Is There Still Power in
When critics create a
fake war between print and digital, the loser is actually the member, who feels
equally comfortable in both worlds. In
fact, the hype around print’s demise hides the fact that your association may
need traditional media more than ever.
By Joe Stella
what you know: People are exposed to more digital content than ever before.
About 92,000 new articles are published online every day, according to
publishing analytics-software provider Chartbeat.
what you think you know: As a result, print is dying. But this simply isn’t
true. In reality, print remains critical when it comes to marketing your
association — perhaps even more so because of the rise of electronic media.
critics create a fake war between print and digital, the loser is actually the member,
who feels equally comfortable in both worlds. Three-quarters of B2B
information-seekers say they rely on traditional and new media to gain
information about their work, according to the Association of Business
Information & Media Companies’ (ABM) "Value of B-to-B” report. A Magazines
Canada survey reveals that just seven percent of B2B readers access digital
hype broadcasting print’s funeral is just that — worse, it distracts from
understanding the valuable role that a print magazine can play in your overall
marketing and communications strategy. The Angerosa Research Foundation
recently showed that when it comes to associations’ media revenues, advertising
and sponsorship sales in print media outperform those in digital — 73 versus 27
to be clear: The case for print is not a case against digital — both are
extremely useful marketing tools. If consumers can integrate print and digital
into their lives, so should marketers into their strategies. If you’re
considering ditching your print publication, contemplating starting a new one
(no, you’re not crazy), or just unsure of what to think about print’s future,
here’s what you need to know.
Abandon Your readers
Magazines Canada reveals that nine in 10 B2B readers
consume print magazines, while 52 percent of senior business executives prefer
to read trade journals in print. No matter how many pixels Apple crams onto a
screen, electronic images pale next to print ones for many readers. "A magazine
can be beautiful,” explains Julie Shoop, editor in chief and vice president of
the American Society of Association Executives. "It’s not just a way to convey
Print also coveys a high level of trust. For example, the
Finnish research organization VTT found that 63 percent of people trust print
advertisements, whereas just 25 percent have faith in online ads.
Nevertheless, perhaps you’re thinking that young people —
increasingly compose your customer base in coming years — are glued to their
screens. But according to the Association of Magazine Media (MPA), adults under
35 read more magazines per month than their older counterparts.
ASAE reports that most association member surveys show that customers want to
read a flagship publication in print. Sure enough, when the Consumer
Electronics Association (CEA) was rebranding its monthly magazine, It Is
Innovation (i3), a reader survey indicated that executives still preferred
to read the print version, especially while traveling. And when the Society for
Interventional Radiology (SIR) launched its digital magazine, it kept the
original print version of IR Quarterly.
know that in the midst of their very digital world, our members still value
having those products available to them,” Sue Holzer, SIR’s executive director,
told ASAE’s publication Associations Now. "We wanted to ensure that
print connection with us was still there. That pick-it-up-and-hold-it or read-it-when-you-have-some-down-time
feeling is still important to them.”
of Associations Now, Shoop explains that although her organization
reduced the frequency of the magazine from 10 to six times per year, no one
even discussed discontinuing it. In fact, some worried that reducing the
frequency would negatively impact membership. "We did not want to lose mailbox
members, the ones who only read the magazine and who aren’t likely to attend a
conference or event or partake in a webinar, but who get value from and like
the print magazine,” she says. "For an association, that print piece is a
really important physical touchpoint. When people have time to sit down and
read, they’re not searching for an email newsletter. They’re picking up what’s
in front of them on the coffee table. Print has staying power.”
what’s to make of critics arguing that print won’t be around much longer? Such
hyperbole may grab attention, but it also omits crucial categorical
distinctions. Nearly seven out of 10 B2B readers say they spend more time with
industry-related print publications than with mainstream business or consumer
print magazines, according to ABM.
Beyond 140 Characters
all information spurts out 140 characters at a time. When reading long or complex
content online, readers’ attention spans fade quickly. One in three people
spend less than 15 seconds reading web pages with articles, according to
the other hand, the MPA points out that the average print-magazine reader
spends 40 minutes with an issue. So although people may spend about five hours
and 46 minutes a day scanning digital media, according to eMarketer, their
attention fractures due to online distractions, such as chiming email and
Twitter notifications, and other attention-sucking games and applications.
put, people spend more time with a specific print magazine than on a website
that isn’t Facebook or Twitter. And while it’s true that a GfK MRA Starch
Advertising study revealed that print and tablet magazine ads both had a recall
of 52 percent, that figure may matter less considering that research by Robert
Magee, a professor at Virginia Tech, shows that people are more likely to open
a print than a digital publication.
neither clicking nor sharing indicates true engagement online. After
Chartbeat’s research showed that people are sharing many articles they don’t
read, the company’s CEO Tony Haile wrote: "Bottom line, measuring social
sharing is great for understanding social sharing, but if you’re using that to
understand which content is capturing more of someone’s attention, you’re going
beyond the data.”
