A print renaissance?

While the print media industry is in a flutter over the need to go digital, some media brands are pushing against the tide, developing their print product into something new and innovative.

Anyone paying close attention to the publishing world, especially magazines, would be forgiven for thinking that print-based brands had given up on hard copy as their core money-spinners and switched to websites or apps for tablet computers.

But not so: some magazines not only continue to thrive in print but have even launched traditional paper products in the midst of the ongoing technology transformation.

One glossy magazine to do so is Monocle, the current affairs, business and lifestyle title, launched by Canadian publisher Tyler Brûlé. Monocle found its way onto newsstands five years ago and today averages almost 74,000 copies for each of its 10 issues a year circulating around the world.

Sales for parent company Winkontent were up 20% for the year to December 2012 and operating profit rose from 39% to 48%. Its December/January 2013 issue took more than US$3m in traditional advertising sales – the first time for a single issue – and although Monocle has its own branded shops, cafe, fashion line, 24-hour internet radio station and website, hosting around 350 exclusively commissioned short films, 60% to 70% of the brand’s revenue comes from print with advertisers such as Rolex, Cartier and Dior.

The magazine’s editor, Andrew Tuck, is an advocate of paperbased products, but says being successful in print means investing in the product and quality content. Eschewing the easy route of using agencies, Monocle commissions only dedicated journalists and photographers through permanent bureaus staffed by full-timers in London, Toronto, Tokyo and New York. Offices are soon to open in Istanbul and Bangkok. Importantly for Tuck, the content tackles subject matter that isn’t being addressed by the mainstream press.

Strategically, Tuck believes print has failed where executives have made unsupported assumptions about most readers switching to tablets. He calls it a “self-fulfilling prophecy” as managers shift investment from print to digital.

“If you start from that position, the belief that people are going to abandon your [print] brand, it will happen,” he says.

Part of Monocle’s approach to print was to produce a product that was collectible. Monocle contains up to five different highquality paper stocks in a single issue, topend design and smart photography.

“That’s how we rowed back against the decline of print. We said, let’s make something that people really want to keep, to have on their coffee table, or on their desk,” Tuck says.

Key to this thinking is that readers needed a product they identify with; the brand should say something about them and become a “talking point.”

“We noticed that if you download Monocle as an app to your iPad and you’re on a plane or a train … no one has a clue what you’re reading. It’s invisible. There’s no identification. Which isn’t good for my brand, and certainly isn’t good for brands that advertise with us.”

The Monocle model is not necessarily transferable, says Tuck, especially for midmarket titles reliant on advertising from brands that could easily switch to television or radio. But he says publishing’s biggest problem was assuming that the future was uniform, with readers for all titles migrating to tablets.

“It doesn’t hold for everybody, but why should it? Why should there be one model? You don’t say that about the food industry, you don’t say that about restaurants or the arts industry. But, oddly, media managers all imagined there was one journey through the challenges ahead … and it’s not true.”

The article was written by:

  • Gavin Hinks

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