In addition to a like-minded audience, the purchase gives Mailchimp access to precious first-party data, says Joe Pulizzi, former CEO of the Content Marketing Institute. “They just bought an audience, and they have a lot of information now about that audience,” Pulizzi says.
Other brands are taking a different approach, providing their customers with a physical manifestation of their digital brand through a print magazine. At least 10 brands launched print magazines in recent years, according to an analysis by AdAge, from the self-titled Airbnb to the legendary golf company Callaway’s Pivot (with a $10 cover price) to the outdoor gear co-op REI’s Uncommon Path.
“A print outlet provides a vehicle for longer brand storytelling and for creating a relationship with a consumer outside of the transaction,” says Megan O’Grady, senior vice president, account management for HearstMade at Hearst, which publishes the Airbnb and REI titles. “As part of a modern marketing mix, print can enhance a brand’s ability to connect and provide value.”
Even the office supply company Staples launched its own print publication last year: Staples Worklife™, published by Imagination beginning in 2019, is distributed to companies that purchase supplies and office furniture from the company.
Why are zeitgeist-y brands extending to print? “You put out a beautifully produced magazine that’s targeted to your audience’s needs, they are going to engage with that and pass it on to their friends and colleagues,” Pulizzi says. “It’s become awfully crowded online. It’s hard to break through the clutter.”
Increasingly, brands see a print magazine as the battering ram required to do so.
A New Revenue Model for Print Magazines
At first blush, a print renaissance in an increasingly digital world seems counterintuitive. In recent years, a number of A-list, consumer-facing publications have gone digital, reduced frequency or shuttered altogether. Among them: ESPN The Magazine, Glamour, Coastal Living, and Rolling Stone. What’s more, for U.S. magazine publishers, revenue has declined precipitously from $46 billion in 2007 to $28 billion in 2017, the most recent year on record. “Eventually, they’ll become like sailboats,” Kurt Andersen, the former editor of New York and one of the luminaries of the magazine world, told The New York Times in 2017. “They don’t need to exist anymore. But people will still love them, and make them and buy them."
But that trend belies another one: More magazines are setting sail, launched from the shore now by associations, B2B and B2C brands. “Anyone who tells you print is dead, or print is dying, they don’t know what they are talking about,” says Samir Husni, the director of the Magazine Innovation Center at the University of Mississippi, School of Journalism. “The business model for print has died, and we’ve yet to come up with a new business model.” In that vacuum, Husni says, C-suite leaders are taking a new look at the power of print to connect with audiences. The question they’re asking: “Am I really a 360 brand if I don't have a print extension?” Husni says. “That print extension is completing the circle.”
Husni’s advice to associations and brands considering a print magazine: Focus on your audience first. “Fall in love with your audience before you fall in love with your platform,” he says. “And once you fall in love with your audience, then you are going to provide those three ships that every member of your audience wants: ownership, membership and showmanship.” The showmanship aspect—that tactile experience of leaning back in your chair and thumbing through the pages of a beautifully produced print product—is difficult to replicate.
For Staples, a magazine is helping them connect with their audience in deep ways. “Put simply, our business customers are looking for ways to improve their worklives. They told us they want solutions to be more productive and connected at work,” said Marshall Warkentin, Staples’ chief marketing officer. “At Staples, we’re uniquely positioned to bring together solutions to millions of working professionals and to bring a sense of community to work. We’re here to better worklives, whether in an office or anywhere else — that’s why we’re introducing Staples Worklife.”