man in yellow tee reading a newspaper in a room papered with newspapers

Who Says Print is Dead?

Is print dead? Well, the rise of digital media and technology has certainly transformed the way we consume news.

We no longer need to wait for the morning paper to find out what’s happening in the world. Thanks to the likes of social media, YouTube, and news aggregators from tech behemoths like Apple and Google, we can access news online, 24/7, at the click of a button.

And lots of us do. According to a report by Ofcom, the internet is the go-to source of news for 73% of adults in the UK. That’s roughly 49 million people.

With so many news readers choosing to go digital, where does this leave newspapers and magazines?

So is print dead?

First, here’s a quick reminder about what print media actually is.

What is print media?

Pile of bound Evening standard newspapers

Used to describe any material that’s been printed and distributed to the public, print media is an umbrella term for a range of physical formats including books, newspapers, magazines, posters, and flyers.

However, for the purposes of this blog post, we’re talking specifically about newspapers and magazines.

So now let’s turn our attention to the digital revolution.

Are newspapers dying?

ewspapers on newspaper stand

In 1968, Douglas Engelbart, pioneer of the computer mouse, famously said ‘the digital revolution is far more significant than the invention of writing or even of printing. In 20 or 30 years, you’ll be able to hold in your hand as much computing knowledge as exists now in the whole city, or even the whole world.’

He was bang on. The digital revolution saw technology advance at breakneck speed. Computers got smarter, faster, and smaller, completely transforming the way we do everything, including how we consume information.

The technological shift had a profound impact on the print media industry: traditional newspapers and magazines struggled to compete with the instant access and convenience provided by digital media, resulting in a decline in print readership.

This led to billionaire media moguls, such as the late Sumner Redstone, to sound the death knell for print media ‘the newspaper is dying. I’m not sure there will be newspapers and its one business I’d never be in’.

Print publishers were left with a simple choice – adapt or die. As a result, some publications fell foul of the online news surge and ceased publishing for good. Some moved with the times and adopted a hybrid model or went digital-only. And others disappeared off shelves, only to rise from the ashes years later.

And it didn’t just affect small publications. The likes of FHM, The Daily Mail and The Economist were forced to change strategy.

Here’s how a handful of iconic publications faired:

Folded: Now Magazine

In 2019, Now magazine published its final issue after 23 years delivering weekly celebrity gossip.

Following a decline in readership and advertising revenue, producing the magazine became unsustainable.

The ‘changing dynamics of the celebrity market’ was cited as the reason for the magazine’s demise, with the publisher, IT Media saying ‘consumers increasingly getting their fix of celeb news and gossip from other sources that can break stories immediately means this audience is buying fewer and fewer magazines’.

Hybrid: Newsweek

American magazine Newsweek produced weekly print editions for 80 years before caving to the pressures of the modern world. The last ever print edition was published in December 2012 before going fully-digital.

Or so we thought …

After just one year, the magazine’s new owners reintroduced the print edition, with a renewed emphasis on subscription fees over advertising as the central revenue source. In doing this, they hoped to swim against the tide that swept many other printed publications out of business.

The gamble paid off. According to the most recent print readership figures, the print edition is read by more than 237,000 people globally. This is on top of the 55 million monthly unique visitors Newsweek gets to its website.

Hybrid: FHM

Similarly, iconic men’s magazine FHM printed its ‘last issue‘ in January 2016, only to return to shelves in the UK, US, Australia, Canada and France in 2019/2020.

The unexpected comeback hasn’t rivalled the success of its 90s heyday by any stretch of imagination. Nor has its return to print been accompanied by an online revival.

Nevertheless, it died and came back. And not every lad’s magazine can say the same.

Digital only: The Independent

In 2016, The Independent announced it was going to scrap its print edition and go fully digital, some 30 years after its first edition hit the stands.

As Jo Holdaway, chief data and marketing officer at The Independent explained ‘the reason that we had to do that was financial. We were a loss-making business. We were forced to go digital only. We did not have a choice. And I think, because of that, we knew that we had to make it work.’

And they did make it work. The publication proceeded to slash printing and distribution costs, grow its readership by 50% in its first quarter, and become profitable for the first time in 20 years, just six months after going digital. It’s now one of the most profitable newspapers in the UK.

Print only: Private Eye

The UK satirical news magazine has continued to buck the trend of falling sales figures in recent years. Private Eye grew its circulation by 5% in 2022, making it the biggest-selling print news and current affairs magazine of the year.

Even more astounding is the fact that it’s a print-only publication (aside from a website that offers a handful of highlights taken from the latest print issue). An anomaly in today’s multimedia world.

