Yes, print does offer revenue, engagement, hope

By Dawn McMullan


Dallas, Texas, USA


The news media company has Facebook and Google. Book publishers have Amazon. 

This was one ah-ha moment from Wednesday’s Print Innovations Workshop, the last event after a week in New York City, which included study tours, a reception at the MoMA, a Brainsnacks session (informal brief case study presentations), and two days of the formal World Congress at the TimesCenter. 

Amit Makan of Sekunjalo Group in Cape Town writes down his group's print takeaways.
Amit Makan of Sekunjalo Group in Cape Town writes down his group's print takeaways.

Chantal Restivo-Alessi, chief digital officer and executive vice president/international at HarperCollins Publishers, discussed the struggle the book industry has gone through in this digital age — many of her struggles mirroring the news media industry. And like media executives have a love/hate relationship with Facebook and Google, book publishers have Amazon. 

“I always have to be careful because one moment, I’m their best friend,” she said. “And the next minute, I’m fighting a battle.” 

Restivo-Alessi offered several pieces of advice for publishers, including: 

  • Find a justifiable high price point (HarperCollins starts with its hardcover books). Then price from there: “It’s really hard to get consumers back from zero,” she said. 
  • Focus on your unique mission: “We strongly believe we’re here to serve authors. We are retailers but we don’t need to be the best retailers. We need to be the best publishers. Are you in the consumer business or the advertising business?” 
  • Understand the value of print: It holds attention, feels permanent, and even facilitates sleep.

Other tidbits she offered news media publishers: 

  • 6% of Americans are digital-only book consumers.
  • 70% of consumers say its unlikely they’ll ever give up printed books.
  • 18- to 29-year-olds are more likely to read print books than any other generation.

The 40 attending Wednesday’s workshop had spent the past week taking in an incredible amount of information and thought leadership about the media industry, most centered around digital. Led by Robert Whitehead, a disruptionist and member of the board at McPherson Media, the workshop dove in to the best practices and — just as important to the process — the hope of print. 

A second group at the workshop used Post-It notes to organise its 10 takeaways.
A second group at the workshop used Post-It notes to organise its 10 takeaways.

“This is not an anti-digital workshop,” Whitehead said. “This is about having print play a much bigger job in this multi-media platform.” 

Julie Murtha, director of audience development and innovation/print, at Toronto Star, said yes, the Star is looking into ways to bring in new revenue from print because the industry’s revenue model is in trouble.

“But it’s more than that,” Murtha said. “It’s actually about the employees. We talk about ‘how many months do we have left’ with such a doomsday attitude. We can’t expect people to come to work every day with that kind of an environment and think they’re going to be motivated to do their job and try new things.” 

Innovation empowers employees, Murtha said. It’s exciting and gives them hope. 

For that reason, the Star has hired two young MBAs who are dedicated specifically to print innovation. The result of this focus on innovation is more than US$150 million in revenue generated through opt-in print products, including a TV book and hard-cover book called Ice Storm

Frank Mahlberg, managing director/Bild print and Fussball Bild, described its 32-page football-based print magazine. Fussball Bild is full of syndicated sports content from Axel Springer properties, as well as advertising bundled from Bild. 

“We started it four months ago and have one year to consider it an experiment,” Mahlberg said. “We are satisfied so far.” 

Ed Bushey, co-publisher of Newsday, shared another print success story, based on predictive analytics. “Brainbenders” is a 24-page puzzle book to which 35,000 Newsday have opted to receive. It’s inserted for free in the newspapers of subscribers who have opted in. The lift from retention among these 35,000 is 6% annually or US$2 million. 

Matt Lindsay and his group took a little heat for using a digital PPT to note their 10 print takeaways.
Matt Lindsay and his group took a little heat for using a digital PPT to note their 10 print takeaways.

Matt Lindsay, co-author of How to Succeed in the Relationship Economy and president of Mather Economics, discussed a case study from NRC, modeled somewhat after mobile phone companies. NRC introduced a commitment within its subscription offers, ditching the long-standing practice of offering trial and short-term subscriptions to instead offer only one-, two-, and three-year subscription periods. 

“In essence, what’s happened is volumes of years of subscriptions sold has gone up by over 100%,” Lindsay said.

Damian Eales, COO/publishing at News Corp Australia, urged media companies to focus on second-tier customers when selling print advertising. 

He talked about an experience with the CEO of a new travel company in Australia, who asked Eales if he knew the name of his travel company before he started working on his account. Eales said he had not. The CEO said he loved to hear that.

“He said, ‘That’s fantastic.’ He thought it was great because he’s got so much room to take marketshare. He spends 90% of his money on print and is getting a tremendous return.

Second-tier clients are trying to take marketshare away from the top tier so they have “more to gain,” Eales said. 

The attendees broke into “unconference” mode after the presentations, each coming up with 10 print takeaways.

“When you look at it within the lens of the Congress, it’s actually very interesting,” Whitehead said. “I don’t remember the last time I sat in a room and people talked about print like this.” 

About Dawn McMullan

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