If you can read this, print is not dead!

If you can read this, then print is not dead

The explosion of digital during the past decade saw trend forecasters declaring the death of print. This has come true, but only partially. Some print publications, mostly news print, have been rendered obsolete by digital growth because of the obvious – people want news that’s fresh, not old. Iconic newspapers and news magazines like Newsweek have closed down their print operations to go completely digital. Other publications which sit in a different subcategory, not that of news but that of technical or expertise based content for example, have embraced the explosion of digital as an opportunity for the re-imagination and even re-dedication of editorial matter. And they have survived the digital explosion, and even used it to complement the value in their journalistic offering. These are the print publications that have heeded the consumer paradigm shift, and differentiated their content from the rest.

Regrouping and differentiating content is the way forward and such great publications like Car Magazine and Popular Mechanics have stayed afloat doing just this, and catering to their market want and needs. This means content that addresses certain technical expertise that the consumers want have survived and are thriving. For publications like Mail & Guardian, Daily Maverick, the guarantee of hard-hitting investigative journalism is how they differentiate themselves and in essence, reach their targeted segments. But for such publications like Car Magazine and Popular Mechanics, cutting edge reportage on their respective niche subjects and in-depth analysis on automobile and sci-tech trends respectively are the draw card. A targeted approach is imperative for print publications if they are to stay relevant, and survive the overcrowded media space that consumers find themselves in.

Targeting successfully means knowing the consumer landscape and being at one with what they need and when they need it. With the blurring of market segments from income-based LSMs to consumer-led tribes for whom interests and passions are the primary criteria, print media differentiation couldn’t be more relevant and urgent. Consumers are now segmented according to what they like, with little regard to income brackets or the traditional ‘lifestyle definitions’ that have been the marketing currency for longer than necessary. Interest groups are championing certain movements and trends regardless of their income brackets simply because they are passionate about these subjects. Fashionistas, makers, human rights lobbyists, techies, are all championing their passion. Even language is a means of segmentation in this age of tribes.

Vernacular publications have fared relatively well and they owe this success to the element of specific language. Circulation figures going up by 38% between 2008 and 2012, vernacular titles prove that language can also be a means of identification in the world of tribes-based segmentation. Targeting means that publications get to meet the needs of informed consumers who know what interests them and have the power to choose that.

I wrote an article analysing the use of Paywalls and one of the highlights of the article was on the integration of digital in print media or for some publications, migration. I looked at how some titles have succeeded in either migrating or integrating paywalls for their digital content: The New York Times, UK’s Financial Times while other papers have failed. Although advertising is a pertinent issue around the longevity of print, the main trend that has resulted in success stories is the differentiation of content through personalisation – giving consumers what they want, when they want it. My assertion then, as is now, is that differentiation has changed consumer behaviour with regards to the dynamic commodity that is news. And my advice was and still is that until print media publications work hard to differentiate themselves and target their content to address the needs of specific consumer segments, those will be the print media deaths we will witness.

P/S: Statistics released recently by the Audit Bureau of Communications for Q4 2012.


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