Estimated read time: 11 minutes
A print magazine can be a more tangible piece in our marketing strategy. We know where the content starts and ends. We know how many people it was mailed to. We also can easily show it as an example to people. “Check out our print magazine.” <Slides it across the desk.>
Some of those tangible physical things aren’t as easily possible when it comes to digital campaigns. In print you can go to an advertiser and send them the print magazine. “ There’s my ad.” When they go on the web, they may never see their ad due to targeting rules. For example.
Content Marketing Guru Joe Pulizzi joined me on the Business Storytelling Podcast to make the case for why brands should consider doing a print magazine.
This article is based on our conversation, but before we get to that. Let’s hear from the editor of Pages, an SEO Magazine.
I asked Managing Editor Jan Schmidt to tell me about why the magazine started two years ago and why it continues.
She responded with:
We’re frequently asked why we, a digital marketing company, would ever consider publishing a print magazine. Crazy, we know! The idea came from the real-life experience of members of our team who sit in front of a computer all day. There’s something nostalgic and almost special about sitting on the couch at the end of the day with a real book or magazine that you can hold in your hands. As you flip the pages, you feel the texture of the paper. You enjoy each full spread at a glance. You dog-ear the pages you want to remember-or share with a co-worker. You doodle and write notes in the margin as you sip your morning coffee. Print publishing has, in a way, become the disruptive medium. We think that’s why it has been so well-received.
The content of PAGES magazine came about because of a need: There’s no formal schooling for SEOs. No textbooks. No syllabus. No degree. But we all use the web, and there isn’t a marketer out there who doesn’t benefit from continuing to learn more about the basics.
We felt that the industry needed informative and appealing content for the SEO beginner written by industry experts. PAGES fills that gap by publishing SEO insights and instructional material and by making it accessible to everyone who wants to learn more. PAGES has become an engaging and beautifully-designed resource for anyone interested in the industry.
Now in its third year, PAGES continues to pull industry experts together and continues to provide both a print and a digital subscription. Our current readership consists of 51% managers, directors, and C-suite executives and almost an even split between SEO professionals and marketers, making up the remaining 49%. It is thrilling to think about the fact that over 9,000 of our magazines are sitting in homes, offices, and break rooms around the world.
As we have interacted with people from around the globe, we have been touched by the community that the magazine has created. It has, in a small way, helped legitimize the industry. For years, SEOs have struggled at every cocktail party to explain what it is that we really do when we go to work. Our parents are just grateful we were able to finally launch out on our own. It’s with great pride that most contributors request extra copies of the magazine. One for Mom, and at least one that will be put into a protective sleeve.
Why a print magazine now?
(Starts at 6:57 min mark in podcast)
Joe mentioned trends he’s seeing. Let’s take vinyl. Years ago, many people had record players. Today fewer do. I don’t have one today. Records were so common, I remember taking the subway into the city of Düsseldorf in the early 1990s to buy the latest Guns N’ Roses album. Today, I just download songs from iTunes.
But Joe mentioned that vinyl is coming back. Certainly not to the heydays, but over the past few years record sales are trending up and have overtaken CD sales. “Now CDs are the forgotten technology,” he said.
And now he’s reporting a similar trend in print. “You are sort of seeing that trend back up. It’s the lean-back technology. People like to interact with it.,” he said.
Some people want to disconnect and that means they have to read something in their hands – like a book or a print magazine.
Red Bull Magazine distributes millions of copies, he said.
“There’s a certain type of audience that prefers engaging with content in print,” he said. “Focus on those people that have a lot of buying power and there’s an opportunity.”
Generating profit with a print magazine
“If you (as a brand) are trying to make revenue directly off a print magazine you are barking up the wrong tree,” Joe said.
Make it part of a specific integrated strategy and if it’s a topic that people will spend time with.
”That’s why you see newspapers and regular magazines go down,” he said. “It’s hard to make revenue just off those directly.”
With less advertising to go around it has to be a different model.
The distribution of the niche print magazine
If you have a niche topic, you can consider it. The US Postal Service delivers six times a week still, with a ton of content that hits our mailboxes without value. Find a way to mail value to people and you have a shot.
”You can get attention with print while it’s so difficult to break through online,” he said.
The difference between a B2B/B2C print magazine and a brand print magazine
There’s a difference in print magazine models. The B2B/B2C model makes money by selling ads and magazines on the newsstand charge consumers. Subscriptions are also available in B2C particularly.
