Three Years Later, the Answer to “Why Print” is Even More Compelling

A shout out to Dave Yoho from Dave Yoho associates for reminding us of this great article by Molly Sloat from the AMA. As I started to reread the piece (available on the AMA’s site here), I wondered if the case she made for print in 2015 was still valid.

The original article talked about the rough market conditions that existed in 2014, with low ad revenue and ongoing job cuts. Yet Sloat was adamant that print wasn’t dying, and for some very specific reasons.

So, what’s the situation three years later? Was the AMA right? Let’s take a look at what they saw as the “pros of print” back then and see how they are playing out today.

Print as a top-of-funnel medium

“Print is still a top-of-funnel medium,” said Andy Blau, senior vice president of finance and advertising at New York-based magazine publisher Time Inc at the time. “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 today, where do magazines really fit in the consumer funnel? For many advertisers, it becoming clear that print works not only at the top of the funnel but all throughout. And the industry is doing a better job of understanding – and selling – that idea.

“The greatest misconception is that we’re not seen as an active participant in the marketing funnel; that we don’t go beyond the role of brand positioning and awareness where, in fact, we drive brand consideration, purchase, and lead people in-store,” said Nick Smith, prestige and lifestyle director at News Corp, in this Magazine Networks post in a recent Mumbrella post.

Print inspires in ways that digital can’t

“People are in different mental spaces when they choose to engage with a printed magazine versus digital content,” said Britt Fero, EVP for ad agency Publicis. “Magazines and print in other forms serve as inspiration, and they also can be informational.”

Still true today? No doubt, and in some very specific ways that were barely on the radar back then. Firstly, print fulfills a critical role in this age of fake news and misinformation. News media brands – long criticized and now much maligned – have one ace in the hole that fake news can’t touch. And that ace is print, called unparalleled for keeping reader trust.

In addition to building trust, print offers us something that social media just can’t provide. Going far beyond the social media communion we get all day long, print offers an immersive, intense one-on-one relationship, with finite edges and careful curation.

Native advertising as the bright new revenue stream

Back in 2015, native advertising and sponsored content were seen by many as the next big wave of magazine brand revenue. Big media brands were creating in-house content shops specifically to sell content to ad partners, while other advertisers started to create their own content and simply use publishers as distribution systems.

At the time, some – self-included – warned it was a slippery slope.

“Demand for native content will outstrip the supply of creative talent. As a result, most native experiences will be unremarkable,” predicted Joe McCambley of The Word Factory. “Consumers will begin the inevitable process of learning to avoid native content the same way they’ve learned to avoid banners, email ads, radio and TV ads, and direct mail.”

The concern was valid. Native advertising grew at the same time that overall brand trust continued its slide. There was some evidence late in 2016 – given the consumer backlash – that fake news was in fact helping kill off native advertising. As we start seeing more examples of media brands having success with paywall strategies and subscription growth, we expect more brands to give up this practice and reclaim their editorial sanctity. As publishers make their real estate more valuable in these ways, the advertisers will come back to what they know works.

Where we are today

So Sloat was two for three – not bad, given how quickly and thoroughly media and marketing have been disrupted in the past few years. What we learned in the meantime is that print offers a tangible trust bump that you just can’t find in digital media. And that is not likely to change no matter when we look.