Last week, digital behemoth Buzzfeed printed and distributed a newspaper. In a tongue-in-cheek statement, the company said: “BuzzFeed, a company that was born on the internet and social media, is testing a new technology called print and unveiling a one-time, special edition BuzzFeed Newspaper, showcasing the latest news stories and favourite BuzzFeed content in an easy to consume mobile format.” About 20,000 copies of the one-off paper were distributed in New York to commuters and passers-by at Union Square, Penn Station and Herald Square.
For a publication known for its social media footprint and reliance on online video, GIFs and “bite-sized” digital content like quizzes, it was an unexpected move to say the least. So, what does it say about today’s media landscape?
The stunt is proof that, despite a lot of hand-wringing about the death of print, it remains a viable and effective medium. While many believed physical books were done and dusted after the Kindle launched in 2007, the stats tell a different story. Since 2013, publisher-reported revenue in the US has increased by $820 million, while e-book sales slipped by 3.9 percent in 2018. In the UK, the print book market grew by 2.1 per cent. And in Australia, unit sales of print books were up 2.5 per cent in January to September 2018. Looking ahead, industry analysts at IBISWorld predict that the Australian print publishing market will continue to grow in 2019. Consumers trust printed news more than its online counterpart, and they’re increasingly turning to printed books and magazines as a way to “switch off” and reduce “digital overload”.
Buzzfeed recognised that print, more than any other medium, feeds real-world buzz and a tangible opportunity for audience engagement. The paper’s motto was: “Social. Mobile. Recyclable.” After all, newspapers were the original mobile content – to be read at a local café over a coffee, on the train to work or during the interminable hours in a waiting room. A newspaper is personal. It’s part of a reader’s daily routine.
Unlike digital platforms like social media and email, the content in a printed newspaper isn’t competing with a feed full of other brands and publishers. It’s a standalone item that commands attention. This obviously isn’t to say that Buzzfeed should pivot to print entirely, but that print can play its own, separate role. As Brandon Ortiz from Salesforce says, “The ubiquity of digital media has given print media a strange new power. Think of how special it is to get a written letter as opposed to an email.” Print is a chance to stand out. It provides a rare moment with your audience free of digital distraction.
The argument about whether digital or print reigns supreme is ultimately a false dichotomy. For marketers, the combination of both can be the most effective strategy. Buzzfeed knew that New Yorkers were likely to snap a picture of the newspaper and post to social media, extending its reach to a global audience. People that enjoyed the paper would have jumped straight onto Buzzfeed’s online channels, even if they hadn’t previously engaged with the site. Branching out into different mediums allows you to connect with a whole new audience and introduce them to your content.
Using print to supplement a digital strategy also lets you cut content in a range of different ways for different audiences: as with any channel, it’s about making sure the content fits the medium. In this case, Anne Helen Petersen’s viral article on millennial burnout, originally a long-read of over 7,000 words, wouldn’t be feasible in a printed newspaper with limited word count. The constraints of print actually allow the freedom to turn it into a shorter print version for readers on the move. The Buzzfeed team also shared behind-the-scenes content on Twitter about the making of the paper and drew attention to the artwork that had gone into it – details that wouldn’t have been possible on digital channels.
There are plenty of brands already recognising the value of integrated print and digital campaigns. A few years ago, IKEA showcased its catalogue with a satirical online campaign inviting customers to “experience the power of the book”, with 18 million+ video views to date. Dance music label Kontor Records sent out a vinyl record with a paper turntable to executives they knew would otherwise ignore the sample. Recipients could scan a QR code and play the record on their smartphone. The campaign was a huge success: 71 per cent of 900 QR codes were activated and 42 per cent visited the online store.
But integrated campaigns don’t have to be complex to be effective. It could be as simple as including your social media handles and relevant websites on printed materials, from invites to event stands. Or if you distribute a catalogue, using social media targeting to show recipients the most popular products in their area or current promotions at their local store. It’s about understanding all the different channels your customers engage with – and how to reach them to create new connections and provoke different reactions.
It turns out print is alive and well. If anything, it’s going to be more of a focus in 2019, as brands discover new tools and technologies that mean they can apply the same tactics and measurement from digital channels to print. Smart marketers will be jumping at the chance to reach audiences in all the different places and moments they consume media – as long as it’s relevant and unique.