Can there be a happy marriage of print and digital?

About 6 months ago I did something crazy — I subscribed to the newspaper.  (I mean, on paper! ) Here’s why I’m not crazy.

Credit: 360 Degree Marketing

It was the San Jose Mercury News, Sunday only — with the kicker that you get the online subscription to the entire paper thrown in, too, for about 10 bucks a month.  It’s a reasonable dosage of print once a week, combined with unfettered digital access, and I have to say it’s not a bad deal.

There are recent signs that digital/print combo packages may be gaining ground.

  • Flickr has enjoyed a resurgence in connection with offering you professionally printed glossy photo albums in addition to their familiar digital photo management service.
  • Amazon has offered a heavy discount on buying the Kindle version of a book that you already purchased in hard copy. (The important thing to note is that this incentivizes you not only to buy the digital version, but also to buy a print version to begin with, instead of only buying digital.)
  • Niche magazines are morphing into digital memberships, such as The Optimist‘s offering of events and online courses on an expanded subscription basis, cross-marketed with their glossy print magazine.  Similarly, Runner’s World offers its magazine subscribers, for an additional fee, a choice from dozens of specific training programs that will match a particular fitness level and goal (and the system will then send you daily emails to remind you of your training regimen).
  • Sites are spawning print magazines instead of the other way around. Consider, which grew over the course of a decade to be the #1 social recipe-sharing site,  before getting acquired by print magazine publisher Meredith Corporation in 2012.  Perhaps under the new parent company’s influence, Allrecipes recently launched a bi-monthly print magazine, starting in November of 2013.  Given that the website’s main usage has always been home cooks accessing recipes during their dinner preparation, one can imagine the problem of a cook juggling a laptop or tablet within an active kitchen, where slips and spills are a looming threat.  In this scenario, having a print spin-off from the digital property is just common sense.
  • QR codes are finally taking off in media, rather than just for advertising purposes.  This is potentially a good bridge from concise print to more elaborate digital content.  A publisher can keep their print size minimal by letting their print readers scan the QR code “for more”, where they will see not only longer treatment of the topic, but also other engagements that allow the publisher to monetize.

Imagine that a struggling print magazine, instead of going out of business just reduces down to 20% size (say, from 80 pages to 16), with QR codes at the bottom of every article and section, bringing readers to their website where the other 80% of the content is.  You pick up the 16-pager for 99 cents (not $5), read it on the airplane or coffee shop, and dive in deeper on your tablet when called for.

Last year I wrote about what we’ve lost by getting away from print — it’s more than you think.  Maybe the category of print-digital combination is an untapped fountain of new business models and new user experiences. Print media does not have to go extinct, if it can be transformed by “melding” with various digital media, in all their glory.

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