Print media in 2020: Is it making a comeback?

Print media in 2020: Is it making a comeback?

Digital has been eating up print media like Pac-Man for more than two decades now and we’re constantly being told that print is dead. But the popularity of direct mail and successes of certain publications, suggest print is very much alive and well.

So, which is it?

It’s hard to make a case for a trail-blazing print media comeback when you look at the immediate warning signs, at least when it comes to newspapers and magazines – we’ll get to direct mail a little later.

The already modestly-sized magazine rack in my Sainsbury’s Local has just been halved (again) and the Telegraph are offering digital subscribers a Fitbit in a bid to boost their flagging readership.

Respectable news sites now flood us with adverts, quiz requests, and other spam, with many even blocking articles if we have ad-blocker switched on. We may grumble at such tactics, but you can’t blame them for attempting to claw some revenue back.

Is print just becoming more refined?

The Ofcom News Consumption Report for 2019 revealed that UK national newspaper print circulation dropped 52.5% between 2010 and 2018. Newspapers and journalists understand digital is king and, much like TV, print is no longer the cornerstone of marketing it once was.

In truth, you could argue print media is simply maturing. Becoming more refined, if you will.

And don’t most things slow down a little the more they mature? Take Fleetwood Mac or The Rolling Stones, for example. We don’t see as much of them as we used to, but when we do, it makes them even more appealing.

But unlike an ageing rock band, print media can’t survive on nostalgia alone and must make more of an effort to evolve to remain relevant. A recent example of this is The Face magazine, a British icon of the 80s and 90s that could shift 70,000 copies per issue at its peak, which bounced back confidently after a 15-year hiatus in 2019.

Luxury publications

Not available in shops, and published seasonally, The Face has tweaked its offering, making each issue more collectible, with four different covers and an inflated cover price.

Gone are the gaunt models smoking cigarettes that once filled its pages, replaced instead with the likes of Harry Styles, Tyler the Creator, and Dua Lipa, with content aimed more towards generation ‘woke’.

Only time will tell whether this approach is sustainable in the long term, but it does appear there is still a market out there for luxury publications that appeal to collectors. There’s something quite appealing about a beautifully-designed magazine that digital cannot replicate.

The fact that anyone can now publish content online, regardless of talent or credibility, now means that we have to surf through a sea of click-bait and mediocrity to get to the good stuff, which isn’t usually the case when picking up a good book or magazine.

The Holy Grail of PR

In some PR circles, print has almost become like the Holy Grail. Getting people to talk about your client online is one thing but getting them published in print is much trickier today.

Angela Riches, Founder of H&N Magazine, said:

“We print a bi-monthly lifestyle magazine that relies heavily on advertising; however, much of the publication is taken up with editorial features and PRs are always fighting to get their clients in print. Digital may rule the world, but people do still like to have a tangible product and enjoy switching off from the outside world by picking up physical media, be it a book or glossy magazine.”

More creative

One segment of the digital media market that’s been quietly evolving is direct mail marketing.

While direct mail may not have the obvious sex appeal of The Face, it’s still popular and probably will be for as long as we keep on receiving mail in the post.

And, just like the national newspapers and glossy magazines, door drop mail has evolved, becoming smarter and more creative.

When KitKat Chunky wanted to stand out from the door drop crowd, they spoofed the classic Royal Mail notification card that posties leave behind when they can’t deliver a package. The mailing invited recipients to drop into their local newsagent to collect their ‘package’ – a free KitKit Chunky – which was snapped up by an impressive 87% of recipients.

Where markets such as retail appear to be gradually losing their battle against digital, direct marketing appears to be fighting fit. Recent figures revealed that marketing emails only had a 14.79% open rate, which contrasts with the 80-90% of consumers that will open direct mail.

Sensory nature

Ben Briggs, Media Director at Edit, echoed the effectiveness of creative direct mail campaigns when discussing how print marketing will evolve during 2020 and beyond:

“Brands are also finding new ways to make the most of print’s sensory nature – Fiat, JetBlue, Volkswagen and Fanta have all created edible prints ads – but it’s print’s physical attributes that continue to create compelling experiences.

Clients and agencies that understand and embrace new technology can also superpower tried and tested channels, as we found out when we partnered with Spark 44 to create a Direct Mail Button pack for potential Land Rover Evoque owners.

After carefully targeting our audience, we delivered them a luxury direct mail pack with the new Evoque starter button at the centre. One push and a test drive was automatically booked with the world’s first use of sim-free WND Network and Sigfox technology – something which won us a DMA Gold award for Best Use of Mail.”

Ben’s point was highlighted by Marine Kerivel-Brown, Marketing Director of Duplo, who notes on the website Two Sides:

“Adding touch to a campaign can increase its value by 24%…print has the tactile power to cut through noise to interact with the brain in a very different way.”

So, print is neither dead nor is it making a comeback. It’s just a little older, a little more creative, and a lot wiser.

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