Why have some print brands withered on the vine in the face of the digital media onslaught, while others are thriving and innovating? That was the question posed to a series of senior journalists, photographers and designers at Monocle’s Media Summit to mark the magazine’s 10th anniversary.
If Monocle’s model is part of the answer to the question of print brands in a digital age, perhaps the solution is: become multi-faceted, not simply multi-channel.
As well as a print product with enough heft to break a designer coffee table, Monocle has become a 24/7 radio channel, a cafe, a book publisher and a shop.
The brand, in all its forms, is nothing if not a reflection of its people. A polished, cosmopolitan, internationalist group which shares a deep interest in design, creativity, innovation, politics and smartness; they have invested heavily in country bureaux run by like-minded souls around the world.
Beyond Monocle’s apparent success, what else did we learn? A variety of themes emerged, taking in perspectives and examples from across Europe and the rest of the world.
FT Weekend Editor Alec Russell spoke of the paper’s unashamed focus on its core readership as a guiding principle, and proved that the future of print doesn’t have to be a downhill trajectory.
Circulation of the FT’s Saturday paper actually increased last year – a vital achievement because as with most other papers the print product is still the main source of income. The FT’s subscription model is important, too. Meanwhile online advertising barely got a mention.
For Olivier Royant, Editor in Chief of Paris Match, the publication of every issue has become an event. And the creation of every issue is a quest to deliver a product of high quality and worth; something that readers want to hold and absorb in their private time.
Royant believes that this unrelenting focus on delivering something that can engage its audience in an intellectual, high-brow moment is what has enabled the magazine to thrive.
He believes that few purely digital brands are capable of holding readers attention in the same way.
However he also believes that serious, high quality print media can also rub shoulders with digital media successfully on channels such as Snapchat.
In an age of Trump, Brexit, fake news and filter bubbles, serious print media brands are winning younger readers with enquiring minds – those who are interested in hard copy media and want beacons of truth to turn to on digital platforms.
The thought that a new generation of readers is interested in credible media brand and also the appeal of retro media products that glory in their print status, was reinforced by a perspective from Francesco Franchi, Managing Editor of La Republica.
Franchi was responsible for launching a new print magazine section in the Italian paper called Robinson – it’s a celebration of retro design and deliberate mixes up journalistic styles, visuals and subject matter. The ambition is to create something cool, young readers will want to be seen with: an intellectual accessory.
Meanwhile Zietmagazin, published every Thursday with German national newspaper Die Ziet, is a veritable playground of creative experimentation. Christoph Amend, Editor in Chief, explained that the cutting edge visual nature of the magazine was the product of designers, photographers and journalists all working equally and collaboratively to create a package.
This collaboration of skills enables a far richer and more innovative approach to content creation and ultimately the presentation of serious journalism in a far more memorable way.
Amend’s view is that the world is awash with generic news pumped around and around by social channels. In such an environment, it is vital for print media to deliver something memorable. Readers remember and value difference.
And the magazine’s editorial team is kept from straying into self-indulgence by the very real challenge of being responsible for the front page of the main newspaper every two weeks.
When it comes to translating the brand into social media Zietmagazin’s ethos is simple – everything they do must enrich the print product.
In book publishing too there is a renewed confidence that readers will return to print if they are presented with a beautifully presented read and an interesting environment to find it in.
Sophie Thomson of Thames & Hudson and James Daunt, Managing Director of Waterstones suggested that people are returning to print because of the desire to own and treasure books that are tactile, beautiful and permanent.
They believe the ephemeral nature of digital is not always appealing.
Part of the key to the reversal of Waterstone’s turbulent fortunes has been a removal of uniformity in the retail experience – store managers are actively encourage to make their shops different and to infuse personality into the book buying experience.
Personal witness and authenticity creates potent journalism and credibility.
BBC Chief International Correspondent Lyse Doucet and photojournalist Lynsey Addario both spoke of the importance of journalism born of direct contact with the story. And in the context of alternative truths and counter-propaganda this has never been more important. Not just in foreign conflicts, but in every kind of story.
The conclusion? Just as other sectors, such as food and music, have swung from instant consumption and disposability back towards quality and authenticity, perhaps print media is swinging back from the brink.
Understanding the industry in these terms, one can see many future paths for print media to take and flourish. Here’s to the next ten years!