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Has social media killed print? Not with millennials in the mix.

With the advent of the digital age, many magazines have been moving away from print and capitalising on the sharing power of social media platforms for success among a new generation of readers. But the truth is, millennials love print as much as the generations that preceded them.

Digital can be the preferred method of consumption for millennials, however, content determines how they want to consume magazine media. While Facebook is still one of the leading ways that millennials get up-to-date information, a 2015 study from the Media Insight Project shows that Facebook is the most common point of access for topics like pop culture, social issues and sports.

On the other hand, the GfK MRI Survey of the American Consumer suggests that magazines with less newsworthy subjects, like autoshop and gaming, continue to do well in print sales. This may be partially because of general concerns over the rate at which all print materials become outdated—especially in our quickly evolving technological society. Popular blog millennial marketing quoted one millennial saying of another informational print source; “Part of my complete disinterest in textbooks comes from the fact that the second a book is published today; it is pretty much obsolete.” This same concern can easily be said of news and technology magazines today.

Magazine reading ()

So, what are millennials looking for in print content?

Conventional wisdom says that this upcoming generation of digital natives doesn’t want to pay for content it thinks should be free. The Media Insight Project survey mentioned earlier found millennials seem to gravitate to the tactile experience of print—enough to tip the scales in favour of paying—even for the same content. Most millennials agree that access to news was a civic and democratic right, but even here they were also willing to pay more to get it in print rather than digitally. More than one-fifth of the survey respondents had opted to pay for magazine subscriptions last year, even when a digital version was available cheaper or for free.

The troubling reality for publishers is that even though print subscriptions are being purchased, but they’re also being shared. One of the most common ways people consume magazine content, digitally or otherwise, is socially. When it comes to print news publications, four in 10 millennials are reading someone else’s subscription.

It’s hard to say if sharing a hard copy takes potential subscribers out of the consumer pool, or is adding potential customers into it, but a 2012 study by Scott McDonald for Condé Nast that spanned 20 years, showed that overall, print readership among 18-34-year-olds has gone up dramatically. This was true for all cases, except where content was losing relevance among generations, such as women’s service magazines, which did not see the same growth. 

Sports Illustrated finds the right balance

Sports Illustrated continues to understand each of the factors that drive an audience to print or digital and has succeeded in cross-platform dominance through clean integration. How did Sports Illustrated pull it off? By creating two types of content in the same publication (both in digital and print): the time-sensitive sports news information and evergreen content of “Extra-Mustard; where culture meets sports.” Furthermore, a Sports Illustrated magazine lives to be shared—on your coffee table, handed around until dog-eared. Online, it incorporates well-integrated social media to produce a wildly successful and shareable digital publication. 

Stack of mags ()

The takeaway

Content is king. And content remains the determining success factor for a magazine, whether it’s sold digitally or in print.  With the right content, print magazines can indeed charge more for their physical copies, without qualms from the generation that expects all information to be available on demand. Publishers making a decision to be digital- or print-only should take into consideration both how quickly their content loses its relevance, and how easily shared it can be. With six in 10 millennials turning primarily to each other for recommendations for news and information, the best marketer is the audience. So social media might not be the enemy after all. It may very well have bolstered success of print publications.

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