There seems to be a lot of talk in the media and marketing communities about the demise of print, especially since the news that infamous lads’ mag, Nuts, announced it was closing after ten years.
As we all know, the economics of distributing content via ink and paper are much tougher when there are so many low-cost, no-cost options available in digital and social, so it's understandable that people assume print is dead.
But like everything in life, it's not so simple.
Newsstand is tough
The traditional newsstand model is, without question, proving increasingly challenging. With consumers able to access content for free online – especially in the lads’ mag genre – it is no wonder. But in general, copy sales on the newsstands have been falling, leading to the deadly spiral of further declines in ad revenues, leading in turn to eventual closure.
Now here's my point. It's not that print is dead; it's just the traditional newsstand model that’s in decline. If you’re a publisher looking to make a profit from that combination of cover price and ad sales, then print is definitely a tough gig.
From profit centre to brand comms investment
But if you’re a brand rather than a publisher, print is a different story. Looking at it as a marketing investment rather than a profit centre changes the dynamic. Like any other part of the brand comms mix – paid, owned or earned – if print creates a positive impact against specific KPIs, then it earns its place on the content plan.
People love print and they will for a while yet. And brands know this more than most – just look at the food and fashion categories.
All the major supermarkets have high-circulation magazines - Sainsbury’s Magazine(produced by my agency, Seven) sold on average 205,081 copies between July and December 2013 in its stores only. No wonder the traditional food magazines are having a tough time when there is so much high-quality content around.
Likewise in fashion, both major online fashion stores, ASOS and Net-a-Porter, have their own magazines. In fact, Porter magazine is on sale at newsagents at £5, and I have to say I thought it was a superb read, really taking it to the Vogues of this world. Every page in the magazine is shoppable, so the money they can earn from their own channel is off the scale.
The main difference is that clothes sales at ASOS are predicted to hit £1 billion this year and Net-a-Porter can't be too far behind. Condé Nast must be ruing the day they let these online upstarts eat their lunch.
If you look at the success of ASOS in particular, there has never been a stronger case study on how to build a brand using content. And we’re proud to have played our part in launching their magazine and taking them into social media.
A new model for content agencies
For content agencies – or more specifically, those still operating as contract publishers – what is dying out is the traditional ad-funded retail magazines where the publisher took the majority of the risk and the retailer got a mostly high-quality magazine. That doesn't work any more for either party.
Any content marketing agency worth its salt can see the opportunity to create content that’s distributed everywhere – online, mobile, video, social and in many cases through print too.
And, of course, the brand needs the same thing – a single, consistent content strategy that delivers on the brand promise, giving the customer a coherent experience wherever and whenever they come in contact with the brand.
Multi-channel or not at all
It’s also worth highlighting that advertisers rarely want to buy single channel campaigns. It's all about a multi-channel approach to driving engagement as well as reach. Straightforward display is declining, being replaced by native advertising, which switched-on retailers recognise is perfect for them.
Content strategies are becoming more sophisticated and more integrated with brands’ above-the-line plans. Campaign thinking can come from advertising or editorial minds. The media landscape is a more nuanced place than ever before.
So, no, print isn’t dead. It’s as vibrant, innovative and relevant as ever. But it’s brands who are leading the charge, filling the void left by traditional media owners, whose model didn’t move with the times.
The consumer-driven need for brands to become publishers – playing to a very different set of rules – means that print is alive and well and the content marketing industry as a whole is experiencing a golden era.
But then again I would say that, wouldn't I?
Posted by: Sean King, CEO, Seven