In the face of rising digitalisation and the popularity of the minimalism aesthetic, the viability of print magazines might be waning as we step into a more sustainable future. The pandemic restricted our ability to browse the supermarket and slip a last-minute glossy magazine with a scintillating title into our baskets, but will we return to picking up a GQ, Cosmopolitan, or Good Housekeeping with our weekly shopping?
Why all the love for digital platforms?
Starting with the obvious, digital platforms can move quicker than print publications and are more easily accessible for timely news pieces and quick expert opinions on social and political issues. Much of the digital content published by online-focused magazines can be opened, read, and saved for free, making them more attractive options for reports on world events or quick gossip articles. The fast output ability of digital means they often trump print in terms of getting the first reports live, so print is always just a step behind breaking stories.
Digital magazines that work on a subscription-basis or pay to read can often be downloaded and then read anytime from any device, making them much more portable and flexible than a printed publication. They are much more affordable to produce and edit without printing and distribution costs, so the opportunity to make a greater profit from advertisement sales is significant. The ability to incorporate video, GIFs, and live links also give magazine editors and graphic designers a wider of array of sources and creative freedom to produce visually exciting material.
Why will print still survive but may need to pivot?
As sustainability and environmental health becomes a wider, more prevalent issue around the world, consumers are more aware of the impact of their purchases. Buying a magazine every week is not necessarily conducive to a more sustainable, especially if they are discarded when they are read, recycled or not. To align better with these spreading values, print magazines might need to pivot on several facets.
Firstly, investing more in aesthetic and attractive graphic designs creates a product that can serve as part of a person’s décor once it has been read. It is one of the crucial reasons why the print book has continued in strength despite the rise of e-books and audiobooks. Creating a collectible item with content people would like to return to, such as cultural essays, features of notable public figures, advice, recipes, or creative activities encourages readers to keep the print product, reducing the impact on the planet, and tapering consumer guilt on buying an arguably disposable item.
One creative writing magazine that executes this strategy very well is Popshot Quarterly; the publication takes advantage of both print and digital mediums but its highly artistic design makes it a more collectible product in print, reducing the likelihood that the magazine would be quickly thrown away.
Secondly, reducing the number of print runs created each year. While this does limit the amount of advertising space a publisher can sell, there is an opportunity to create a larger, more book-like, publication that can include long-form essays and bigger canvases for photography and artwork. The slower turn-around between issues encourages dedicated readers to spend more time on each edition, stops them from becoming overwhelmed with new issues to buy, and offers publishers more flexibility on the number of adverts included.
Thirdly, gently making a move to compostable material over recyclable. While recycling is absolutely doing its part for the environment, it is far more efficient to use decomposable materials for magazines. This would work especially well for home, garden, or lifestyle magazines, who could use seed paper to grow wildflowers from the body of the magazine once the reader is finished.
And finally, to reduce waste in terms of unsold copies and to control printing/production costs, moving to a subscription-only sales strategy ensures you are only printing copies you know have already been sold and build a sense of community between your readers. Having a set number of subscribers can help attract higher net worth advertisers as they are assured of the reach and impact data.
The Best of Both Worlds
Realistically, magazines should and will embrace both print and digital strategies to find success in the fast-paced world of commercial publishing. Magazines that appeal to a niche audience always perform well, especially when they cultivate a reputation as a trustworthy source of information and research. Investing in developing a signature style, easily recognisable branding, and visually stimulating graphics can lead a business into a world of quality magazine production, rather than the short-life, quick turnover products that seem to have gradually lost public interest, especially after a few years where the public have been hit financially.