Exploring of the major changes and interesting approaches weve seen in print media this year, including the innovations taking place in the digital arena.

By Elaina Hundley

Print media is among the many industries that have had to adapt and innovate during the pandemic, with magazines like AMEXs Departures moving to digital first and media conglomerates like Hearst, Conde Nast and Meredith Corp scaling back the frequency of printed editions and moving toward a digital membership model. While some of these shifts may indicate a dip in the popularity of print, it isnt all doom and gloom. This past year has reinforced some important truths and trends in the print media business and merely sped up some inevitable changes that were already on the horizon. 

Weve rounded up some of the major changes and interesting approaches weve seen within print media—including the innovations taking place in the digital arena.

Scaling Back Print Issues, Focusing On Digital

AMEXs Departures and Centurion Magazine made the most drastic change during the pandemic. The cardholder benefits program eliminated its print magazine entirely, instead focusing on building out a more robust digital platform. While Departures and Centurion are actually in the minority when it comes to discontinuing print entirely, quite a few magazines either paused print for a time or reduced the frequency of publication (at least during 2020) with plans to either return to typical print schedules when possible or take time to evaluate offerings. While the pandemic did not cause the mass folding of print media companies that some expected, it did cause a number of large media conglomerates to rethink how they do business—both in how to better reach consumers and diversify their revenue streams. Finding an alternative to advertising revenues was key, as magazine ad spending was down $4 million in 2020.

Subscriber Revenue Model vs. Advertising 

While print advertising was down in 2020, digital advertising sales ultimately stayed flat. Online video was the only marketing channel to see real growth during the pandemic. As a result, it was even more necessary than before that publishers continue to diversify their revenue streams. As a result, many publishers turned to a digital subscription model during the pandemic—limiting digital article access and asking that readers pay to follow publications online. Digital magazine platforms did this, as did more news media outlets. 

Success Of Media Varied By Industry 

As with other business channels, certain subcategories within print and digital media saw growth. For example, home decor and furnishings websites saw record traffic (as did home product manufacturers, renovation companies and appliance brands). Most companies having to do with the home that adapted well to pandemic precautions and supply chain issues saw strong demand and revenue in 2020. Media is no exception. 

Additionally, magazines that shifted focus toward coronavirus coverage and other trending pandemic-era topics like AD, Vanity Fair and The New Yorker all saw increases in subscriptions when people were home with more time on their hands.

Quality Over Quantity

According to this report from UPM Papers, print is starting to find its place in the continually evolving media landscape and its positioning is in luxury. Paper is becoming a luxury product these days and consumers are a little more willing to purchase magazines featuring high-quality content printed on high quality paper. This trend of quality over quantity validates some publicationschoice to scale back frequency of publication and focus on fewer, but more robust printed issues per year. 

Print Remains A Trusted Medium 

Finally, we can take comfort in the fact that in an era of fake news,” printed media has become a more trusted content vehicle. If someone or some team takes the time to print something as opposed to churning out the polarizing articles floating around social media, that printed material—in many cases—is taken more seriously. 

What can smaller trade publications learn from these trends? 

While we focused here on broader media trends among consumer facing magazines, theres so much for smaller trade publications to learn from the trends the overarching media industry saw in 2020. 

Key Takeaways  
  • Have new revenue streams up your sleeve at all times. In-person events, ad spend, print consumption and even web-traffic are not guaranteed; you have to be ready to pivot as necessary. Always be thinking about new ways to evolve your content and reach your readers where they are with the information they need. 
  • Focus on quality over quantity. Maintain trust in print media by printing high-quality content. 
  • Create a healthy balance of print and digital content. Make sure you have a robust digital component to support and complement your print program. 
  • Dont be afraid to pause or eliminate content channels that are not working. 
  • Deliver relevant content. Be aware of whats going on in the world and what your readers need to know, then give it to them. Being on-trend and offering relevant information will help motivate engagement and create a sense of urgency in your content. 

How has your print media program evolved during the pandemic? Are there any new revenue models or content strategies your organization took during the pandemic that made a big difference?

Read more here, here, here, here, and here. 

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