Why print news still deserves the spotlight

In recent weeks, there seems to have been a renewed appreciation of the power of print to engage readers, influence opinions, and provide a favourable context for advertisers.

First, the i celebrated its fifth birthday on October 26, which prompted its owner, Evgeny Lebedev, to reflect on the growth of Britain’s youngest national newspaper:

“What this paper does is edit the world for you,” wrote Lebedev, who believes the i’s price, interactivity with readers, and mixture of concision and quality has led to its popularity with readers. While the idea of launching a low-priced and concise newspaper looks “like genius now,” he admits that, at the time, it “seemed for a while like a modern kind of madness.”

Joining Lebedev in birthday tributes, The Observer’s Peter Preston applauded the title for defying its doubters and quickly establishing itself as “an innovative campaigning paper,” while London Mayor Boris Johnson declared: “Farewell to the gloomsters who said i wouldn’t work – heres to the power of print.” 

Taking into account i’s success, along with that of its fellow ESI Media title, the London Evening Standard, Roy Greenslade believes that “these two 21st-century press experiments illustrate the enduring strength of news print,” pointing out that people “do not have to pay 40p [US$0.61] for i and they are not compelled to pick up copies of the Standard. They do so because they want to read the content.”

It’s the content, context, and influence of newspapers that make them stand out in the digitally driven, clickbait-consuming frenzy that is today’s news landscape.

Amongst all the noise, the verified journalism of newspapers provides a sense of clarity and assuredness while commanding high levels of engagement. It’s quite a challenge to multi-task when reading a newspaper, and the latest TouchPoints6 data shows that, on the days they read them, people spend an average of 70 minutes with their newspaper. That’s good news for newspapers and advertisers alike.

Writing for Media Week recently, James Wildman, Trinity Mirror Solution’s chief revenue officer, articulated these attributes perfectly and rallied against what he describes as “printism” – an unreasoned dislike, hostility, or antagonism toward, or discrimination against, print that isn’t based on reason or actual experience of the print medium.

“There are few – if any – media that can demand the sales attention of their audience in a trusted brand environment, provide a space and context where commercial messages are actively enjoyed, and genuinely influence the way people think and behave” he wrote. “Our readers know it is special, and it is time we remind ourselves of that too. With 36 million people reading a physical newspaper every month in the UK, my message to the media industry is: Don’t be a printist pariah.”

Proof of the effectiveness of print ads was evident at Newsworks’ Shift North conference held in Manchester last month.

Presenting a case study on how Scottish Widows used news brands as part of a multi-media campaign to modernise the iconic brand, 101’s Laurence Green said that press “pound for pound was the highest performing of the media mix” while also providing a relevant and newsworthy context.

With changes to pension laws implemented during the campaign’s running time, Green says:

“It was a completely accidental upside for us as advertisers because our brand was already where the national conversation was playing out. The conversations around pensions and those changes was not playing out on TV, and it was not playing out on radio, with the exception of Radio 4’s Money Box … It was playing out in national press, it was playing out especially in the weekend newspapers, and our brand was there.”

In the next stage of Scottish Widows’ campaign activity, print drove the most visits to an online hub and delivered traffic with the highest page views, rather than online media, which was just one click away. This is testament to its ability to engage readers and drive action.

Green puts these results down as the fact that people reading newspapers are “just that, their readers, not users. As an advertiser, I’d rather write for a reader than a user … I’d also pay more for them.”

Green cemented his allegiance with print in an article written for the Guardian, where he states that the rise of ad blockers and issues with online ad measurement are putting newspapers back in the spotlight.

“Quality of audience and of audience measurement is back on the agenda, rather than just quantity,” he said. “The favourable context that news editorial provides and the deeper engagement that the medium lends to advertisers are being recognised once again, their storytelling advantage likewise.”

Suffice to say, print’s still got it.

As The Mail on Sunday’s Geordie Greig put it at Shift North: “Newspapers are addictive. If I had to invent a form that could be something that could be thrown away, something that could be preserved, something that could be folded, could even be ironed, something that is easy to sell, something that is cheap, something that if kept for a long time can be valuable, something that could be passed along, printable, holdable, foldable, and disposable, how could one invent it? It is the genius of the newspaper.”

About Jessie Sampson

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