Lockdowns made it difficult for readers to purchase consumer titles at retail. B2B titles were faced with the furlough of whole industries. Many publications saw their advertising income disappear overnight. Conversely, with everyone stuck at home, there was abundant time for reading and, for variety if nothing else, a desire to do some of that reading in print helped boost subscriptions.
All this we know. But will the pandemic have any longer lasting effect on the outlook for print? In all honesty, probably not. In my own sector – consumer magazines – you could plot the print sales graphs forward from 2019 and end up exactly where we are now. Sadly, covid meant some struggling titles closed sooner than they might have done. We may see a similar effect soon as paper price increases start to kick in. But these are short-term shocks.
There is talk of consumer behaviour changes bedding in for the long term. Will readers turn to print during leisure time after spending all day staring at a work screen in their kitchen or bedroom? It sounds compelling but the evidence just isn’t there. Book sales soared by 7% during the pandemic. Dig deeper, though, and we find that print sales declined by 6% whereas digital formats, including audio, increased by 12%.
None of this means that print will disappear, however. When the motorised transport was invented, people didn’t stop walking. But it wasn’t their only option. A leisurely stroll is a great way to stretch the legs and take in the scenery. When you need to get somewhere fast, you jump on a bus. Likewise, print will never beat digital for breaking news. But a print publication can be an object of beauty, perfectly designed for delivering considered, curated content that rewards extended dwell time.
If a gardener is following a design for a flower bed, do they really want to have to pull out their phone with their dirty fingers to refer to the tiny diagrams? No, it’s much easier to lay out a magazine spread close by. Directories, guides, design inspiration can all work well in print.
Specialist print products can meet advertiser needs, too. We publish locally-focused, luxury magazines that are delivered direct to relevant households using postcode mapping. Our advertisers could never achieve this specific targeting – or the level of dwell time a glossy magazine promotes - online and so they are delighted to work with us.
The opportunity lies where it always has. Successful publishers create material that is valuable to our customers and clients. Then we deliver that material in the most appropriate format to the right people.
A print publication can be an object of beauty, perfectly designed for delivering considered, curated content.
This article is part of our ‘Print Post-Pandemic’ special feature, looking at the future of print as we emerge from lockdown. The feature includes the following articles by leading publishers and suppliers:
A major part of the mix, by Mark Allen
Rewards extended dwell time, by Sally Hampton
Shout it loud: print is safe!, by Chris Horn
Targeted distribution is key, by Stephanie Hyde
New metrics needed, by Keiron Jefferies
Sustainability: consumers demanding more, by Sarah Lesting
We need to change the way we operate, by Nicola Murphy
Reasons for (justifiable) optimism, by Tim Robinson
Luxury is physical, by Piers Russell-Cobb
Positive outlook, by Adam Sherman
Subtle changes bring cost savings, by Julian Townsend
Turning ‘expensive’ into ‘premium’, by Neil Wass
This article was first published in InPublishing magazine. If you would like to be added to the free mailing list, please register here.