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Old-School Print Fan or Die-Hard Digital Consumer: A Few Ideas on Ways to Engage Readers (No Matter How You Publish)

When it comes to how we consume content these days, it’s easy to assume that print is a thing of the past. But one look at the continued success of publications such as Teen Vogue, Self, EContent, and Pulse and you see a different story emerge. Granted, each pairs print content with digital distribution. And that just makes sense. Because according to Pew Research Center’s “State of New Media 2016” report, total advertising revenue among publicly traded companies in the newspaper sector fell almost eight percent in 2015, with losses reported from both print and digital.

And there’s no sign that this decline is slowing. In fact, according to media investment management group GroupM, global magazine ad spending is on track to decline more than 2.5 percent in 2017, with newspapers taking an even harder hit.

How are publishers adjusting? Some are diversifying revenue streams and including digital agencies and events in their portfolios. In addition, they’re using the digital space to push content that they would normally pass on in print even as they seek to offer a highly compelling, unique print product.

For Josh Jackson, Paste editor-in-chief, this approach presents the magazine with a number of new opportunities, such as expanding coverage in the digital space to subjects that weren’t as close a fit with the print publication and doing longer-form writing on areas it is passionate about. “When the magazine shows up,” Jackson says, “it should feel special, a more intentional read.”

Paste’s inclusion of a vinyl sampler album that arrives with the print version is one way that Jackson is looking to enhance the reader experience outside of the digital space.

mental_floss has gone in the opposite direction. Just a few months ago, the magazine shut down its bimonthly print edition in favor of a digital-only presence where audience engagement is robust. Will Pearson, co-founder and president of mental_floss, observes, “We’ve been investing heavily in digital and video growth for the past couple of years, and because of the tremendous growth and opportunity on that front, we recognized it was time to complete our transition to a digital media company. The magazine will always be such an important part of how this company built an initial audience, but nothing has changed with our mission to create a terrific blend of knowledge and entertainment.”

Pearson goes on to state, “I think what most publishers are finding in the digital space is that we all have to get better at going where the readers/viewers are — and not just relying on them to come to our sites. Our Instagram feed, for example, is one of my favorite things we do, and it’s something we haven’t been focused on for all that long. That wasn’t something we were thinking about a few years ago, and there will be plenty of new opportunities in the years to come.”

Whether you’re an old-school print advocate, a digital-only enthusiast, or someone who embraces both, expect a healthy amount of engagement experimentation in the months to come. As Kevin Anderson, founder of media and communications consultancy Ship’s Wheel Media says, “We’re in the first year of pretty chaotic experimentation. Publishers need to think about innovation as it relates to every team in their organization: digital, print, editorial, and commercial.”

This article excerpted from “Finding Your Place on the Print-to-Digital Spectrum” published on econtentmag.com April 10, 2017. http://www.econtentmag.com/Articles/News/News-Feature/Finding-Your-Place-on-the-Print-to-Digital-Spectrum-116566.htm

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