Print as mass media is dead. Long live the print

Media buyers need to be educated to reappraise the value of print (many of whom only understand exchanges and data within their digital buying systems). Print media should be looking towards the radio industry on how to be a united front. And living at a time when we are all re-thinking our approach to sustainability – consumers care not just about the rainforest burns but also the sustainability of instantaneous digital media platforms.

The Drum and Print Power discussed these issues at a recent panel in Cologne, at Dmexco. To get more insights on the power of print, sign up to Print Power's newsletter here.

Time to re-evaluate print media

Across the panel, there was a consensus that the younger generations are not engaging with print media to the same extent, or in the same ways as previous generations. According to Stefan Uhl, young people continue to view print media as something ‘old fashioned’ and if brands want to ensure their survival, they must go where the customers are and introduce an omnichannel approach.

Gerhard Louw, head of global media at Deutsche Telekom echoed this sentiment by saying that if the draw of print media is “attractiveness and relevance then I think everything is happening in video. We’re talking about video and movement in everything, and if there’s a problem with print it’s that it doesn’t have that…we are being led down a path where all the excitement, all the action is going there and that’s a big problem for print.”

However, as managing director of Carat Germany, Stefan Uhl suggested that this was leading to a situation of neglect for print media and that its possibilities are not being adequately explored: “[print media] has to fit to a brand’s communications target, but there are some instances where print can deliver better than any other channel.

“To me, print is a one screen channel – meaning high impact - and it's one of the very few channels left that I'm hoping somebody will focus on. I just haven't seen an initiative talking about that strength from the print industry.”

The real question, however, remains is whether we can re-introduce this medium to the younger generations, and teach them how to use print again, said Rob McIntosh, executive principle at Eight Inc and the former chief brand officer at Esprit. “And will that be successful?” he asked.

The question of sustainability

Yet the panel were quick to point out that there is still a demand and readership for print, because whilst the circulation of print might have diminished, the revenue hasn’t necessarily suffered.

In Germany, according Uhl, print circulation has decreased by 25% in the last 10 years but the revenue has only decreased by 10%. Therefore, there is still a strong readership for print, but as Uhl pointed out, this means that print is increasingly expensive for both agencies and consumers. The consequence of this expense is that print media has become an unsustainable investment for brands.

McIntosh expressed his belief that print media will have to overcome several challenges to remain inherently ‘sustainable’ in the future.

Of course, one of those challenges being that print media will continue to struggle against digital media giants such as Facebook, Google and Amazon Media. However, he also emphasised that print media will have to seriously consider its environmental sustainability going forward, particularly in its efforts to remain relevant in the eyes of the younger generations – who are increasingly environmentally conscious.

When discussing the extent to which the environmental impact of print was disregarded in his own career he said: “At Esprit when I first started, we would spend roughly $3m a year on physical, point of sale materials for stores. And at the end of that season where did it go? Straight into the trash.”

Both Uhl and McIntosh, meanwhile, also pointed to the impact of online on CO2 and wondered if the narrative around sustainability and print, or indeed digital and sustainability could be changed. For instance, recent research shows that online videos generate nearly 1% of global emissions or that music streaming has a far worse carbon footprint than CDs and records

Ensuring print’s legacy, and the power of being niche

The panel agreed that if the print industry is to survive, it needs to think carefully about sustainability and the ethicality of its printed materials – ensuring that things can be recycled or upcycled for future use. Especially as these are prominent concerns for millennials and Gen Z.

The panelists concluded that if print is to survive then it can no longer be used as a medium for reach, as this presents too much of cost to both companies and the environment. “It can no longer be a reach cost-point” said Louw, “but it could be an emotional cost-point.”

The panel also agreed that the print industry needs to collaborate better, like the radio industry, to showcase its evolution as an innovative and progressive ad medium. And that some of that responsibility lies on media owners, said McIntosh. There’s a huge opportunity, he added, within the print business to continue to create quality content for the modern consumer.

“There is still a role for [print]” said Jelluma, “we just must accept that it can no longer be a reach medium… but it could be niche. And sometimes a niche explodes.” Just remember, The Face – one of the most influential magazines in the UK that folded in 2004 – is making a comeback as a quarterly print title.

For Louw, it remains critical that print redefines itself and find its place. “This place is probably a niche, because the days for print as a mass media are probably over. But as an industry we need to find what niche is, and what is it that print media offers that no other channels can. We need to find and talk about the emotional connections that people have with print.”

Uhl agreed and added “we need to capitalise on that niche. That is print’s strength.”

And as Louw concluded: “In this industry it is still much more important if you get an article in horizontal than if you are mentioned on the website. That is the power of print right there - it’s prestige.”

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.