And this upward trend isn’t unique to the UK. Across the pond, The New York Times and The Washington Post both received boosts to their print sales and circulation figures in 2022.

The New York Times saw an 11.25% increase in revenue year-on-year, whilst the annual circulation statistics of the Jeff Bezos-owned Washington Post reached over 58 million.

Want to know how one of the last major newspapers to go digital surpassed its competition? Read: How MailOnline Became the UK’s Biggest Online Newspaper

Who says the print industry is dead?

Newspaper being printed on printing press

Despite the mass migration to electronic media, new research shows that print is not dead. It’s still very much alive and kicking.

According to The Published Audience Measurement Company (PAMCo) print media is holding its own, reaching ‘an estimated average of 30 million monthly consumers and 12 million daily consumers from June 2021 to September 2022.

The research also found that, print’s reach was ‘second only to smartphones, which dominated the media market with a total reach of 39 million monthly users and 21 million daily users. Computers and tablets, however, lagged significantly behind print as media platforms, reaching just 10 million and six million respective monthly users.’

Impressive statistics for a medium that’s supposedly dead, right?

Five reasons why print isn’t dead

man on a bench reading a broadsheet

While there’s no question that the digital transformation has permanently changed the media industry, reports of the death of print are wide of the mark.

Print is still relevant in the digital age because it offers a ton of advantages over its digital counterparts. Here are five for starters:

1. Credibility

Traditional print media publications have earned the trust of readers over the course of many years. Newspapers such as The Times (est. 1785) and The Guardian (est. 1821), have been producing valuable content for decades.

In the current climate of fake news, mistrust in digital media is growing. People see online news as a less credible source than printed news. As a result, people are turning to traditional outlets that have stood the test of time.

Want to find out how you can protect your brand from the scourge of fake news? Read: Fighting Fake News with Positive PR

2. Permanence

Digital media is fleeting. Tweets and Facebook posts can be available one minute and gone the next. Print media, however, is permanent. Once a magazine has been published, it can’t be changed.

This results in a greater sense of responsibility for writers, editors, and publishers to check their facts and verify information before going to print.

This, coupled with the permanency of ink-on-paper reinforces the idea in readers’ minds that the content they’re reading is trustworthy.

3. Accessibility

Access to the internet is not universal. As of 2022, 1.37 million people in the UK did not use the internet, meaning that 2% of the population remained offline.

People living in remote areas or on low incomes may not have internet in their homes, cutting them off from digital news sources.

For the most part, print media is affordable and accessible, and it doesn’t require special knowledge or skill to use – making it a lifeline for those with limited access to digital news and information.

4. Tactility

The tactility of print should not be overlooked. As Sam Finlay, CRO of Time Inc UK, said ‘your ability to actually grab and own that audience and get your message across at some level is much easier if someone’s holding something… It’s not just merely the content. There’s something about that physical property that’s hugely important.’

The feel of a newspaper can never be replaced. There’s a tactile and sensory experience that can’t be replicated by digital media.

The very act of touching a physical piece of print while looking at it – what scientists call ‘haptic communication’ – leaves a footprint in the brain, producing an increased emotional response.

5. Engagement & enjoyment

Have you ever stared at your computer screen or phone for so long your eyes started to burn? If, like the average Brit, you spend 75% of your waking day glued to a screen, probably. But have you ever had that happen while reading a magazine? Probably not.

This is because print media is easier to read.

There are several reasons for this:

  • Print is visually less demanding than digital text. It provides spatial cues to help readers process words on a page.
  • Print media doesn’t require us to scroll, move and read text at the same time. We just have to turn the page.
  • Print media is easier to absorb as it’s not subject to the same distractions as digital media i.e. adverts and pop-ups.

Global non-profit organisation Two Sides conducted a survey on the continued role of print in the digital world. When asked whether print or digital media was more engaging, the response was unanimous:

  • Nearly 90% of respondents indicated they understood, retained, or used information better when they read printed paper compared to electronic devices
  • 81% found printed media more relaxing to read
  • 81% of respondents preferred to read print on paper
  • More than 70% of respondents said they were more receptive when reading a newspaper in print, compared to 36% who felt more receptive when consuming the same content from a screen.

So, is print media dying?

magazines on newstand

People have been predicting the death of print media for generations. In the early days of the Web 1.0, the internet was going to kill newspapers, magazines, and radio stations.

However, the last time we checked, all of those things were still around. So, to answer the original question: is print media dead? Absolutely not.

Rather than dying out, traditional media outlets have embraced the technological and social media revolution and evolved. As a result, media companies are combining the reach and accessibility of digital with the benefits of print and thriving in a new way.

Inevitably, media and content consumption will continue to evolve with time and technology. But far from die off, print will evolve with it.

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