital content platforms. The difference lies in how they view their audience and their primary relationship with the brand. 

To discern this for your own brand, Houston says we must look at the audience and ask these key questions:

  • Do they want their content fast (mostly digital) or slow (in print)?
  • Do they want a publication with visible edges or a boundless information resource?
  • Do they want curation or do they want coverage?
  • Do they want inspiration or a transaction?
  • Do they want something to keep on a shelf or are bookmarks and social shares enough? 

These questions quickly cut to the heart of the matter. It’s one thing to create a vision for your brand and answer these questions internally. It’s quite another to take a clear-eyed look at your audience to discover what they truly want. 

Yes, there will be crossover. Yes, brands exist in a multi-format environment. Yet choosing to lead with one identity is essential to creating an experience that will resonate closely with the needs of your readership. 

Houston’s answer, ultimately, leaves it up to the publisher. Print-first or digital-led, it all depends on your readers and what they need.