Newspapers now have digital subscriptions.
Joe isn’t predicting an increase in the traditional publishing model, but an increase in the brand model where brands publish their own print magazine with informational and useful content for their audiences and target prospects.
He mentioned he just got one from Staples.
And a lot of brands already have magazines to niche industries like to engineers and so on.
”You’ll see more of this because it’s just so hard to cut through the clutter,” he said. “But when you come in as the new chief marketing officer and want to do something innovative print is not the first thing that will come tor your mind, but today I actually think it is.”
Joe makes a good point and doing a print magazine is something that could be worth considering. Some other things to consider as you think about integrating the strategy.
What are some down sides of publishing a brand print magazine?
There are a number of ways to publish. You could try where you send it to a specific geographic area. That can work when your business is tied to a locality – similarly to when you try geofencing strategies.
To get a qualified list can be work and data-management needs to fall to somebody within your organization or through a vendor. You’ll also need mailing addresses for people that qualify for your publication and are relevant to your company.
A valid address is also important. During the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 Jan’s magazine stood out to me by sending a message to readers that said something along these lines: We realize you might be working at home currently and get the magazine in the office. Should we update your mailing address temporarily?
B2B publishers often do qualification surveys that ask people interested of who they are. That can take time to set up and goes deeper than many email signups.
Another downside is the cost. Certainly there’s cost for our digital campaigns too:
- production time
- syndication costs
For print we are looking at:
- production time cost (and print content does need an additional edit from digital – at least)
- lay out
- print cost
- shipping cost
What skills are needed to publish a print magazine?
I have seen some print-focused content creators in recent years make the switch to producing content in a digital content performance culture.
I can even count myself into that group. I grew up in print journalism and then moved into performance content across industries. So it’s possible to move between mediums. At the end of the day, good editors can edit for print and digital and everything in-between. Same with good writers. They can write for print and for digital.
There’s also a process to consider for print that tags onto the content creation that already has to happen.
- Different layouts from digital
- Different edits – content that comes from digital-first campaigns likely needs to be edited down
I find print processes to take more time than digital. Not that we should rush things in digital, but we can easily fix a typo in digital even after publishing. That’s not possible in a print magazine and thus there seems to be additional pressure to get it right on the first time.
Why print publications should still consider to put all their stories on the website
Even if you decide to publish a print magazine a digital presence is still needed.
Pushing people from print to digital is harder than it sounds. Sure, my phone is likely by my side as I’m reading Fortune, Time or Meetings Today.
But that doesn’t mean that I will use it. I’m reading the magazine, ya know.
Not even the potential for bonus content – I don’t have enough time as it is – will get me to type in the bit.ly link.
And then I found a reason that prompted me to go online!
I was reading an article about electronic healthcare records (EHR) and I wanted to send it to somebody in healthcare.
It was an interesting and long read. I wasn’t going to scan all the pages in or put them in the mail to send to them.
So I headed to Fortune.com and looked for the article. Where might it be?
There’s a Magazine section and I had to scroll a bit to find it and it was just a few articles down. I grabbed the link and emailed it on.
Interestingly, for the analysis team at Fortune they don’t really know what prompted me to visit.
So while digital and print channels certainly are different, they also need to play in concert.
When I was chief content officer for a B2B publisher we were digital first but all publications also published digital print editions, apps and Meetings Today has a native web section that aligns with the Fortune model.
It’s still tricky as print headlines and digital headlines are often different. So the print headline may not even appear online at all.
That can make it hard for users following the above user flow to find the article. I think the Fortune headline was slightly different so in theory harder to find.
Omni-channel content publishing is certainly a challenge and this is another example of that. We can’t win all the battles and certainly we want to be data-driven.
In this case of print to digital how can we tell? Only when people call or tweet us to complain that they cannot find an article. Ugh. Of course, we want to help and should since being customer-focused matters.
It’s something to keep in mind though even if your brand decides to start publishing a print magazine. Part of the audience may look for digital versions and they may be the part of the audience most engaged with your brand.
What companies can help with creating a branded print magazine?
If you prefer the podcast version …
Print magazine for brands conclusion
Depending on your industry, market share and budget, launching a print magazine could be a good strategy. Just consider all the pieces, cost and current state.
Also consider frequency. Maybe start with twice a year or quarterly or something like that. It doesn’t have to be a weekly print magazine!