Imagine the novel idea of being able to read the news without a pop-up ad or a screen notification for a new email or a tweet from the White House. As some magazines have gone digital-only, other big publishers and brands have reversed course and leaned deeper into the ultimate lean back experience, print, with whole new publications.
Recently, The Economist relaunched a lifestyle magazine. Culture Trip, an international media organization, launched a publication about travel. Meredith created a new title centered around pet care. As audiences digest more news on a screen (93% of Americans say they get at least some news online, according to the Pew Research Center), some magazines are investing more into the print product as a way to cut through the digital noise and reach niche audiences. Reading a print product offers an escape from all the distractions—“the only time left for us,” said Samir Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi’s School of Journalism.
“Virtual is not enough,” he said. Consumers have always wanted a clutter-free reading experience. The problem has always been the industry just doesn’t know how to cover the costs for it. Husni said the industry allowed readers to develop the mentality that content should be free on the internet, relying on advertisers to carry the burden of the cost of producing content.
But now, with subscribers becoming more accustomed to paying for the news (and publications are less reliant on advertising dollars), publishers and brands are realizing that now is as good of a time as any to experiment as the business model changes.
“It’s now cool to bring (print) back around,” said Monique Lemus O’Brien, group director at The Media Kitchen. “When you think about data and privacy, and things happening online, think how simple and straightforward it is.”
And publishers and brands might as well capitalize on it now, while readers are willing to pay for it. Meredith has caught on. The Magnolia Journal, a lifestyle magazine centered around Joanna and Chip Gaines, appeared in 2017, and Hungry Girl, a magazine about food in partnership with Lisa Lillien, launched last year. The Magnolia Journal has since grown to a total paid circulation of 910,601, according to December figures from the Alliance for Audited Media.
In all, 134 new print magazines launched having a frequency of quarterly or more in 2017, according to MPA—the Association of Magazine Media.
Most recently, Meredith launched Happy Paws, a magazine centered around pet care. Based on its experiences introducing the other titles, Meredith believes it can carve out a new publication that caters to readers’ specific passion points.
“People will pay for great content, and people will pay for brands and subject matters they’re passionate about,” said Scott Mortimer, vp and group publisher, Meredith, adding that the consumer comes first and the advertiser second when launching a product.
Brands have gotten on board too and introduced magazines, including young companies like The Wing (No Man’s Land), Bumble (Bumble Mag), Away (Here), Dollar Shave Club (Mel), Casper (Woolly Magazine) and Airbnb (Airbnb Magazine).
“It’s sort of like print is becoming the validation of your brand,” Husni said.
The Wing created No Man’s Land as a way to expand the brand, with the latest issue of the bi-annual magazine featuring Fran Lebowitz on the cover and ads from companies like Chanel and Gucci. “We want to offer you a real experience, like spending time with yourself, which is what The Wing is all about,” said deputy editor Laia Garcia.
Niche publications also open up more advertising opportunities for marketers looking to connect with a particular audience, said Aileen Gallagher, an associate professor in the magazine department of the Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University. But print is the most difficult channel to determine an investment’s return, O’Brien said, and it’s important for publishers to make headway in proving to buyers that it’s worth it.
Proof of ROI could involve a coupon code in the magazine that can be used online, she said, to entice advertisers. It can help readers, too.
“We’re used to content reinforcement,” said Candy Lee, professor at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications, like social media reinforcing a website and sending you back to the content. “We’re comfortable with the idea that you have the capabilities of different platforms reinforcing each other. Print can become one more of those platforms, especially if you can do it economically.”