By Joe Pulizzi published August 11, 2010

7 Reasons Print Will Make a Comeback in 2011

Okay…there, I said it.

You’ll find no greater supporter of online content marketing than me, but marketers and agencies are talking up print for 2011. Yes, in the era of iPads and Apps, there is still a role for print.

Jeff Jarvis recently wrote about how media companies need to ignore print.

The physical costs of production and distribution are killing. The marketing cost of subscriber acquisition and churn are hellish.

He’s right.  And if you are a media company that relies on most of your revenue for print, you need to post Jeff’s article on your forehead.

But if you are a corporate marketer, there is an opportunity here. Here’s why:

1. Getting Attention: Have you noticed how many fewer magazines and print newsletters you are getting in the mail these days? I don’t know about you, but I definitely pay more attention to my print mail.  There’s just less mail, so more attention is paid to each piece. Opportunity? Less traditional publishers are printing magazines today, which leaves opportunities for content marketers.

2. The Focus on Customer Retention: In a soon-to-be-released research study conducted by Junta42 and MarketingProfs, customer retention was the most important goal for marketers when it came to content marketing outside of basic brand awareness.  Historically, the reason why custom print magazines and newsletters were developed by brands was for customer retention purposes.  We have a winner!

3. No Audience Development Costs: Publishers expend huge amounts of time and money qualifying subscribers to send out their magazines. Many times, publishers need to invest multiple dollars per subscriber per year for auditing purposes (They send direct mail, they call, they call again so that the magazine can say they that their subscribers have requested the magazine. This is true for controlled (free) trade magazines).

So, let’s say, a publisher’s cost per subscriber per year is $2 and their distribution is one hundred thousand.  That’s $200,000 per year for audience development.

That’s a cost that marketers don’t have to worry about.  If marketers want to distribute a magazine to their customers, they just use their customer mailing list. That’s a big advantage.

4. What’s Old Is New Again: Social media, online content and iPad applications are all part of the marketing mix today. Still, what excites marketers and media buyers is what IS NOT being done.  They want to do something different…something new. It’s hard to believe, but I’ve heard many marketers talk about leveraging print as something new in their marketing mix. Unbelievable.

5. Customers Still Need to Ask Questions: We love the Internet because buyers can find answers to almost anything. But where do we go to think about what questions we should be asking?  I talked to a publisher last week who said this:

“The web is where we go to get answers but print is where we go to ask questions.”

The print vehicle is still the best medium on the planet for thinking outside the box and asking yourself tough questions based on what you read. It’s lean back versus lean forward. If you want to challenge your customers (like Harvard Business Review does), print is a viable option.

6. Print Still Excites People: I talked to a journalist recently who said it’s harder and harder to get people to agree to an interview for an online story.  But mention that it will be a printed feature and executives rearrange their schedule. The printed word is still perceived as more credible to many people than anything on the web. It goes to the old adage, “If someone invested enough to print and mail it, it must be important.”

Whether that’s true or not, that is still a widely-held perception.

7. Unplug: More and more people are actively choosing the unplug, or disconnect themselves from digital media. I’m doing this more myself. I’m finding myself turning off my phone and email more to engage with printed material.  A year ago I didn’t see this coming.  Today, I relish the opportunities when I can’t be reached for comment.

If I’m right, many of your customers (especially busy executives) are feeling the same. Your print communication may be just what they need.

Online content marketing is definitely here to say.  Yes to social media, apps and the rest of it.  But don’t forget that print can still play an important role in your overall content marketing mix.

Author: Joe Pulizzi

Joe Pulizzi considers himself the poster boy for content marketing. Founder of the Content Marketing Institute , Joe evangelizes content marketing around the world through keynotes, articles, tweets and his books, including best-selling Epic Content Marketing (McGraw-Hill) and the new book, Content Inc. Check out Joe's two podcasts. If you want to get on his good side, send him something orange. For more on Joe, check out his personal site or follow him on Twitter @JoePulizzi.

