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Noel Ward

Real World Digital

By Noel Ward

About Noel

Noel Ward is Managing Director of Brimstone Hill Associates, which specializes in marketing communications in the printing industry, including video production. He can be reached at 603-672-3635 or via email at His website is, and he has a YouTube channel.

It's Not About the Delivery Platform - Content Remains King

The future of printing is not always as it appears today—or what various e-pundits would have you believe. In fact, one of the bright spots in the world of print is actually magazines, a medium that advocates of "e-everything" claim is going the way of the t-rex and his buddies.

According to a study of over 1,000 consumers sponsored by InfoPrint Solutions, some 67% of respondents feel that e-readers like Kindle or the iPad have their place, but prefer holding—and reading—a printed magazine. More than 9 out of 10 (92%) of magazine subscribers receive their magazines in a printed format, and when asked about delivery preference, 90% indicate they prefer the printed pubs to the e-reader or online version. Some 87% say they will continue to favor their print magazine subscriptions, which are actually on the rise—up 4.3%. Only 24% intend to switch to e-readers over time.

More interesting, overall magazine readership has increased 11% in the 12 years since Google became the go-to directory for information on just about everything. The growth in readers and subscribers is contrary to the trend in magazine advertising revenues, which were down 18% between 2008 and 2009 and have continued to slide. What this indicates is that while most of the mags that reach your mailbox are thinner due to less advertising, these pubs are actually valued media. People read and re-read them, go through them multiple times, and, as research has repeatedly shown, pay attention to the ads.

Still, as magazines compete for readers' eyeballs, they need to pay closer attention to their subscribers and providing a seamless experience. Sandra Zoratti, Vice President of Global Solutions Marketing at InfoPrint Solutions, was deeply involved with the magazine study. She says it ultimately comes down to relevance—and that means content. Take a look at the interview I did with Sandra at the On Demand show, before the full results of the study were released:

Relevant, relevant, relevant
Content relevance is where magazines have to tune up their game. Over three quarters (78%) of consumers admit that relevant, personalized content and promotions would increase their advocacy and loyalty. Yet, 57% of respondents don't believe their favorite mags know them well, and an astonishing 70% have never been surveyed about the content they prefer or would like to receive. Most say they'd be more than happy to participate in such a study.

So magazine publishers are clearly dropping the ball. Or, distracted by plummeting ad dollars, maybe they don't even have their eye on it.

“Relevance reigns as consumers demand more use of their own preferences, regardless of what channel advertisers choose to leverage,” says Zoratti. “Publishers are looking for ways to offer marketers more robust and attractive advertising options, but the most measurable, trackable and targeted approach has yet to be deployed. Precision marketing techniques, regardless of channel, will ensure that publishers retain and build loyalty and advocacy among their readership; marketers achieve measurable, quality engagements with consumers; and consumers get what they want in the channel they most value.”

Zoratti cites a study in our own industry, publshed in the January 2010 issue of the late Graphic Arts Monthly magazine. It tested personalization as a way to re-engage subscribers, fortify declining ad revenue and integrate the on-line/off-line experience. Readers could select the leading topics they wanted to see and received a unique magazine with personalized URLs (generated using MindFire, Inc. software) inside the front and back covers. GMC Software's PrintNet T did the heavy lifting for the customized covers that were produced on InfoPrint 5000 color inkjet printers.

The results from the study showed the importance of content: 84% said relevant content matters most in selecting subscriptions, while nearly six in ten (59%) said irrelevant content drives them to unsubscribe. Over half (52%) said magazines should be available in print to encourage initial subscription. Nearly half (46%) said personalization of the January issue improved their opinion of the brand and 62% were likely to recommend the magazine based on the customization of January issue.

This makes me think of Izzy Video, a subscription website I use to tune up my video shooting and production skills. Izzy recently asked subscribers to tell him what they wanted for his next tutorial. Many responses later, the content has been selected and I'm looking forward to seeing it. But not one of the video mags I receive has asked what I want to see. And like other mags, they are thinner than they used to be. The content is fine, but is not always attuned to what I want. But they don't know that because they don't ask.

Meanwhile, the allure of digital delivery has marketers scrambling to leverage new platforms like the iPad and other digital readers. Zoratti notes that consumers are wondering if Web advertising, no matter how relevant or personal, will be more intrusion than experience. In the InfoPrint study, 41% of consumers would respond to personalized magazine advertising delivered via a digital reader, versus 63% who would opt in for the next step on engagement through a printed subscription. A smart publisher can take that to the bank.

The other side of this is how content should differ between Web and print. That's a different story, and each media can certainly drive the other. But relevance is still crucial and in the battle for readers' eyeballs and mindshare, delivering what people want to see and hear is, as always, the core of a successful publication, no matter how it's delivered.

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Most Recent Comments:
Patrick Whelan - Posted on August 18, 2010
Great article. Content is king. Thanks Noel!
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Archived Comments:
Patrick Whelan - Posted on August 18, 2010
Great article. Content is king. Thanks Noel!