Digital vs. Print: Which is Better For You?

Traditional advertisers love glossy paper. Unfortunately though, the customer’s reality is digital.

So how can you keep your content alive and relevant? What factors do you need to think about as you decide how to invest in your organisation’s future? Let’s look at some considerations when deciding how to address the print vs. digital dilemma at your organization.

Print publishing offers a vital tactile experience. Folding page corners to earmark favorite articles, cutting out newspaper clippings, flipping from page to page. The problem is that once the prospect has tucked that important clipping away into a folder, they’re likely forget about it.

Print Pros

Yours forever. One thing is certain about glossy magazines: They’re yours forever. Hoard them, share them, lend them, or borrow them. They’re subject only to the time limits you set.

Sensory experience. Studies show that we retain knowledge and experiences better through physical interaction. Thumbing through pages, writing notes, and highlighting passages are all central features we are still finding ways to replace in the digital world. Miguel Cornejo, managing partner at Macuarium Network, adds, "Many users still appreciate the familiar format, especially if they can turn it into just one more channel of their content-consuming experience.”

Easy to pay. We still buy on impulse in the real world. Whether at the supermarket, on the street, or while shopping, grabbing a print magazine is a simple, low-commitment purchase when you’re out and about.

Print Cons

Can’t keep up. The 24-hour news cycle turned into the 24-second news cycle with the rise of social media, making it impossible for even legendary print publications to keep up with breaking news.

Readers now expect a full picture. Instant features, infographics, visuals, videos, and dispatches from the Twittersphere. Print alone just can’t keep up.

Scaling is difficult. Publishing a print magazine requires overhead, production, and material costs that digital publishing obliterated. A print publication is always limited to an audience of those who physically get their hands on it.

Limited feedback. When you publish a print magazine, you’ll never really know what your readers think about it. Sure, some may write you back with comments, but the more telling information is in the details: How long did they spend reading that article? What features did they skip entirely? These details are not just nice to know — they give you valuable information on what content resonates with your readers and where you are simply wasting resources. Without a digital site, you will never know.

Digital Pros

Spark discussions. The distribution of digital news and media today enables us to openly debate and ideate the way they did in coffeehouses and taverns of the past.

Interactivity. New York Magazine didn’t merely shift its print content to its mobile app: it created a cool, value-added experience. As Apple Insider reports, "An article in one issue about former US Vice President Dick Cheney was merely a small sidebar in the print edition. But the ability to enhance the content on the iPad with larger graphics and interactivity led to a full-page item in the digital copy.”

Higher reader engagement. Give a man a print magazine, and he’ll read it once; give a man an iPad app, and he’ll read it everyday.

It is a great way to get additional content into readers’ hands and heads, and extend the brand’s reach to smartphones. It is also a nice complement to their other print and digital efforts.

Social sharing and community. Users increasingly expect to interact with the content they consume. The goal is to draw visitors to your blog for the commenting community and entice them to stay for the articles. Your commenting system should give readers both platform and incentive to respond to and challenge both authors and one another. The result is a robust community of readers and contributors.

Ad-serving flexibility. When you enter the world of digital publishing, you open the door to digital advertising. Not only can you serve multiple ads in one advertising space, but also you can employ some of the latest advertising technology, too. Digital advertising enables readers to engage with ads — whether banner ads or more intensive sponsored content.

Tracking and analytics. The clearest benefit to digital publishing is the feedback that helps you optimize your product and content. Google Analytics shows you what kind of articles and features are grabbing your readers’ attention, how much time they spend on a page, what they do with it, and how they share it. This feedback allows you to better manage your team and internal resources, helping you decide what sort of content to create. Leverage that information to grow and maintain readership and attract viable revenue streams through sponsored content and ad revenues.

Readership feedback. Tracking user activity isn’t the only way to refine your digital publication. You can ask readers directly about their experience and opinions through well-formulated surveys. Find out what they’re enjoying, what their pain points are, and frustrations they might have in accessing your material. This is valuable insight that you can use to improve content.

Be discovered. Publishing platforms (aka reader apps) like Pulse and FlipBoard have designed beautiful and efficient interfaces to facilitate personalized reading experiences — like visually engaging RSS feeds. Take advantage of them as new distribution channels for your content when you sign up as a publishing partner.

Access to free marketing channels. Digital provides access to Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and more.

Digital Cons

Shorter attention spans. We’re heading into uncharted territory: Adult readers have shorter attention spans. Meanwhile, studies show school children today are able to resist distractions from work for about two minutes before checking their phones or newsfeeds. They understand and remember less, and they have greater difficulty transferring their learning to new contexts. Digital media has to work extra hard to keep its attention-deficit readers engaged.

Print vs. Digital: It’s Not "Whether” — It’s "How Much”

Going digital presents the challenge of turning your articles, information, and resources into a valuable standalone experience and to complement your print counterpart (if you have one). Consider how to leverage your digital strategy for new avenues of growth. The question is not "whether” — rather, it is what level of digital investment you should make to maintain and grow your readership.