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Paging Print Magazines

May 24, 2019

By Matthew Schwartz


The death of print media has been greatly exaggerated. Again. Since the web started to ascend in the early 2000s it's been an ongoing parlor game within marketing circles as to when print products would meet their ultimate demise. However, a surge in new print magazines reaffirms that being a media prognosticator can be a pretty dicey business these days.

To be sure, U.S. newspapers are starting to fade away, what with the advertising business model blown to smithereens by the web. In the U.S., weekday print circulation has shrunk from a high of nearly 60 million in 1994, to 35 million for combined print and digital circulation in 2018, according to the Pew Research Center. Advertising revenue has plummeted, falling from $65 billion in 2000 to less than $19 billion in 2016.

To make up for the loss in revenue, newspaper publishers have been trading print dollars for web dimes and — for most print newspapers — the center will not hold. But that's not the case for print magazines.

In total, 325 new print magazines debuted with a frequency of quarterly or more within the last two years, according to the MPA. New titles run the cultural gamut. These titles include Meredith's Happy Paws, which caters to pet care, 1843, a lifestyle magazines reintroduced by The Economist, and Compulsive, which covers deep-dive conversation focusing on beauty, health, and fashion. The titles encompass multiple markets, ranging from automotive to travel to science/technology.

"What magazines have is the pull of consumer engagement. I'm sitting down because I want to read a magazine," says Linda Thomas Brooks, president and CEO of the MPA. "Consumers are in control. Every page has contextual relevance, and that's what makes advertising in print so important. The whole package is contextually relevant." She adds, "When advertisers say they're data-driven, I have the data to show that magazines work."

The MPA's Magazine Media Sales Guarantee program, which is offered by several of the MPA's member companies/publishers, is illustrative. Take Meredith, one of the country's top magazine publishers, whose brands include Better Homes & Gardens, People, and Entertainment Weekly. In 2018, print magazines provided the highest average return on ad spending: For every $1 that Meredith invested in magazines the publisher generated a return of $3.94.

The upswing in print magazines presents an opportunity for marketers to expand their brand aperture without all the moving parts that usually accompany buying ads online.

Revenge of analog? The limitations of spending a life entirely online? Or maybe it's just a classic case of Newton's third law: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Having watched their elders, er, millennials, be consumed by the digital gestalt, gen Z is embracing the physical space and showing more of an appreciation for the "touch and feel" that tactile products like magazines provide.

The digital disruption is all too real, of course. But the twin trends of a print resurgence and renewed interest in the physical space among a growing cohort prove that when it comes to the future of media consumption nothing is inevitable.

With that in mind, here are a few reasons why marketers should take a closer look at print magazines and possibly reconfigure their budgets to get their message out via ink on paper.


Straightforward Ad Buy

As the web grows, purchasing online ads gets more complicated and time-consuming. True, programmatic marketing enables brands to pinpoint their target audiences online. But to be successful with programmatic buys marketers need the technical chops to ensure sure the message is attracting the right audience, not to mention deploying an effective keyword strategy. (Let's face it, algorithms don't account for nuances in language, not yet anyway.) However, with a print media buys there's very little muss or fuss. Just hop on an edit schedule and negotiate a rate. And because many of the new print magazines are niche there's little mystery about the demographics of the audience or the loyalty that publishers can show via time spent with the publication (among other metrics that are much more legitimate than likes and/or followers).


Safe Haven for Brands

A few years ago, the chief concern regarding brand safety online was that an ad might end up adjacent to some political messaging (and not of the benign variety). That's the least of worries among brand managers when they advertise online these days, what with parts of the web starting to resemble a digital cesspool. Marketers are taking action: 45 percent of advertising decision-makers are moving their ad spending to well-regarded premium publishers, according to a survey of 304 U.S. advertising decision marketers conducted by Oath, a subsidiary of Verizon. Fifty-percent of the respondents said they are putting pressure on their partners to screen for brand safety.

In contrast to the web, print ad buys don't suffer the same risks as online ad buying. Ad buyers might even negotiate to see precisely what type of content will surround their message. And it's a static message, to boot. There's no chance that after purchasing a print ad vituperative content is going to pop up next to the ad and put the brand in a compromising position — at which point the ad buy morphs into crisis management.


Trust in the Product

More and more it seems like when people surf the web they are being followed at every turn, lending more validity to the creep factor online. In contrast, consumers carry around magazines by choice. Magazines, similar to sumptuous books and sweeping novels, can be people's friends. There are countless ways to describe the web; friendly isn't one of them. And while digital media suck up most of the oxygen, print media fosters the kind of consumer loyalty that has proved elusive online. A 2017 MarketingSherpa study of 1,200 consumers, for example, found that print publications are the most trusted advertising channel when people want to buy something (82 percent). At the bottom of the heap, mobile phone ads (39 percent), ads in podcasts (37 percent) and online pop-up ads (25 percent).

For a while, it was cool to pooh-pooh print media. But marketers who now dismiss print may be missing out on parking their message in a well-lighted, safe lot, particularly when stacked up against online venues. "As the media system grows exponentially it's hard to figure out what you can trust," Brooks says. "For magazines, it's become a shortcut to quality — where consumers know they're getting professional content."

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