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  • Eufémia Santos

    Hey Joe,
    Great post, thanks.
    In my opinion what you’re say it is true and make sense it is what I could call the after storm quietness. “What is new is interesting” people use to say and act on that but after a while they stabilize their choices. Nevertheless, print will never reach the same high levels again. I agree with you that people still like paper and printed stuff, however in little quantities. Obviously a lot of people is going to off mode more often, but realising that digital allows you to filter, save and categorize content for later use.
    Print will stay around because we like different stuff and “flavours” to consume in different moments. We like exquisite and unique stuff, like an unique 50-year-old vinyl, or a classic car to have ride when you have faster cars and latest models. Read a printed book instead of digital has its own charm and brings you something different.

  • Carrie Grove

    #6. “Print Still Excites People” – I think this point is right on. A feature article printed in the paper or in a magazine does still feel more “real/legit”. Probably because anybody can write something and publish it online but would have a much harder time getting their story in print.

  • Jon Buscall

    Hmm, I’m not sure on this one, Joe. As a fortysomething I do enjoy a real paper newspaper on my holidays, as a kind of nostalgic kickback to my youth. But from the look of the millennials here in Stockholm, print isn’t making a comeback anytime soon.
    Perhaps you need a qualifier here? I’m sure some age groups will be looking to print for something different – especially as print is having to innovate to keep up. But I do think the digital generation will continue to ignore print for a good while yet.

  • Linda K.

    Right. I’ve been saying this for two years as print brands have consistently declined or disappeared. Print will be the next big thing for all the reasons that you mentioned. And that’s a good thing. The only way people are really going to become more educated/informed is through “push” content. Because if you don’t know it’s out there, you won’t be able to “pull” it in! The good news is that hopefully this cycle will flush out the second-rate, me too pubs that no longer offer any relevance. Do I really need to wait a whole week to get my industry “news”? I think not. Let’s leverage the mediums for what they work best for.

  • Joe Pulizzi

    Good comments.
    1. No, print won’t ever come back to where it was, but I do think it can be an opportunity for some content marketers. It all depends on the strategy.
    2. Jon, I hear you. But I’ll tell you one thing about print and the younger generation. I’ve had the opportunity to fly all over North America and Europe over the past year…there is more print read in airports by young women than any other category…even while they are holding their smartphones.
    We engage in more media at one time that ever before. Print will serve a purpose for some brands, others not. We just shouldn’t forget about it and miss out on an opportunity.

  • Mike Klassen

    I’ve been getting calls from businesses primarily marketing online who are adding print to the mix for a simple reason: Not everyone in their target market knows to look for them online.
    Or, in the case of some professionals (plastic surgeons and lawyers was a target of one company contacting me), they don’t have the time or desire to be online looking for a product/service they don’t realize can help them. (Maybe it’s a new product or service.)
    For those marketers, print needs to at least start the conversation. Likely it will continue online, but you have to let them know you are online and where to find you.
    And some niches, like consultants, are finding themselves buried in search results.
    For one reason you mentioned, relatively empty physical mail boxes, a print piece helps them stand out from their competitors who are only marketing online.

  • Jeff Molander

    Your reasoning seems solid. But proof’s in the puddin’. I’m interviewing companies like Crutchfield (remember the ‘magalog’) lately. They’re busy proving (ie. data analysis that tracks back to boosts in incremental sales) that their new print magazine can drive real results — not just “engagement.”
    I should say, print AND digital magazine.

  • Jeremy Victor

    Thought provoking post – this quote.
    “The web is where we go to get answers but print is where we go to ask questions.”
    It’s interesting though as we could argue that we just came to your blog and you have us asking questions.
    To me that publisher is still missing the point a bit. It seems a bit defensive. It is not about one medium (print) vs. the other (web).
    It is about providing integrated solutions – using both mediums. Print is not dead, nor is it dying. It is evolving. The sooner publishers adopt this thinking the better.
    And the 8th reason, I would add: Budget increases. Last year during the budgeting cycle for most companies, we were in the depths of an uncertain recession – will it end or continue? Purse strings were keep tight. I’m predicting budget increases – not super large ones, but definitely more than 2010.
    Thanks for keeping us asking questions.

