Print versus digital: A Q&A with Mr Magazine

Reposted from media update.

As the battle of ‘print versus digital’ rages on, media update weighs in with Samir ‘Mr Magazine™’ Husni. Described by CBS News Sunday Morning as ‘a world-renowned expert on print journalism’, who better to ask about the war between print and digital?

media update’s Aisling McCarthy chatted to Husni, the director of the Magazine Innovation Centre at the University of Mississippi School of Journalism, about the ongoing battle between the two mediums and what the future of the magazine industry might look like.

In the battle of ‘print versus digital’, who do you think comes out on top?
The battle is long over, and the truce has been drawn up. No longer is there any reason to ask the question who won the content war.

Both print and digital have their individual places and their ‘joined forces’ position. It’s the 21st century, and readers shouldn’t have to choose between the two types.

Ink on paper has its permanency and digital has its infinite world of information that is ever-changing. There is room and a place for both. No one is on top – they are both laying next to each other.

Much of the media world is debating the relevance of print. Do you think print still has something to offer?
Print is as relevant and viable as ever. The proof in what print has to offer lies in many areas. Print is about the collectability factor. What you give your reader in a printed product is permanence, curated beauty and information. This is something that has value, that cannot be clicked through or updated at any given moment in time.

There is a laid-back quality that print offers that digital doesn’t. Print beckons the reader to sit a spell, and relax. Forget notifications and bombardments of pushed out information. Read something curated for you that you selected from the newsstand or through your subscription service.

Print is as relevant and viable as ever.
And there is that all-important credibility component. And in this day and age, that’s vital. Having the information tried and true for you is an irreplaceable service. And isn’t that what print does best? It verifies, solidifies and edifies content.

In addition to that, print caters to the three human needs, or ships, that cruise through all humans: ownership, membership and showmanship. In its pure sense, that feeling that you own something: a book, a magazine or a newspaper. Displaying it on your coffee table or night stand is unlike having your iPad on your coffee table.

Why do you think people seem to favour digital?
Digital is a ten-year-old technology, which means it’s [fairly] new. People love new, pure and simple. Print is an over 500-year-old ‘technology’.

Digital is quick, easy, infinite and at your fingertips. Most of us humans prefer instant gratification; it’s just human nature, regardless whether that instant gratification is based on fact or fraud. However, in the long run, we always want it all – hence, both print and digital have a place in modern media.

In 2015, you co-authored Managing Today’s News Media: Audience First. Can you tell us a bit about what ‘audience first’ means for media organisations?
‘Audience first’ simply means that your customer, reader, viewer, user or content-consumer comes first, above all else. Above platforms, above EVERYTHING. And your customer is also your advertiser – let’s not forget that.

What audience first means to media organisations is the difference between success and utter failure. You cannot realise prosperity if you do not recognise who pays your bills – your customer. Therefore, their needs, wants and desires should come first: where they want to consume content, what content they want to consume and when they want to consume it.

Until you can fulfill those requests (and those are a mere few, you have to determine all of them based on your own customers) then success will be a long time coming.

Our biggest mistake in the last decade has been falling in love with the platforms instead of falling in love with the audience and the customers. I think most of us have learned from our mistakes, and now the majority of the smart magazine media companies are falling in love with their customers once again.

Many magazines have kept their print version but have also included a digital version. How can they get the most out of each one of those platforms?
If you can’t survive in print as a print publication, digital is not your salvation or heaven. A magazine that loses its print audience is not going to gain any digital audience to speak off.

You must utilise both print and digital in their own unique capacity. Don’t let them be carbon copies of each other – that is the worst thing you could possibly do.

Give consumers something in the print version that they can’t get in the digital version. Give them a reason to be addicted to both, because creating that addiction is vital to the life’s blood of your products, both print and digital.

What do you think the future of magazines will look like?
Print magazines are evolving and must continue to do so. And while there are many things that digital entities do well, there are also equally amazing things that print does well, too. Magazines and magazine media will continue to work together to become a married unit that must have each other to succeed.

In the years to come, the question of print or digital will cease to exist and the combination of the two will simply be the norm.

What advice would you give to media organisations looking to remain successful with both their audience and their advertisers?
Once and for all, let us bury the mantra ‘print is dead’ or ‘dying’. Stop using the phrase, and remove it from your conversation.

The real crux of having success with any type of publishing is you have to know your customer’s customer, i.e. – the audience and the advertiser. That is the true mark of a professionally marketed and targeted publication.

If you cannot humanise that magazine and give it a pointed and rigorous personality – one that can carry on a particular conversation with both the audience and the advertiser – then you’re simply tilting at windmills. A one-dimensional idea that has not been fleshed out isn’t going to work. Not for you, not for your advertisers and certainly not for your readers.

In the summer of 2008, I wrote an article for the magazine of the Custom Publishing Council called Content. And while I realise that was 10 years ago, some things never age, such as the content of the Content article. That’s a lot of ‘content’ you might say, and I agree with you. But content, good content combined with experience making, is what magazines are all about.

So, the advice I have for media organisations is just that, know your customer and your customer’s customer, humanise your products and be an experience-maker when you’re creating that fantastic content.

Once and for all let us bury the mantra ‘Print is dead or dying’.
At the end of the day, it is not the ink on paper or the pixels on a screen that measures success. It is the interaction, the love affair, that you and your customers are engaged in that will lead to the long-lasting relationship and success.

So keep on printing, keep on creating pixels on the screen, but never stop falling in love with your customers and customers’ customers. There is hope. There is always hope.