The battle of print versus digital is a contentious issue within the media space. But instead of asking which platform is more powerful, perhaps the real question should be: Are print and digital even at war?
The relationship between print and digital is complicated, to say the least. While they are often seen to be at odds with one another, is it impossible to think that they could coexist? And even more than that, could they not work together?
Print and digital influence one another
Ever since digital made its maiden appearance, critics have said that print would die. However, these rumors have been circulating for years; and yet, print remains.
While certain brands and consumers prefer the feel, smell and idea of old-school print, tech-savvy people tend to go for the digital version. And that is perfectly fine. There is more than enough room for everyone, regardless of their media preferences.
But the real question is: Why we perceive this as a fight to the death, instead of considering the possibility of cohabitation? Numerous brands, like Sports Illustrated and Cosmopolitan, started out as print-only but are now both printed and online.
Moreover, a few years ago Sports Illustrated decided to get rid of their print-only subscriptions in favor of a print and digital subscription. This offered a way to encourage people to have both versions and experience the content in different ways. Perhaps it is better to think of print and digital as two sides of the same media coin, rather than opposing teams fighting for readership.
The fight isn’t ‘print versus digital’, it’s with general profitability
In an episode of ‘Last Week Tonight’, John Oliver explained that it isn’t just a case of publishers having to pick either print or digital, but that both need to exist for the whole media industry to survive.
“The media is a food chain, which would fall apart without local newspapers, and the problem is print ads are less popular with advertisers than they used to be, and online ads produce much less revenue.”
Most publications simply can’t afford to pay numerous journalists to work on in-depth, important stories that people need to know about. What happens then is that journalists have to write stories that are focused on what readers want to read about, and therefore, generate more revenue.
Although this might not necessarily sound like a bad thing, keep in mind that journalists also need to write content that informs the public, giving them not only the news they want to read but also the news that they need to know.
In 2008, when billionaire Sam Zel took ownership of the Orlando Sentinel, journalists questioned what would happen if-if they only wrote about the light-hearted things that received clicks. Zel’s response? “Hopefully we get to the point where our revenue is so significant that we can do puppies and Iraq. Okay?”
This exchange reflects the feelings of many publishers, and the reality is that the public will suffer if journalists stop delivering the ‘important’ stories in favor of the popular ones.
Oliver says that it is clearly a smart move for newspapers and print magazines to expand online, but the danger in doing that is the temptation to gravitate towards content that will get the most clicks.
“[This] is why news organizations badly need to have leaders who appreciate that what’s popular isn’t always what’s most important. But that is not always the case.”
Why print and digital are stronger together
While both print and digital have pros and cons, the real challenge with both industries is trying to build and maintain an audience while at the same time producing content that is engaging and relevant.
In a previous media update article, Samir Husni, director of the Magazine Innovation Centre at the University of Mississippi, said, “When a print magazine is about to draw its last breath of ink, is digital really a life support for it, or just prolonging the inevitable?”
He says that when a magazine is in crisis, a simple change to the medium is not going to fix anything.
“A print magazine that can’t make it in print is not going to make it in the digital sphere. The problem is not with the medium – the problem is with the magazine.”
Publishers need to start by thinking about what their consumers want and then create a point of difference between their print and digital platforms. Both platforms offer creative opportunities, and the key is to use them to offer your consumers a more holistic experience with your content.
In an article for Digital Marketing Magazine, Anjana Varsani says that “if your digital magazine is just an electronic version of your print publication, you’re wasting a big opportunity!”
This means that the future for brands is not ‘print versus digital’, but rather, ‘print and digital’. Husni stresses that media nowadays is not either/or, but rather, all.
“There is absolutely no reason that [print and digital] can’t live side by side … At the end of the day, it is audience first, not digital or print first.”