Print these days is a medium of diminishing returns. There are pockets of brands where print revenues are increasing, but physical magazines are largely now kept around as a sometimes-important part of an integrated buy. And many executives have written off any notion of a return to print-based revenue levels pre-recession. The action and, naturally, investment are in digital, mobile and events. Print is generally left alone, with occasional capital put toward a design refresh or maybe a paper upgrade.
Publishers watch print from the corner of their eyes and as it falters from its plateaued circ and ad revenues, cost management kicks in and the process of propping up margins begins.
But what traditional publishers know all too well is that print still has value. Not necessarily sentimental value, because that’s just dangerous these days, but brand equity. Digital-only content companies may scoff at that notion, happy to be free of that albatross around their necks, but a traditional publisher will be the first to tell you that a legacy brand can indeed provide a new event or digital product launch a much-needed push.
The challenge then becomes quantifying that value. Regardless, the role print magazines are playing is becoming much more specialized: loss leaders for brand offshoots into digital and live events, TV and other platforms; highly compressed circulation to a niche, but perhaps higher value audience; themed issue one-offs that are currently propping up the newsstand business.
In the meantime, the scrutiny and cost-management over print is intense. For some frank insight, flip to the cover story on page 32. (How’s that for a print-oriented call to action?)