5 Reasons Why Killing Print is a Mistake

Losing connection with your community
Photo: Jackson St. Cyr

2020 was the most challenging year that I have experienced since I founded my firm 22 years ago. It reminds me of the last quarter of 2008 when every client called to say that they were decreasing the frequency of their magazine. But none of them discontinued the production of the print publication completely.

That is not the case now. The CASE Editor’s LISTSERV, CUE, continues to have posts about school magazines going digital-only, while Folio reports the folding of magazines—including their own discontinuation of reporting on the publishing industry. Here are five reasons why killing the print edition is a mistake:

Community. Member magazines have a unique role in publishing: unifying their audience. Whether the publication is for a school or an association, is created for an existing community and the goal is to connect with that community.

Member engagement. As far as I know, no one wakes up and thinks “I can wait to get online and read (magazine name here).” They are reading The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the local newspaper, Medium, Feedly, email, and skimming social media. One of these sources might lead them to an article published in your magazine but it isn’t an object that reminds them of the value of being part of a community.

Digital fatigue. I know that I have it. Even when I have the best intention to read just a 5-minute article on Medium I find myself quickly following links and soon cannot remember how I ended up reading what I was reading (or buying shoes on Zappos). I also can’t remember where I read a particularly interesting article. And this point leads me to...

Brand. When we are engaging with so much content online, it all becomes a cloud of information, and it’s hard to remember where the knowledge came from. Granted, this can still happen when engaging with multiple print sources, but the quantity of input is far less. When a print piece arrives at someone’s home it is one of a few pieces not dozens or hundreds. It is an opportunity to reinforce the institution or association brand.

Home. Speaking of getting print pieces at home, we’re all home a lot more these days, and looking for an escape, and there is nothing like sitting down with a great publication and a good cup of coffee, and allow our minds to briefly go somewhere else. The New York Times figured this one out with the brilliant addition of their Sunday Times Home section. It is a few pages that I cannot wait to read each week—discovering new recipes to try, recommendations on things to do, and paper crafts to recycle the section when I am done reading.

This is not to say there shouldn’t be digital communications. There absolutely should be a strategic plan (sticking your magazine online in a flipbook is not a strategy). How does the print integrate with the website, social media, and much-overlooked e-newsletter? So many magazines are in jeopardy because they are not grounded with editorial mission and communication strategy. Keep the print and utilize its unique power to engage and inspire.