media update’s David Jenkin looks into the ways in South African print media is holding its own.

Print media’s demise has been greatly exaggerated

“Print has proved to be more resilient than people thought,” says Mark Beare, director at Cape Town-based content marketing agency The Publishing Partnership.

“I think there was an ‘over-correction’ three or four years ago, where people thought that everything must be digital, that print wasn’t going to survive at all.” It is a more fragmented market, he concedes, which has led media companies to reduce their exposure to print, but a residual value remains and will continue.

“The reason I say that is that we’re seeing it,” he says, “We’re all kind of seeing it, certainly in the book market, where there’s been a resurgence of printed matter, we’re seeing it in a robustness of retail magazines globally, and certain of the core media properties.” The bigger titles continue to prosper, he adds, although many of the more marginal titles have been culled.

“The reading experience of print remains profoundly different from the reading experience of digital,” he explains. “For as long as that’s the case – and there’s no reason why physiologically it shouldn’t be the case – there will be certain types of product that will be better in print than on screen.”

Print helps readers absorb complex information

Luxury magazines continue to do well in print, a fact now widely acknowledged. This is due to the physicality of luxury products resonating with print, says Beare. But there is another, possibly more significant factor helping to keep print alive, he says, and that is the way people absorb information from print versus digital.

Information that is more complex is better absorbed in print than in digital, because people need to locate themselves in the text when looking at complex ideas and that’s much easier to do in print than in digital.

“Very often, when you read, recalling something from a printed magazine or book, you can recall where physically on the page it was when you saw it – you can recall if you were two-thirds of the way through, or half of the way through – where were you in the journey?”

Publications in the educational space and health magazines are examples Beare cites of areas with complex information that maintain a strong demand for printed products.

Bolstered by branded content

Branded content is also sticking with print, a claim supported by media manager at Newsclip Media Monitoring, Marina Kruger. Speaking with the authority of 16 years of experience observing the media landscape, she says that custom magazines in South Africa are less likely to be discontinued and maintain some of the highest circulation figures among all magazine titles in the country.

One example is Toyota Connect, a magazine recently rebranded from Toyota Zone, which includes lifestyle and travel content geared towards Toyota owners, or prospective owners.

Editor Mzo Witbooi says that the way customers are reached has changed. They no longer sit back and receive brand messages, they’re now active participants who choose when and how they interact with brands. 

“Connect isn’t just about the cars we sell, but also about the lives of the people who buy them,” he says. “We want to be part of the daily lives of South Africans. For the discerning and aspirational customer, the magazine has a section called Life by Lexus which features high-end luxury lifestyle.”

He notes that Toyota Connect shouldn’t be viewed in isolation from other Toyota media. Social media channels and the My Toyota mobile app are all geared toward achieving the same goal – driving consumer engagement. The magazine is also available online in the form of an interactive ‘digimag’, which offers benefits for remote access, active consumer participation, and sharing content on social media, says Witbooi.

However, print is still an important part of the mix and complements the digital components, he says, with the ability to reach the homes of customers who are not yet internet savvy. “I wouldn’t say one format is superior to the other. The integration of both print and digital platforms – especially in a diverse market such as ours – allows organisations to reach wider audiences.”

Beare agrees, saying that content is at the centre, and how that content is disseminated depends on a variety of factors, but the same brand communication happens across various channels in different ways.

“Where the over-correction happened was people thought that digital would replace print, but actually what’s happened is print has simply been located in a 360 context where it’s one of the platforms, one of the options,” he explains.

Print is still accessible to many

“It’s got its own particular characteristics, that are more in-depth, that are more at leisure with time to spend, and they’re more physically accessible – I think that’s the other thing that’s underestimated, is how physically accessible print is.”

Beare believes that print will continue to have a place as it remains a very persuasive medium, which people tend to spend more time on, making it a stronger source of message.

“It certainly feels to me like we’ve come through the overcorrection, and we’re now hearing people say it is a piece of the puzzle. It just works – it works for readers and it works for advertisers, in terms of response levels. And for as long as something has an intrinsic value, there’ll be a market for it.”

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Interested in reading more about the survival of print? Read more in our article, Why luxury brands pick print over digital.