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Alternative suggestions for the “power of print” campaign

1 March, 2010 (13:06) | branding, social media, technology | By: Shannon Clark

According to PaidContent a group of five leading print publishers have banded together on a $90M+ campaign called the “power of print” launching with ads in their various publications. PaidContent cites an article by the Wall Street Journal today on the launch of the campaign, an article which is behind the WSJ subscriber-only paywall but in the preview  the first few paragraphs mention that the campaign will include over 1400 print ads scattered across the publications of the five publishers.

This is not how to save print media nor is it the best use of $90 million

Instead the publishers should be rethinking their print publications and using that $90M towards the following.

  • Hiring better writers with more diverse views. I’m a longtime New Yorker subscriber and in the past year I have seen a significant decline in the quality of the writing. Furthermore the lack of diversity of perspectives, especially in the reviews they publish has become really glaring. Even though I have been a subscriber for 20+ years I am thinking about not renewing my subscription when it expires, especially if the current decline in quality continues.
  • Investing in cultivating new advertisers and in adding greater value to current advertisers. For over a decade I have been suggesting that print publications – from monthly magazines to daily newspapers – should have long ago extended their print advertising relationships to the web. Perhaps in the 1990’s and even early in this century many advertisers in print publications did not have related web presences but today it is a rare ad which does not feature a web URL and an even rarer advertiser who does not have a web presence. But even without making every ad a link to the relevant advertiser, print publications have missed out on many great opportunities by not extending ads into the web. Many print publications are bought for the ads as well as the content – in a few cases almost entirely for the ads (see many fashion magazines).
  • Do not retain content sections just because they are traditional. All parts of every publication should be rethought and be up for revision in the light of the changes brought by the web. The New Yorker, for example, should consider editing down the front events pages and remaking them into a highly curated selection of just events, restaurants, art shows and movies which the editors recommend to their readers. Perhaps make the comprehensive listings available as an online extended service (and do not hide this behind a pay wall) but focus the print edition on just what will be lasting, what matters, what are truly don’t miss.
  • Invest in editors. Invest in writers. Invest in photographers. Online there are a seeming infinite number of writers and other content creators, print publications should invest in and cultivate great writing. Don’t publish filler content or throwaway articles, invest instead in great editing that makes content tighter. Invest in great photography that tells a story and captures a look or a moment.
  • Frame the content of the magazine in great design but do not over do it. Wired magazine has, at times, had great articles but the ever present “design” of the magazine often hides the value of the content and makes it harder to read. Furthermore by having a different design for many articles the overall costs go up for little added value to the reader – in fact by having to figure out how to read each article anew the value to most readers goes down.

Most importantly, however, advertising the “power of print” via only ads in other print publications is preaching to a currently shrinking population. Instead the publishers should be looking to ways to engage with the rest of the media landscape – increasingly that means digital – find a value-adding role for each print publication within that ecosystem.

And do not confuse the form with the mission of the publication.

Great publications have a mission which can and should extend well beyond a single physical form. The physical editions however frequent should be a reminder of that mission and serve to further it, but shouldn’t be the only part. The editors and writers and other creative parts of the publication alongside the advertising and commercial relationships should all act together towards a common goal. For a magazine such as Vogue it might be a celebration of fashion, for the New Yorker it might be a celebration of the diversity of New York City (and the inhabitants of that city – culture, politics, business, fashion and more).

Print publications today have many audiences – subscribers, newsstand buyers, readers of shared copies found in doctor’s waiting rooms. But they also are part of some community – whether fashion or a city or an industry. But very rapidly those communities around the globe are finding new means of communicating and magazines which are stuck in the past will and are being left behind.

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