The shift from online to print (no typo)

About 5 years ago I was invited to attend a small roundtable organised by PIRA – a research consultancy. They had been asked by one of their clients (a printer, I think) to gather together a few people from the magazine publishing industry to debate the future of print & give them a steer on where the industry might be headed.

It was an interesting crowd of around a dozen people including Tim Brooks, then of IPC and now the MD of Guardian News Media;  Simon Middelboe, current CEO of Emap Inform; Ian Bissel, then of Emap and now at Reed Exhibitions and Victoria Scott from the Readers Digest.  

The roundtable was supposed to last most of the day but by lunchtime I think there was a general agreement that, in a magazine industry context, print had no real future. We called a halt.

Now I’m not sure how PIRA’s sponsor took this news but I remember an outcry at the PPA (the UK’s trade association for large media companies) when the news filtered back to their various committees. Ian Locks, the Chairman, wrote an indignant leader for Magazine News extolling the virtues of print and the PPA began a research programme to prove the case for print based advertising.

Looking back from January 2009 I was recently revisiting that day.

I have no doubt that most of the participants will view the past 5 years as a validation of our conclusions. A lot of print titles have gone to the wall, valuations for all media businesses are being savaged and magazines are struggling to compete with their online competitors. I am sure that at every ‘old media’ publishing house in the land executives are trying to calculate a tipping point where some aspect of their print publishing no longer makes economic sense & activities should be transitioned to the web – with all of the resulting challenges that this brings.

In fact Steve Rubel even went so far as to profer a date for the end of tangible media in the US; January 2014 – mark it in your Blackberry or iPhone calendar (assuming you no longer use a desk diary).

I too look back over the past 5 years as evidence that print doesn’t work for a lot of the future media models. However, I have seen a couple of examples recently that suggest it still does have a place – especially when it takes advantage of advances in print technology and tailored content.

Citywire is a financial publishing company founded by Lawrence Lever, formerly Financial Editor of the Mail on Sunday. It was launched online in 1999 and covers the fund management, personal finance and financial adviser sectors. The site has grown rapidly, carries a lot of proprietary data and employs many journalists who have passed professional exams and are registered as investment advisers but the FSA. It is 25% owned by Reuters. 

As a ‘web first’ media company Citywire is well placed to avoid the legacy print activities which currently cause so much heartache to old media. And yet, over the years they have chosen to launch magazines alongside their websites. The difference with magazines like New Model Adviser is that they use the huge amount of detail gained from web registration forms to offer personalised content and advertising to their readers. I would imagine that the advertisers see a lot of value in being able to demonstrate individual fund performance to their target audience based on readers preferences, and will pay premium rates to be able to do so.

The same principle of personalised content is being explored by Idiomag – albeit in a digital edition only but it could work in print. Idiomag is a bespoke music magazine that can be individually tailored by users who can import their profiles from services like It  provides an interesting model for publishers who are exploring the ‘pool of content’ approach to publishing where journalists no longer write for a specific title but rather feed all stories into a central CMS with detailed tagging and a taxonomy. Readers then nominate the content which is relevant to them. This can then linked to e-commerce applications for downloads, gig tickets etc.

I am sure there are many other examples of online media ‘reversing’ into print and would welcome links to any good ones in the comments section below.



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5 responses to “The shift from online to print (no typo)

  1. mannashton

    This is an interesting assertion, Rory. Another example might by The Food Network’s new print magazine, which follows their TV presence & Web presence. It will be interesting to see where print lands after the current carnage in the industry settles.

  2. Rory Brown

    Thanks Alison,

    The point I was trying to make in this post was that print will all but die if it doesn’t adapt.

    There are still opportunities for successful print titles (and even new launches) but they must look at how they can also use technology to update the model. I love the concept of using detailed demographic data gathered through web registration and profiling to produce a tailored magazine for both readers and advertisers.

    There is a nice irony about web first publishers reversing into print at a time when old media is struggling and going the other way.

    Will be interesting to see how everything pans out.


  3. Bryan

    Thanks for your thoughts on this. I have long been advocating mass customization as a strategy for the newspaper industry. Allowing readers to select preferences and producing an individualized product based on those preferences that one could take to work or read on the way would be something for which many new (and existing) readers would be willing to pay.

    Plus, the advertising could command a higher CPM due to the improved targeting capabilities.

  4. Rory Brown

    Another story on a Citywire launch today in the Press Gazette

  5. I have 16 years in print media and 4 years in electronic media. On the inside, I have sold display ads and banner ads for magazines, newsletters, Websites and other publications. On the outside, I have contributed editorially or worked with journalists to secure listings, articles and quotes on behalf of my clients. I think a magazine is a natural evolution of a successful Website or even blog if readers are the touchy/feely type. The biggest challenge we face in 2009, the the exhorbitant costs of printing now compared to say two years ago. Your per-page expense is huge and you are at the mercy of large print runs to keep costs down. You have to rely on advertising sales to offset the costs of printing and then, you’re stuck with setting rates that have to pay for your print costs “and” earn you a fair amount of profit. Now, you’re up to healthy dollars. Next, you have to fish in the same pond every other publication does for advertisers and they all have choices. They are concerned about the demographics of your publication (and Website) but they are more concerned (sadly) with your rates. They either have slashed their advertising budget in 2009, or might not even have one this year. By all standards, it is the worst possible time to launch a new magazine. However, I think WAY out of the box and so do you (reverse engineering from a Website to a magazine) and I believe it can work. Most magazines use their Website as a value-add to their advertisers i.e. give us an annual full page contract committment and we will throw in a complimentary banner ad on our site for a year that can be viewed on all pages. In this case, your Website is the valuable real estate, not the magazine because it has established traffic and a history. You have a greater change of selling print advertising in your new publication if you leverage banner advertising “and editorial” on your site.

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