Is print really dead?

3 Feb 2021

Content marketing

Megan Boyle

Megan Boyle

Get in touch

A question that crops up time and again: ‘is print dead?’ Surely it is? After all, you’re reading this online – unless, of course, someone printed this article off and posted it to you to read because they don’t understand email or social media!

Speaking of social media, more and more users are opening up social media accounts, where you’ll find newspapers (or more fittingly, newspages – digitally speaking), sharing daily articles online. When you’ve got TV and social media to get your news and insight, how then does print media fit into the digital era we live in?

Let’s start with some stats shall we? 

Statistics on print and digital media

Infographic showing print and digital media statistics of 2020 from TAL Agency. Described in full detail under the image.

The volume of print magazine sales in the UK has been falling over the years, coinciding with a steady rise of the number of people downloading or reading news or magazines online. In 2018, there were around 373 million copies of print magazines sold, a sharp decline from 590 million sold just four years prior.

In 2020, the share of individuals downloading or reading online news, newspapers or magazines in Great Britain was at 70%, a rise from 60% in 2016. 

TV is the most popular platform for news intake with 75% of all adults using it as a main platform in 2020, with the internet following behind with 65%. This is followed by the radio with 42% and at the bottom with 35% was the print newspaper. Combined with newspaper websites/apps, 47% of adults in 2020 used newspapers – both digitally and in print – to get their news, according to data from Ofcom’s News Consumption in the UK 2020

So, going off these latest figures, you could say that print is dying, but you can’t say dead. Not yet anyway. 

It’s no surprise to see the decline and lower numbers in print media usage when we live in a digital era, where all the day’s – week’s, decade’s and century’s, even! – news can be digested from your mobile device or computer. 

However, there is value in print: something tangible and something that doesn’t confine you to a screen. And when you’re out and about, headlines and glossy visuals from print magazines or newspapers can grab your attention, often pulling you in to buy them (the odd freebie also helps). 

The problem is we’ve not been able to be out and about as much lately, have we?

COVID-19’s effect on print media

With lockdown restrictions, people were confined to their homes a lot more last year, and it’s still continuing now. Thanks to travel bans, restrictions and more working from home, it meant that the typical shop browse that might trigger a print purchase was impacted. 

Then, it gets a little interesting. Whilst the pandemic hit many industries hard and affected the economy, UK magazine publishers did actually report a triple-digit surge in new print and digital subscriptions, with print subscriptions proving more popular than digital it seems. “Although uptake in digital magazine subscriptions has risen, interest in print subscriptions has risen by at least twice as much as digital since the start of lockdown.” What’s new in publishing? And saw a huge increase in print magazine subscription page views during the first week of lockdown.

Line graph comparing print magazine subscription page views during the first UK lockdown in 2020 to 2019. Described under the heading COVID-19's effect on print media.

So, with more people cooped up inside, could print be making a steady comeback to satisfy people’s interests in reading during their increased spare time? From books, magazines to direct mail advertising, capturing people’s attention has certainly gotten easier lately. 

Books and ebooks

Will the ebook ever take over the print book? Chances are no, not for a while anyway. You just can’t beat that new-book feeling! 

Whether it’s a learning course, hobby or reception filler, print books are highly valuable. Reading from books in classes is set to continue until the day exercise books are fully replaced with tablets and teachers with robots. Similarly, until parents add a robot childminder to their shopping list to read to kids their good-night stories – from a probable integrated digital library designed within – reading from tangible books will continue to help kids with their imagination and creativity. 

Something that isn’t helping print though, in relation to books, is the audible book format. This is where you can purchase and download books digitally to listen to on car journeys, walks or in the house. Although, again, with more people staying at home and not making as many journeys, time to sit and read has gone up. 

Ebooks, however, have become a popular marketing medium over the years, especially in the B2B sector. Data from a recent survey also shows that content marketers were investing more in ebooks, with the format being in the top three of content marketing strategies. 

Businesses and content marketing agencies are wanting to create their own media and content today to help generate leads. And so a unique, insightful resource you can give to people will also help in your paid social and digital outreach efforts.

Print for PR

It may look like it’s all about digital when it comes to marketing, but there is still a yearning from businesses and marketers to get into print magazines and publications.

“We print a bi-monthly lifestyle magazine that relies heavily on advertising; however, much of the publication is taken up with editorial features and PRs are always fighting to get their clients in print. Digital may rule the world but people still do like to have a tangible product and enjoy switching off from the outside world by picking up a physical media, be it a book or glossy magazine”

Angela Riches, Founder of H&N Magazine

And we may be a digital marketing agency, but that doesn’t confine us. Take our recent shout-out in Grazia’s print magazine for our report on the stigma of calling in sick and presenteeism. 

Having your name in reputable magazines with great circulation is a big win, and it’s one of the main reasons why print is certainly not dead. And as we said, we may primarily work in digital marketing, but we also work in traditional PR with our very own PR Manager, Hannah Ratcliffe having this to say on why traditional PR is still alive and well (just have a little look at our hangover days campaign that got us on the BBC Breakfast show too)!

“The main objective of traditional PR is getting in front of the right audience and building that brand awareness. One size definitely does not fit all when it comes to PR; some clients may thrive from online coverage and some may massively benefit from print. As long as you’re getting in front of the right people, print media is no less valuable than online from a PR perspective.” 

Print magazines in a digital world

Why are magazines still thriving then in a competitive, digital world? Ofcom News Consumption in the UK 2020 reports:

“When rated by their users on measures such as quality, accuracy, trustworthiness and impartiality, magazines continue to perform better than other news platforms, followed by TV. Users of social media think it is less trustworthy, impartial and accurate than in 2019. The opposite is true for other websites and apps, which users rate more highly in 2020 than in 2019.”

With the #fakenews and the suspicions of unreliable sources on the internet and social media, print media and magazines offer a more trustworthy source of information. 

Tangible visuals, art and foldable posters attached also give magazines their USP in a digital climate. Not to mention the freebies you can get, especially for children’s magazines. 

Digital detox

In a world full of screentime, many of us welcome a digital detox. Indulging with a print magazine instead of staring at white screens for hours can help with our heads and eyes. Not only that, we can take magazines with us anywhere and can rely on them to pass the time when our batteries die, internet signals get lost or we just want to read in the sun without the annoyance of a dim screen. 

Direct mail vs email

Direct mail also can have a win over digital email campaigns, as it’s been shown that 80 to 90% of people will open direct mail, but with email, there was a 14.79% open rate in September 2019. 

In a digital world, the marketing strategy of direct mail or a printed letter can interrupt, cut through the noise and may even increase the chance of a sale. 

It comes down to this then. The inevitable truth is that print is not as popular as it used to be and will suffer in a digital era. But, is print really dead? The straight answer is no, and it will probably take a long time before it ever will be. When we’re inundated with emails, social media ads, digital articles and feeds jam-packed full of instant communication, print can offer a valuable alternative; it’s all in how you do the marketing. 

Need some help with your marketing? As it happens, you’ve come to the right place. Let’s talk.

All Articles

We’d love to chat

The best ideas start with a good old conversation. Let’s have a chat about how we can help you.

Complete the form and one of the directors will be in touch.

Or just pick up the phone and call us, we’re on 01204 527518.

    Awards & Accreditations

    rar recommended
    Prolific North Finalist TAL Agency
    PRmoment awards finalist logo
    google analytics
    Google Shopping Logo
    google adwords
    bing partner
    manchester digital