  • Brendon B Clark

    Interesting stuff. We use print to drive engagement, but the content is as customised and personalised as we can make it, based on what we know and can infer from our data. And it’s our data that drives it, the print is just part of the contact.
    It’s not just print though as a couple people mention, but a paper based strategy for building relationships which I can then nurture in the digital and print space.
    Thanks for the post

  • Bob Rosenbaum

    Every point you make is valid – and has been throughout the recent decline of print. Problem is that the majority of marketers who are NOT leaders in thought or deed have abandoned print simply because they have come to believe that print doesn’t work anymore. Why? They don’t have the slightest idea; they’re just following the crowd. In truth, print has never stopped working, but the marketing masses believe it has. They won’t return to it again until they believe that there is some new reason why it works AGAIN. That’s going to take a lot longer than 2011.
    And then there is still one thing that print doesn’t do very well, and may NEVER do very well: It doesn’t move people effectively over to the digital channel where their responses and reactions can be measured.

  • Joe Pulizzi

    Hi Bob…thanks for commenting. You and I have had this conversation before, but a couple new points.
    1. This post was based on conversations with CMOs, agencies and marketing execs. It frankly surprised me about the number of people focusing on print.
    2. RE: measurement. It’s very hard to measure ads, but it’s not as hard to measure custom print. Whether by timing, unique URL, special offer, A/B testing or what not.
    I think that print took an unfair hit with the combination of digital and the recession. It needs to be a part of the mix…just will never come back to where it was. And that’s okay.

  • Ed Cleary

    I guess the proof will be in the ad index of magazines. Most of the (few)magazines I still receive have very small print advertiser bases.. and some have ceased publication altogether.
    If it comes back, we should see much thicker and more vibrant pubs in 2011.
    Folio Magazine just published an article yesterday (8/12)that stated the B2B print will continue to be sluggish through 2014.
    B2B Print Pubs will be down another
    11.2% this year…. and this is on top
    of being down over 25% last year.
    Here is the Folio Magazine link for those that are intersted:
    News From Folio just out – Forecast: @FolioMag – Magazine Growth Sluggish Through 2014:

  • Joe Pulizzi

    Thanks Ed. I actually don’t think that traditional print will necessarily come back. I think that marketers will use custom, targeted print like newsletters and magazines more as part of their integrated programs.
    So, while one side of print continues to struggle, the other side will benefit (marketers publishing their own material instead of advertising).

  • Davezilla

    “The printed word is still perceived as more credible to many people than anything on the web.”
    Far too many studies show this not to be true anymore. People may *claim* they find print more credible, but ethnographic researchers says when asked a question, the first thing people do is run to Google—not the library.

  • Joe Pulizzi

    Hi Dave…I agree with you on the perception of print, but when I talk to journalists, they talk about a more willingness from interviewees when the article is in print. Don’t shoot the messenger.

  • Alison

    Reason #8: Location, location, location. There are some places where people just like print better than mobile or audio: planes, trains, waiting rooms and (ahem) bathrooms. Every time we survey our print subscribers, we get a handful of people who mention the last location as the reason why they like print!

  • Joe Pramberger

    Speaking of research, ours shows that print drives Google/Bing/Yahoo searches. When we ask our magazine subscribers how they respond to articles and advertisements, no surprise that #1, they go directly to that company’s Web site. But more than 60% (consistently) tell us that they use a search engine to find out more about the topic or product. And over 75% tell us they are more likely to click on a company’s listing in organic search results if they saw that company’s ad in the magazine (print or digital edition). So print isn’t getting enough credit for online actions. Searches don’t happen in a vacuum.

  • Clay Forsberg

    If I could add one thing. One the hottest new print technologies these days are QR codes. And the interesting thing is that to use it, you have to scan a printed piece. Full circle back to print.

