Every industry is experiencing a digital transformation. For some, the pandemic has accelerated this transformation. Others, like retail, travel and QSR, are trying to quickly adapt to the new criteria of our on-demand world. Consumers are permanently changing their online consumption habits, and in some cases embracing those of years past.
Previously, digital transformation was more of an evolution. It’s evident now that retail chains that embraced omnichannel strategies, like Walmart and Costco, may fare better in our current crisis. And in many cases, retailers that were pureplay e-commerce businesses but had begun to set up stores in the brick and mortar world are back to reaching their customers where they are—at home.
The publishing world may be following a similar evolutionary path. Over the past two decades, countless publishers shifted their magazines to online-only models. If they maintained print versions, publication schedules dropped from weekly to monthly or from monthly to quarterly. Some publications shuttered entirely. But then, a funny thing happened: younger readers found that they liked the lean-in experience of a magazine. They liked reading stories without autoplay videos and full-screen takeovers interrupting their immersive experience.
Unplug and pick up a book
For Gen Z, the first generation to fully grow up in a digital world, to develop a fondness for print was an unexpected plot twist. However, there are a few good, and understandable, reasons. The first is that they are actually looking for downtime. Gen Z-ers and Millennials don’t want to be connected every minute of the day. Instead, they want real-life experiences and genuine connection. They love offline activities, including, dining out with friends, travel and camping. They also love to read. In fact, they tend to read more than older generations do, and even more than those generations did at the same age. And while you might assume that they prefer to read on screens, you’d be wrong. An American University study of 300 university students found that 92% of them prefer old-fashioned, bound, paper books over e-reader alternatives.
Their love of reading goes beyond books. Millennials and Gen Z both love to read magazines, too. About two years ago, The New York Times noticed an uptick in smaller-run magazines—particularly food-focused publications that were founded by 20–30-year-olds. This was just the early part of a trend, and other boutique titles followed, all printed on a lower budget, produced by younger adults, and read by younger audiences.
Gen Z spends an hour a week reading magazines, according to a 2018 survey of 2,500 college students. It’s a welcome break from the sensory overload of the digital experience. Magazines tell stories in ways that digital simply can’t, in pictures and in words. People save print magazines featuring images of royal weddings, election results and other historical events. Kids rip out pictures of their favorite sports heroes, musical artists or movie stars and tape them to their walls or “inspiration boards.” While Pinterest may serve a similar purpose, there is something about the tactile experience of flipping through those pages that can’t be matched online. We don’t save and revere on-screen images the way we do with print.
In print we trust
We can’t underestimate the extent to which young people today feel like they’re surrounded by fake news. Post after post in their feeds feature wholly inaccurate memes disguised as fact or even “deepfakes.” These notoriously skeptical generations are smart enough to realize that social media is not a reliable source for important information, and they instead turn to more established outlets. Perhaps surprising, given this is also the “OK Boomer” crowd, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal were identified as the two most trusted news sources among Millennials in the YPulse survey linked above. The same report revealed that 69% of respondents usually or always trust magazines, while only 34% trust social media. In the UK, perceptions of quality, accuracy, trustworthiness, and impartiality were strongest amongst readers of magazines.
These generations understand that anyone can blog and publish, and that not all content creators are held to standards of accuracy or truthfulness. The printed word, on the other hand, delivered by a known publisher, can offer fact-checked content, written, researched and edited by professionals who actually do this for a living.
What does this mean for the future of print?
It’s all good news for publishers who are willing to follow in the footsteps of retailers and take an omnichannel approach to engaging readers. Just as the customer journey has changed in the world of shopping, so too has the media consumption journey. Millennials and Gen Z may be digital natives, but they’re also aware of the need to unplug and look up from their mobile screens. Therefore, just as retailers have learned to do, publishers should be prepared to engage them at every touchpoint in the online and offline worlds.
To sum it up, it’s not print versus digital: It’s a balance of both. We know the interest in print magazines is there, but digital still plays a pivotal role in publishing success, particularly for younger readers.
Moving forward, print publications will force the balance by dipping into new AR technologies that will make magazines even more engaging and exciting to younger audiences. In a world that changes so quickly, print magazines have been, and will continue to be, a welcome touchstone for homes. AR can help you change your messaging in real-time to keep that touchstone personalized throughout challenges and celebrations.
For now, meeting audiences on social media and engaging them with “snackable” content is just as important as putting a jaw-droppingly gorgeous photo on the cover shoppers see at the corner store checkout. Offering a print-plus-digital bundle is as important as a special Fall Fashion Issue or exclusive streaming content for subscribers only. The evolution of publishing continues, and the younger generations are molding the future. And the future, it seems, can be perfectly bound.