Print Is Dead, Long Live Print: Digital Magazines Have Publishers in a Spin

digital magazines

Time Inc, Hearst, Condé Nast, Wenner Media and Meredith magazine publishers have banded together to promote their print editions in a "power of print" ad campaign. But let's do the Time Warp again, and remember digital mags really are the future.

The "power of print" campaign is due to be announced today, and it cost some $90 million and constitutes 1,400 ad pages. What may be the major placement is a two-pager featuring Michael Phelps, with the tag line, "We surf the Internet, we swim in magazines." The body text of this one makes lots of the emotional differences between the two different media—the Net is "exhilarating" but the printed word in a magazine is "enveloping" and while the Net "grabs you," a magazine "embraces you."

This is a pretty odd line to push, if you think about it because every printed word is dead, fixed, whereas the dynamic changing text published online is very much alive. And with Web2.0 user interactivity and social networking threaded through more and more Web sites, surely it's Web publications that truly embrace the user. So, given this mixed message, what's the big campaign actually all about? Statistics. The ads will make note of the fact that magazine readership has risen 11% during the time that Google's been around (12 years,) and in the same way TV didn't kill the movies, the Net hasn't killed the magazine. The group is pushing this message to remind the general public that the magazine isn't dead yet.

But that's also wrong, isn't it? Sure, the Net hasn't killed the magazine, but that's not really the looming, menacing, transformational threat that the industry really faces: E-publishing, and digital versions for the next paradigm of mobile computing heralded by Apple's iPad. The dynamic, complex content that can be delivered in a tablet PC magazine edition is already resulting in in-fighting inside publishers as to who assumes control over the iPad editions—the print staff, or the already digital-savvy Net edition staff. This also ties in to a more subtle question, which has apparently had Conde Nast in a spin: Do magazines go for mere straightforward digital recreations for the iPad and other tablet PCs, or do they embrace the kind of clever technology used on Web sites?

With the dead-tree publishing industry in a bit of a mess right across the board, and a huge, difficult digital upheaval threatening to arrive any moment, you may well argue that spending a whopping $90 million on a printed-mag advert campaign is a little silly. Even more amusingly, and ironically, it may be exactly the sort of dynamic, adaptive highly-targeted adverts that work online that'll help the digital magazine industry through this crisis, rather than static print ads.

[Via MinOnline, PaidContent]

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  • Doug Garnett

    Silly how hard technologists are working to "kill" print - rather than complement it. Perhaps it's a sci-fi fueled fascination with promoting technology revolution without looking too clearly at the social consequences.

    I fully concur with the Phelps' ad tagline. Browsing is like fast food at the mall food court (How would you like that chicken, sir? Teriyaki, thai, cajun, indian, italian, or McDonald's style?) And there are times the food court is perfect. But reading a magazine is like a meal at a good restaurant - savored while sitting and sipping coffee. For depth, this is FAR better than reading online. And even after I get my iPad (apparently a month later than I'd hoped), I fully expect to BOTH browse and read printed magazines.

    However, magazine's probably do feel quite threatened by reduced ad revenues AND the immense mass of technology advocates who've been beating the "destroy them" drum for years. Sadly, these advocates are probably wrong. For example, it now appears that in 2010 TV advertising is more effective than ever - because of DVR's. That's right - because of them. (But you'd never know that from reading FastCompany.)

  • Gregory Ferenstein

    Thanks for the comments all. Does anyone think that this campaign will be successful? What's the best it can hope to achieve?


  • Art Rolling

    Online magazines have helped people like us in the sense, I am now able to bring my amazing content to people threw out the world and expose all the talent that we cover in our magazine and be taken serious. We cover the amazing talent in NYC aggressive skating culture. We personaly can not afford to print magazine but threw the online magazine world we can promote and present our self to the world correctly and now for being the first magazine dedicated to this sport in NYC we are established even thow it doesnt go to print. You can check how well our magazine does its called The Art of Rolling Mag and you can find our online free issues at

  • Loraine Antrim

    Digital vs Print is the wrong mindset. It's too absolute; too black and white. We're currently in a transitional phase where both mediums are existing side by side. Clearly, at the end of the shoot out, digital will be the winner, but until the last baby boomer dies, there will be an audience for good old-fashioned print. The digital fans will be the ultimate audience, but as long as there is a sizable demographic currently still holding mags in hand, the printed mag advert campaign makes sense. Now, the question is, does 90 million make sense.

    Loraine Antrim, Co-founding Partner
    Core Ideas Communication
    "We Create Smartmouths®"

  • Aly-Khan Satchu

    I find it curious How Much Media Platforms are fighting this Disjunctive Moment barricading themselves in their Walled Gardens. The Breakthrough Thinking that needs to be applied is that The Consumer is now a Dilettante and hence the need to package Product and break down the Garden Wall.

    Aly-Khan Satchu