  • Jim O’Hare

    1989: sent my first email
    1990: produced company’s first desktop-published magazine; sent to printer via FTP (300 baud modem)
    1991: subscriber to both Prodigy and CompuServe.
    1995: launched my Fortune 200 company’s website
    1996: published first of over a quarter million WebCD (complete website on a CD)
    1999: broadcast first webcast in corporation
    2001: corporate streaming video networks online – 20,000+ nodes.
    2005: published first digital magazine
    2008: published first on-demand hard-bound book via digital tecnology
    2010, August 13: sent resounding “Yes” to Junta42, via online community, regarding the “new” medium of printing.
    We, too, have been an earlier adopter of all things digital as related to publishing. I consider publishing in the most broadterms: if you prepare media for a audience so that it can be
    – read
    – viewed
    – listened to
    – interacted with,
    then it’s publishing. We remain bullish on electronic publishing – how can you not? – but we have never given up on print.
    Our friend Brad Nellis, the high-tech director of the nearly 1000 member tech organization NEOSA, made a similar prediction to Joe’s.
    “I get almost no print mail anymore. If someone sends me a nicely printed piece, it gets my attention.”
    Viva la online, viva la print, viva la difference.
    Jim O’Hare

  • Kevin Lund

    Hallelujah, Joe! A little over a year ago, in our premier print release of SENTIMENT magazine ( our client said it best:
    “If our communications had developed electronically, the next big thing would be the invention of the ‘print’ magazine; a completely portable communications tool that the reader could view on printed pages, touch, toss on his coffee table, file away, or pass along to a friend.”
    As a producer of electronic financial newsletters and alert services, this was considered “risky” and foreign. But he saw an opportunity to engage with his audience in “the next big thing”– offline marketing–which has been a great success for him in many areas, including retention, acquisition and good old-fashioned thought leadership.
    To argue that print has no place in today’s online world is to have blinders on. There’s no doubt that print is here to stay, and has its place alongside even the best online campaigns when done thoughtfully and meaningfully. It’s the marketers and custom publishers who develop printed magazines to be more than just words on paper–rather, cultural experiences–who are destined for success.

  • Michael Fox

    This is EXACTLY what we have been finding – as traditional print media becomes somewhat of a novelty, savvy marketers are taking advantage and aggressively moving towards a portfolio of custom publishing. At TDA Group, we are bringing our best practices forward to educate sales and marketing teams how to make best use of blending print and on-line media, with emphasis on the effective application of items such as custom magazines etc. Results have been extremely positive for ourselves and our clients.

  • Arnie | Vertical Measures

    I have to agree with Jeff M. Print and digital is the best of both worlds. Even though I have a Kindle and an iPad, I still read industry focused stuff in print. And I confess I still read the local paper every morning. But all of that content should be made digitally available.
    And I look at every printed piece that is mailed to me at the office. Because I only get a few every week!

  • Kevin Trye

    Good reminder of prints value in the mix. There was a report by research company back in 2006 when it was stated that ‘print can be a legitimate spinoff to online communications’. Even back then someone was thinking outside the online box…

  • OlsenNoelle

    I took 1 st loans when I was 20 and this helped my business a lot. However, I need the bank loan once more time.

  • Paul Biedermann

    Yes! What goes around comes around and I’ve been predicting this for a long time. After all, once everybody is up to speed with SMM, SEO and web optimized, the next great new thing will be… print! In the meantime, print is still the way to go because nobody is doing it.

  • Victoria Blount

    I agree with this article but like the com mentors above i think print has a genuine quality about it, which is why big executives and more interested in a print article as opposed to a web one.

  • Kim Tinkham

    As a publisher of several print magazines I can appreciate your thoughtfulness on this issue. Print is not dead but it has been going through a metamorphosis of sorts. Print is actually going through what online will be going through. It’s not about the global quantity it is about the niche/local quality that you bring to the table. I love the online content that is out there but so many online publishers just blast information out there with no thought of their readership. The same thing will happen (is happening) to them that has happened to the larger non-niche print entities. I guess it will always boil down to quality of content for your readers – regardless of whether it is print or digital. Thanks for bringing this topic to the table.

  • Razlan

    There are more digital content compared to print content. When a commodity become more scarce, people assume it is more valuable. Print content will increase its importance, but will never return to its peak performance as yesteryears. Which puts digital folks in print media companies (such as yours truly) in a great place to be!

  • Jenny Kreuser

    I can tell you that I have never seen greater results in my advertising efforts than when using print + online media in order to spread a message. When I researched the effectiveness of print about a year ago at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, over half of the students prefer to read a ‘hard’ copy newspaper and book versus online.
    Also, I can tell you that as a younger person, I also prefer this, and mostly spend my time online making business contacts, socializing, and researching. When I see a print advertisement or article, and also online, I am more immersed in that message because that company has reached me through multiple touch points.

