Print’s Resurgence … Blip or Renaissance?

While we’ve been rolling our eyes (hard) for a few years now whenever anyone utters the “print is dead” saw, we know we’ve been ahead of the curve understanding print’s future.

Now, more support that the digital bubble has burst, and print is back in favor.

“As recent as 2015, everyone was certain of two things: Digital media was the way of the future; print would die as a consequence,” writes Angela Yap in Unreserved Media. “The statistics to fit the narrative: falling print circulations, lower readerships, and Kindle could do no wrong. All aboard the digital bandwagon.

“Then somewhere along the line, the numbers began to diverge,” Yap writes. “Circulation for print publications were on the uptick, an indie movement stoked renewed interest in tactile magazines and people were falling out of love with their smartphones – dubbed ‘social media fatigue’ – and shutting out the Internet for longer periods of time. Companies like Vice Media and Buzzfeed, once valued at US$5.7 billion and US$1.7 billion respectively, collapsed to a fraction of what investors paid for.”

What does this mean for the magazine and print news industry? According to Yap, you have to dig a little deeper than the surface statistics to understand what’s truly going on here.

“Digital media – websites, social media, messaging apps, video platforms – have consistently clocked bigger audience numbers and growing ad spend,” she writes. “But for the ferocious print newspapers and magazines still standing, circulation data indicate that the free-fall may, at last, have been reined in. Although the UK’s Audit Circulation Bureau magazine reported a 5% drop in overall magazine print circulation in the last six months of 2017, what they didn’t highlight was that the 5% is a skewed aggregate clocked mainly by two segments – women’s weeklies and hobby magazines.”

On the other side of that trend are current affairs and specialist magazines, which have clocked on average a 1% in print sales. Leading the pack in the UK were men’s lifestyle mags, literary titles, and outdoor, travel and adventure magazines.

And while the industry put great stock into the idea of digital revenue initially, that hasn’t panned out.

“2018 World Press Trends, an annual survey of more than 70 countries, reports that print revenues still account for about 90% of publishers’ revenues. Even in digital-savvy Hong Kong, print is entrenched in the city’s fastpaced living,” Yap continues.

Helping to fuel the return toward print as a trusted source is the digital news disaster we know as “fake news.” In its wake, consumers are drawn toward brands and platforms they can trust – and print is a beacon in the digital wasteland.

To be sure, the industry has struggled to adapt and evolve. And it’s not done yet, by a long shot.

“Far from rolling over and playing dead, print – albeit an upgraded, funkier version of itself – looks poised to whip up a storm,” Yap concludes. “Hopefully, more than just a storm in a teacup.”