Call them the mediums that refused to die. Vinyl records, paper books and glossy magazines are showing signs of growth. Why? How?
“It’s probably safe to assume that people will always consume content in some kind of physical shell – not just because we instinctively attach more value to physical goods than to digital ones, but because there’ll always be demand for independence from the huge corporations that push digital content on us,” writes Leonid Bershidsky in Bloomberg Opinion.
Bershidsky cites some data to support his claims:
- Vinyl album sales grew 12.9% in dollar terms to $224 million and 6% in unit terms to 8.6 million in the first half of 2019, compared with the first six months of 2018;
- In 2018, hardcover book sales in the U.S. increased by 6.9%, paperback sales went up 1.1% and eBook sales dropped 3.6%; and
- The number of print magazine titles published in the U.S. rose to 7,218 from 7,176, according to the Association of Magazine Media. That’s more magazines than the U.S. had in 2009.
What’s going on here?
The Corporate vs. the Indie Culture
To begin with, Bershidsky cites the psychological fact that we value the physical more than its digital counterparts. Yet there might even be more to it than that.
“I think Michael Palm from University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill put a finger on those factors in a paper published earlier this year,” Bershidsky writes. “He suggested that physical vs. digital, or new vs. old, could be a less relevant differentiation point than corporate culture vs. independent culture.”
“To combat the corporate incursion into vinyl markets, some independent labels are vertically integrating and beginning to manufacture as well as distribute and sell their own records,” Palm wrote. “The stakes of vinyl’s future involve the viability of an independent supply chain for popular music, and these stakes are raised in a media landscape dominated by online access to content controlled by corporate gatekeepers.”
This same thinking can be applied to the growing popularity of indie bookstores and magazines.
“The increase in the number of print magazines also isn’t occurring thanks to major launches by big industrial publishers,” Bershidsky continues. “There’s space in this industry for niche publications that want intimate contact with readers, not a tiny share of the attention squandered on the internet. The Association of Magazine Media claims the average time to read an issue of a magazine published in the U.S. is almost 50 minutes. A magazine is the same kind of alternative to Instagram or Twitter as a vinyl record is to Spotify or Apple Music.”
If deep engagement to a passionate fan base is what your brand needs to thrive, it’s a very good time to be in traditional media. Too many still believe they can rely on digital alone to build a solid and growing brand. Maybe this was true 20 years ago when digital was all cool and “having a website” was looked at as something of an anomaly. But in the real world, here and now, digitally-native brands are launching print content to meet audience demand.
In this age of the temporary, print – like vinyl – has a lasting quality that transcends the news feed. And we need more of that in our lives.