  • Anna Marie Dunn

    I agree with you regarding the “print comeback.” While we are aware of the need for information via technology, “the experience” using the senses(touch, smell, taste especially)will always be there and electronic mediums cannot deliver (as yet). Hurray for print!

  • Seymour

    “Print still excites people”, it really does and I think this point is well made. I think it will be a long time (if ever) before readers see words in a virtual environment as having quite the authority and bearing of a printed page. Perhaps, as one of your commenters suggested, it will become something of a novelty in years to come, to have something you can read and then scrumple up or pin to your fridge as you choose. I hope you are right.

  • Martina Jones

    “The printed word is still perceived as more credible to many people than anything on the web.”
    Online Marketing

  • Christa Huit

    Very good points in both the article and many posts. I think that truly the “everything in moderation” model works best. No one wants to be inundated with emails, web ads anymore; just as no one wants 50 pieces of unwanted mail in their physical mailbox. Everything must evolve, and I think this is print’s biggest era for change. Quality over quantity? About the age range… looking forward to the techno generation looking to print as retro and cool. It will happen, just look at the 80’s fashion return.

  • Spotlight Direct

    once advertising firms develop a strategy to implement both print and online products under the same man power, then this debate will go away. print is not dead, it is a fact that offering digital products has almost no overhead cost other than the intellect to create the digital goods. thus, the trend continues to shout digital, yet that trend is not delivering the results promised for the most part.

    • ceci

      really – the digital trend is not delivering the results promised? Where did you get that info? I am looking for sites that give actual ROI on on-line marketing. Can you help??

  • Tamara Jacobs

    There is absolutely no question that when preparing a piece of content for print, people pay more attention to their words, grammar, and opinions- so I would have to agree with point number 6. I also must agree with points 1 and 7- because we are so “plugged in” during our days, curling up with a magazine feels like a real breather, moreso then ever before.
    In terms of stimulating ideas and getting people to ask the right questions, I don’t agree that only print is capable of achieving this. There is a ton of incredible content available online right now. By logging on to influencial social media channels like Twitter people have access to all things the people they follow think are interesting, cool and worth checking out. It almost negates the need to sift through papers and magazines yourself- assuming you’re following people you like and trust.
    And with regards to point 3, I don’t think that publishers existing mailing lists are quite enough- so there is the need to branch out and that will always cost money, no matter what form of media you are using. At least with digital though, you are able to reach many people at once.
    I like your article and your ideas. Thank you for sharing them. This is a very interesting topic of conversation and one that will get editorial coverage for many years to come I think.

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  • Angela

    I am a publisher and I am also a business owner who advertises in my own publication. I get 100 times more business from my ads in my magazine than I get from Facebook, Craigslist or my website combined and even though the magazine costs more to print, once it is out there, it does the work for me where Facebook and Craigslist I have to constantly feed it for it to work at all. Yes, you need the mix of all.

  • Matt Bansberg

    I highly agree on the number 1 reason. Getting attention is indeed the main reason why advertisers spend money for print ads. I am also into a printing business, hence I can strongly relate to this. I have many clients who are really particular in print ads because they know how important these marketing tools are.

  • Carl Friesen

    Print is still powerful in some markets, particularly in reaching business leaders. I recently helped a client publish a two-page article in a major trade publication reaching the oil and gas sector. I would like to introduce two numbers, and the first is 42,580. That’s the circulation figure for this magazine, so it’s midsize for a US trade pub. That is a lot of people in some of the world’s most profitable companies, with some serious budgets to spend. The other number is 10,050 — and that’s how many US dollars it takes to put a one-page ad in front of those readers. There are about 100 pages in each issue, and a third of them are advertising. This means that there are a lot of suppliers willing to spend serious money to get an ad in this publication. Does this make my client’s two-page article worth over $20,000? No? Uh, and why not, exactly? Maybe there’s some life in those dead-tree publications yet? A lot of money seems to think so.

  • Catalog printing

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