Why print is the new digital

By Stuart Howie

Flame Tree Media

Sydney, Australia


It was a bold enough statement for me to take note — and to recount now more than 20 years on.

While on a study tour of the United States in 1996, I was talking to a senior media executive in Chicago who emphatically declared, without a hint of self doubt: “In 10 to 15 years, people will look at a newspaper and laugh.”

Sure enough it’s been a rollercoaster ride, but print still matters — not just to news folk, but also to those in the communications business finessing their media ecosystems.

The power of print was evident to me in the first week of my job as a cadet journalist at a small weekly newspaper in rural Australia.

Stuart Howie, former editorial director with Fairfax Media, explores the relevance of print in his new book, "The D.I.Y. Newsroom."
Stuart Howie, former editorial director with Fairfax Media, explores the relevance of print in his new book, "The D.I.Y. Newsroom."

One of my duties — as well as writing — was to deliver the newspaper to news agents, hot off the press. The editor lit up another cigarette and kept the motor running while I delivered bundles of newspapers, outlet by outlet.

This was in 1984, and people milled around the counter to get their hands on their weekly digest of local news to check if their kids’ sports results were published and to catch up on the town chit-chat.

It was tremendous validation as a journalist that the work I did had value.

In the past decade or so, newspapers have been under siege. Across the globe, newspaper advertising revenue and circulation have plummeted dramatically. Australia and Oceania (including New Zealand) have experienced among the steepest declines, a loss of towards 25% over five years, according to the WAN-IFRA World Press Trends survey.

But there is life left in the old girl yet. In China, India, and other parts of Asia, newspapers remain a booming business. The slide has been arrested in other countries, and even in my neck of the woods, some publishers are meeting and beating their circulation budget.

Over more than 30 years working in the industry, I have seen all the ups and downs of newspapers, and I remain an optimist about print. I continue to work with companies with significant print holdings, and my mission is helping them to save their newspapers — or at least make them stronger for longer.

This is not just because I am romantic about newspapering, but because print does things digital cannot.

An illustration from the author's book.
An illustration from the author's book.

And for anyone who thinks print is just ink on dead trees, here are five reasons why print still matters:

1. Print = trust.

Research shows even Millennials, who have no affinity with traditional media, trust print more than other sources, particularly social media.

The Yellow Social Media Report 2018 (Australia) found 73% of those surveyed trusted traditional news sources, including print media — well above what appeared from news sources on social media (16%) or from friends and family posts on social media on what was happening (11%). As well, one-third of respondents admitted to reacting to something on social media that they later discovered was untrue.

Digital gets our attention, but print gets our respect.

2. Print is tactile.

The tangibility of print ignites senses in a different way to what we see on a screen. A marketing colleague of mine tells the story of how she was pitching an idea to a prospect. It was hard going, until she presented him with a brochure that succinctly described the package on offer. Sold.

Print provides us with a comforting lay-back experience. Nothing better than a macchiato and the morning newspaper.

3. Print is utilitarian.

Newspapers, magazines, and brochures have proven to be enduring formats. The mobile phone is the ultimate utilitarian device, but you can do a lot with paper, too. The best print products curate what we need to know and enlighten us about the world without us having to trawl across the world wide Web and mentally piece it together.

4. Print is permanent.

We process, retain, and recall information better via print. A Temple University (U.S.) study found paper beat digital in a host of areas, including for creating an emotional reaction and a desire for a product or service. The study found print marketing activated the ventral striatum of the brain more than digital media.

Another study found physical material was more real to the brain and hence could be categorised and processed. Print has impact and permanency.

5. Print is swag.

Print is the new digital. It has fresh currency in a digital world where everyone has a Web site and lives out their personal and business existences ostentatiously on social media. The Economist honours the written word in its beautiful formulaic weekly news magazine. Monocle is a monthly magazine that exudes a strong internationalist, hip personality.

A HarperCollins executive told our 2017 INMA New York study tour that Amazon’s online sales of print titles had soared 15% year on year. Why the resurgence? Printed books hold people’s attention and are permanent. And 18- to 29-year-olds were most likely to read books.

The above is an excerpt from my new book, The D.I.Y. Newsroom. It may not be lost on you that, for all these reasons and more, I committed to putting my best thinking down on paper. In print. In a book.

In the digital world, everyone can be a publisher. But print can offer quality and cachet that elevates it above the usual media noise.

Whether you are a media outlet, business, council, educational institution, non-profit or elite sporting body, bespoke printed products can connect organisations to their target market. With print, you can put yourself, your organisation, in the hands of existing customers and prospects.

You can use print in a targeted and creative way for rebranding, campaign launches and histories and anniversaries. Print is a magnificent third-party tool. Provide books (like I’m doing) to your clients as a value add. Tell your stories in a photographic compendium — in print.

In print, consider:

  • Regular direct mail newsletters, newspapers, and magazines.

  • High-quality brochures, flyers, and booklets.

  • Yearbooks or annual reports.

  • Artistically designed infographics, wall charts, and posters.

  • Artwork.

  • Informative books or coffeetable books.

  • Calendars.

Print can be beautiful. And it punches above its weight category in a world where digital is fleeting and so often vacuous in nature.

INMA members can receive a 15% discount on Howie’s latest book. Go to diynewsroom.com and on checkout, use the coupon code DIYINMA.

About Stuart Howie

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