Publishers in the United States, Europe, South Africa, and India are embracing the emerging value propositions in print with renewed vigor and having smart conversations about how to maintain the platform’s relevance in an increasingly mobile world.
Juan Señor, president of Innovation Media Consulting Group, kicked off Wednesday’s INMA Print Innovation Workshop in New York by calling attention to what he calls “new print,” a future of print being reinvented to bring value to today’s media audiences. The workshop was part of the INMA World Congress of News Media.
“Print is very, very exciting,” Señor said. “There is a lot to be done with it still.”
The workshop, part of the INMA World Congress of News Media, explored innovations in print from around the world. Señor called for media to recognise print may not be part of the long-term answer for revenue but it does have a place in the media mix.
“Print must be a bridge to the future, but it is a bridge; you mustn’t let it crumble,” he said.
The traditional multi-section American newspaper format is 150 years old, but it must be reinvented for new relevance in the digital age. Media never replaces other media; it simply displaces it, Señor said. Movies did not kill theater, and radio did not kill print.
“No medium has ever killed another medium,” he said. “It’s never happened.”
Publishers can play on the strengths of print while creating new value by shifting toward a strategy that is less reportorial and more analytical. New print should tell a story of why, how, what’s next, and what it means in a premium, high-quality product.
“I like to talk about print as haute couture and digital as pre-a-porter,” he said.
Selling the new print product requires a redesign and relaunch to emphasise its value. Señor said it is also important to bundle products for as long as possible. Publishers cannot become digitally sustainable before print becomes unstable if they are obsessed with a protective play.
Even the most attractive, high-quality product will lose its market if the content is not relevant to readers, Señor said. “Only journalism will save journalism.”
Caitlin Roper, editorial director at The New York Times Magazine Labs, said her team’s special section for kids is successful because it creates the product from the perspective of a specific audience.
“We tackled difficult subjects with a real desire to talk to kids about news,” she said.
This strategy has paid off. Originally a one-off experiment, the kids’ section is now attached to the last Sunday newspaper each month. Roper’s team also has success with sections dedicated to puzzles and fiction.
Each of these experiments pushes the limit of print — a crossword puzzle that covers a two-page spread, a foldable annotated version of the Constitution — and aims to surprise and delight readers. The impact of these innovations is felt throughout the company, Roper said.
“One of the biggest impacts my department has had on the rest of the Times is to show what is possible in print, because we are coming at it from the perspective of creative innovation,” she said.
Ulbe Jelluma, managing director of Europe at Print Power, shared case studies that display a different approach to rethinking print. Digital printing has expanded the opportunities for personalisation and relevance.
Using The Sun in one case study, Jelluma pointed to a successful reader engagement strategy that has improved the newspaper’s circulation. Each day the company prints a unique code in its print product. Members of the Sun Savers loyalty programme can collect these codes and redeem them online for money or specific promotions.
After 18 months, The Sun went from 30,000 to 800,000 members and saw a drop in circulation declines. Referencing Señor’s earlier comments on new print, Jelluma said the product did not have to change to grow its audience.
“This is not new print,” he said. “This is trying to improve what exists by using new printing technology.”
Not all innovations in print strategy lie with the product itself. Rika Swart, chief executive officer at South Africa’s Media24 Print Media, shared the story of tension between the publisher and its print distribution partner. The relationship and trust between the companies was non-existent, and Swart said it took outside analysts to point out a culture change in the publisher’s management was necessary.
“You need to reflect the cost of distribution accurately if you want to move away from a blame culture,” Swart said.
An objective evaluation led to major changes in the company’s distribution strategy. Collapsed silos, smaller functional teams, and warehouse and contractor outsourcing helped lower costs. Media24 also lowered costs by approaching competitors to create distribution partnerships. Despite this, the costs to distribute print will continue to rise, Swart said. The strategy will have to shift to address that issue in real-time.
“Sustainability is your challenge and your problem,” she said.
Creating connections with young audiences is helping HT Media in India address another kind of sustainability issue, said the company’s CEO and managing director, Praveen Someshwar.
His company has been experimenting with print to unlock audience opportunities. Over the past few months, HT Media addressed reach, relevance, and engagement by creating products for younger readers and rethinking how it markets print with its digital offerings. Print in India is not in danger, but with a digital future and young potential readers across the country, Someshwar said the platform is the backbone of other initiatives that will power HT Media’s future.
“Print is the bread-earner for our investments in every other category.”