Not only does print encourage deeper reading of lengthier
articles, with fewer distractions, it also better exposes people to new ideas.
When customers seek information online, they find the data and then go about
their day — they don’t see messages for which they aren’t actively looking. A
print magazine, however, is a powerful opportunity to deliver information that
customers don’t know they need to know.
the end, what matters most is not whether customers see your content so much as
engage with it.
Mailboxes vs. Inboxes
are consuming more digital than print media. That isn’t cause to scrap the
latter, but rather the opposite: The more digital media customers use, the more
you need print.
inboxes are more cluttered than mailboxes, a print magazine can help your
association rise above the noise. Indeed, a Nielsen study estimated that the
average mobile user has 41 apps on a smartphone but opens only eight — usually
Facebook, YouTube, and games.
a connection to customers in print may help to drive online traffic — 86
percent of business executives prefer to visit online sources of information
that are tied to print publications. Take the Association for Retail
Environments’ eponymous magazine, for example. Several years back, the
organization increased downloads of the publication’s mobile app and boosted
page views of its web-based edition not by tearing up its print magazine, but
by producing more relevant content and tripling its print circulation over
more: When examining print and digital magazine platforms, a survey of 3,500
consumers by IPC Media in the United Kingdom showed that print ads were more
likely than digital ads to inspire a purchase — from a brick-and-mortar store
or online. While it’s no surprise that digital platforms are more apt to
trigger online searches for information on products and services, a healthy 57
percent of respondents say that print magazines inspire them to head online.
and digital aren’t at war. When used strategically, print is the backbone of an
integrated marketing communications strategy.
Here’s something else you already know: A print magazine
is not cheap to produce.
That’s true, but neither is digital — unless, that is,
you want the end result to function poorly and look cheap. "Digital content is
more expensive than you might think,” explains ASAE’s Shoop. "People think
digital is almost free, but that’s a myth. Just shoot something up on the
Internet, have some content management system, get a staffer to run it, and
poof, bang. The reality is that there are developmental and maintenance
expenses. Content doesn’t grow on trees.”
you listen to digital-only advocates, you might think that it’s cheaper to
produce online content, when, in most cases, it’s not. It’s actually more
expensive than producing a high-quality print piece. The Internet is a hungry
beast that needs constant feeding and care. Readers expect fresh, new content
posted several times per day, and the format needs to suit the medium. That
means online users demand more interactive content and rich media, such as
video and animation. Not many association marketers have the budget to support
that, nor can they justify the expense.
that shift too drastically toward digital content are often surprised and
frustrated by lackluster ROI. Indeed, a recent survey indicates that almost
half of marketers are unhappy with their ability to target their content — perhaps
because in 87 percent of cases, the main method of content distribution has
been a company’s own website.
course, it’s hard to determine whether the problem lies with the delivery or
the content itself. Nonetheless, publishing consultant Thad McIlroy writes on
his blog that "web-only publishing models rarely supplant a print and web
model. Digital editions are gaining traction on media tablets, but remain a
fraction of magazine’s circulation base.”
"Digital entities are discovering that you
cannot be a single platform,” says Samir Husni, director of the University of
Mississippi’s Magazine Innovation Center. "Especially if you have already been
in print, folding your publication in favor of only digital is the kiss of
death. I used to ask people to name five entities that folded their print
editions to go digital-only and still made business that you can write home
about. Now I ask for only one. There aren’t any.”
a Nielsen Catalina study for Meredith shows an average ROI of $7.81 for every
dollar spent on print ads, well above the $2.79 ROI for ads on digital
portals/ad networks. And whereas almost half of consumers prefer to look at an
ad in a print magazine, only 1 in 10 say so about a website — and none want to
see ads in apps.
such advertising digits don’t speak to what ultimately matters — engaging your
members. Magee concludes as much in his research. He writes that, "ceasing a
print publication in favor of an online-only publication might hurt the
effectiveness of an organization’s marketing communications, and managers
should not make the decision based on cost alone.”
every association must assess its marketing programs to determine what works
best. Here’s a tip: Ignoring customer preferences never works. "You have to
understand your audience and not do something just because everyone else is
doing it,” explains ASAE’s Shoop. "The smart thing is to find the right mix of
media that considers costs but also engages your audience and keeps them
Joe Stella is vice president, business development, for GLC