In Words Onscreen: The Fate of Reading in a Digital World, American University linguist Naomi S. Baron describes a phenomenon I’ve noted for some time—that younger readers, in Baron’s case university students, increasingly prefer print.
While we all can appreciate the convenience and ease of reading online, we also are well aware that reading in the digital world is fraught with distractions, encouraging multi-tasking, skim reading and poor comprehension, according to Baron, an expert on language and technology. Given that backdrop, not surprisingly, the Deloitte Media Consumer study found that 75 percent of respondents said they still prefer to read magazines in print.
That’s a trend we’ve noted as well in our research of association magazines—we consistently find that professional readers prefer print over digital versions of magazines. They are often frustrated by the constant barrage of email and enewsletters and enjoy the convenience and ease of reading offered by their organization’s print magazine.
Still, association publishers continually have to battle to maintain print, often pressured by boards and finance officers to convert to go digital-only to save on printing and postage expenses.
Print isn’t cheap, but there is some undeniable value that is worth considering:
Print is generally preferred for in-depth reading. While quick news updates are great in enewsletters and other electronic communications, especially when accessible on mobile devices, the printed magazine is preferred for in-depth articles. In Stratton research, 50 percent or more of association members prefer print publications and 30 percent prefer a print-and-digital combination.
For advertising-supported magazines, converting to all-digital may reduce or even eliminate the revenue base. While many association publishers are generating revenues with digital advertising, ad rates are substantially less than print ads, and it’s challenging to convince advertisers to pay for digital versions at anything but drastically reduced rates. For many, print is where the revenue resides. And, remember, even in a digital publication, you’re still incurring expenses for writing, editing, layout/design, and more, so while you may save on printing/postage, you still need significant revenue to cover other costs.
Image and branding are best conveyed in print. When you’re trying to build an organization’s brand and present a professional image, print publications win the day. And if you circulate your publication to legislators/regulators, member prospects, media, and other influential audiences, print can convey value, image, and tangible benefit more effectively than digital.
Print magazines offer valuable portability for travel. How many times have you heard readers say they read your magazine or journal on planes and trains? It’s easy to toss a print publication in a briefcase and read it while commuting when WiFi isn’t an option—or even when it is.
Readability is often improved with print. designers can provide multiple entry points to encourage readership and engage busy professionals. This is not always the case for quick online reads, though it’s a nut everyone is still trying to crack.
Digital technology can be clunky. Page-turning replicas of print and other digital options are great for searching archives for particular issues and topics, but most find them awkward to read for longer articles. Until digital catches up and offers truly readable tablet versions, print versions will be preferred by many when it comes to professional reading.
So, by all means, invest in digital to supplement content delivery and keep innovating to improve the online reader experience, but continue to invest in your print publications as well. Print magazines provide measurable value and benefits for association professionals, conveying a message far beyond the words on the page.