Jonathan Desmond, PR and Content Executive at Wyatt International, speaks to members of the trade press to gauge the feeling around the changing role of print media in the wake of The Independent’s decision to go fully digital.
The Independent’s decision to go digital and scrap its print publication, launched almost 30 years ago, has reignited the debate about the role of print in a rapidly evolving media landscape. Thirty years may not seem like a particularly long time on the face of it but the way we consume media has changed beyond recognition over the past three decades. With the rise of the internet, smartphones and tablets, there has been an increased shift towards online communication, a phenomenon which has seen newspaper and magazine sales plummet during this period. Although there has been much discussion around the future of print in recent years, with many forecasting the imminent death of print journalism, none of the big boys were prepared to take the digital plunge…until now. The rationale behind the Independent’s decision to go digital was simple; online is the future, it’s time to embrace it with open arms, or something to that effect.
While concluding that ‘print is dead, let’s move on’ may be a tad simplistic, the reality is that the transition from print to digital will have far-reaching implications, even for trade titles. To that end, we got in touch with a few editors of key titles within the B2B trade press to understand how they saw the trends and whether they felt there was still value in print. Here’s what they had to say:
Martin Croucher, Food Processing
I started my career as an intern for the Independent on Sunday a decade ago, so I’m extremely saddened by this news. However, in many ways it was inevitable. People consume their news online at their desks, so a to-the-minute news operation will be the most profitable investment in the current climate.
A daily newspaper that operates by repurposing news from the previous day is unlikely to be something people will pay more than £1 for, even more so when the majority of readers have access to free newspapers like the Metro or Evening Standard.
However, there is a future for print and it lies in long-form content. People will find out what happened online, but from a specialist magazine they will find out what it means. That’s even more so when the analysis comes from a niche field. You’ve read about a news item in the national press, but what does it mean for your industry? That’s why weekly or monthly B2B print titles will continue to find a readership, despite the general move towards online.
Tim Wood, Heating & Plumbing Monthly
As faster broadband is seeing more people attracted to online media now more than ever, media companies are relying on user-generated content. The rise of computer algorithms is increasing computer-generated content; the rise of the smart phone is encouraging more people to read newspapers and magazines online.
Printed magazines don’t require readers to be familiar with modern technology and are widely accessible in shops. Also, it’s hard to beat the convenience of a physical copy. On the flip side, digital publications can be produced and distributed more cheaply and more regularly, without using up lots of paper. For advertising purposes, print is good because ads can be placed in relevant magazines for a captive audience. With so many distractions online, it can be harder to reach your desired audience.
Peter McLeod, SHD Logistics
While our digital revenues are growing steadily year-on-year, we’re not yet experiencing a drop-off in demand for the printed magazine. Nonetheless, we are taking a number of steps to future-proof ourselves and to evolve with the times.
I have to say that in our industry sector in particular, great value is placed on the printed product. Unlike other sectors – for example, the digital arts or marketing, where printed products have now almost entirely been turned into websites – our readers and advertisers tell us that there is something more tangible about the magazine that can never be reproduced digitally. Of greatest significance to us is the fact that our magazine is ABC audited, which gives advertisers the assurance that the product is reaching the readers we say it is.
On the other hand, those who read the magazine digitally say they enjoy the convenience of our app – notably prevalent among younger readers – and can dip in and out without having to avert their eyes from their screens. Advertisers like having the ability to track where the ‘clicks’ are coming from, and we are able to publish virtually anything, as there are no space restrictions online. Digital platforms are also able to host videos, which in a sophisticated industry such as logistics is a great opportunity.
So, I would say that there are still massive changes in the pipeline, but we don’t particularly know what shape they will take. We remain alert and vigilant, and will continue to take the temperature of the market by listening closely to our readers and advertisers.
Jennie Ward, Heating, Ventilating & Plumbing
I for one was surprised by the speed of the decision by the Independent. It was perhaps taken too prematurely and I suspect they may have some difficulty in sustaining revenues through online alone. Although digital may be more appropriate for time-sensitive news stories, when it comes to in-depth quality analysis, people are more prepared to read longer pieces in print than scroll down a screen and this is where print can work best. I believe there will always be a place for print.
Ken Sharpe, Modern Building Services
Previously, magazines needed to be meticulous about the kind of content they produced. Since one small error could prove to be enormously costly, this had to be avoided at all costs, therefore, standards were more rigorous and publications took greater care to prepare, distil and edit information. With digital media, we have more information at our disposal than ever before but this hasn’t necessarily led to an improvement. As publications face increased pressure to churn out news, they increasingly rely on PR content and while this can help save time and money, it isn’t always tailored to the publication and its target audience.
If one thing is for sure, digital media will continue to grow and grow. The way people consume media is changing and this must be reflected in the channels companies use to market their products. But does this mean that we need to altogether abandon the trade press? By all accounts, the answer is no…at least not for now. The consensus seems to be that there is still a demand for trade publications in print format. While the trade press cannot possibly hope to compete with digital in terms of speed, where it can add real value is with detailed, topical analysis that is relevant and specific to a clearly defined target audience. Ultimately, it all comes down to understanding who you are writing for and what they will best respond to. By all accounts, it will be difficult for online media to completely negate the benefits of having a tangible magazine copy but as audiences evolve, as well as their tastes and expectations from trade titles, this may change. For the time being, marketeers must accept that change is inevitable. Quite what shape this change will take remains to be seen, but by remaining vigilant and focused on market trends, we can be more responsive to the changing demands of our clients and adjust our approach accordingly.