Digital marketing budgets are growing by leaps and bounds year over year — is print doomed to going the way of the dinosaur?

We’re solidly in the midst of the digital era — both in terms of how we engage with media and how marketers seek to engage consumers. 

A 2018 report from Nielsen found that the ease of access to mobile devices, online streaming platforms, gaming, live television, and more has led to adults spending more than 11 hours a day engaging with or consuming forms of digital media. To further evidence the rise of digital media, in 2018, firms were expected to allocate, on average, 42% of their marketing budget to online initiatives — a number that’s only expected to grow in coming years. 

Other studies predict that by 2021, the funding that brands are putting into digital marketing — including paid search, social media advertising, and email marketing — will account for nearly half of all advertising, with investment in online video content expected to see especially significant gains, doubling between 2016 and 2021. 

In short, digital isn’t going anywhere soon. Even the publishing industry — which would seem to be the bastion of print — is adapting. In recent years, a number of journals and newspapers have done away with print issues and gone fully digital. And while e-books have existed in various forms for decades, they came to prominence in the 2000s as more book sales began moving online.

The increasing prevalence of digital media and commerce has been accompanied by the input of naysayers from a variety of industries, who assure us that print is slowly but surely on its way out of fashion — and out of use.

But is all the hype surrounding the death of print well-founded? What does the media landscape really look like?

Examining the Evidence That Print Is Dead

Analysts have been predicting double-digit annual declines in print advertising for years. One indicator that the twilight of print is upon us is the popularity and effectiveness of video marketing, which consumers tend to engage with more thoroughly as compared to other forms of content. These shifts in how consumers engage with media and marketing indicate just how far the digital sea change is reaching.

Consider Condé Nast, the publishing giant behind high-profile publications like GQ, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and others. The past few years have been rocky for the company, which reported a loss of $120 million in 2017. 

Attempting to stem the financial losses, Condé Nast took a number of drastic measures, from combining the photo and research departments of different publications, laying off employees, and even leasing out multiple floors of its offices at 1 World Trade Center. The company also announced it intended to sell three of its publications: Brides, Golf Digest, and W

However, despite the company’s struggles, one Condé Nast publication that has thrived is Bon Appétit. The monthly food publication has stepped up its online presence in recent years, resulting in the astronomical success of its video content program. 

Videos created for projects like the “Gourmet Makes” YouTube series, wherein host Claire Saffitz and her team attempt to reverse engineer gourmet versions of snack foods like Twinkies and Sour Patch Kids, have been viewed more than a billion times. Further, a recent series of profiles and interviews with Saffitz — who currently has nearly half a million followers on Instagram — underscore the show’s booming popularity. 

All of this has spelled success for Bon Appétit. The publication’s YouTube channel is currently the fastest-growing in the food category, boasting more than 40 million monthly views and more than 800 billion (yes, that’s with a b) total views.

It seems all signs point to digital media being the future of marketing, especially when it comes to video. Marketers are reporting an increase for digital video budgets of 25% year over year — and that number skyrockets to 75% for media and entertainment outlets since 2018. With gains and successes this large, print seems ill-poised to compete.

Long Live Print!

However, while marketers are reallocating their budgets toward digital media, the vast majority of Americans still prefer print publications. Surveys in recent years have found that more than two thirds of adults in the U.S. have read a print magazine in the past month. According to a joint white paper released by FIPP and UPM Communication Papers earlier this year, nearly 60% of magazine subscribers self-identify as primarily print-oriented. 

Other findings from the report indicate that the top 25 print magazines in the U.S. have a wider reach among adults and teens than the same number of prime time TV shows, and that print publishing is responsible for 60 to 80% of many publishers’ revenues. 

Furthermore, even as e-books and audiobooks have become more common, print readership among adults has remained fairly steady since 2012. 

There’s also been a resurgence of independent publishing in recent years. The continued success of ‘IRL’ books has led to the doubling of independent bookstores in the U.S. in the past decade. What’s more, the popularity of zines and indie magazines is on the rise. The relative ease and affordability of creating smaller-circulation publications that devote attention to aesthetics and specialized content has made it easier for niche publishers to leverage crowdfunding and social media followings into print publication success stories.

So while some publications — and thus marketers and advertisers — are finding huge success in the digital space, many applications of print are still thriving. 

Two Things Can Be True

So while many have been quick to jump on the “print is dead” bandwagon, the evidence doesn’t bear that out. For both conscious consumers of media and marketers, it’s important to consider the media landscape in more nuanced terms. 

Digital marketing is booming, but market data indicates that print as a whole is not only still a valuable industry, but one that’s thriving in sectors of the market where it’s as — if not more — effective than digital. Indeed, the most successful publishers of today are those that “have reinvented themselves as brands that serve their audience via a range of channels, of which print is just one.”

What it all boils down to is this: In order to create effective, value-adding messages that reach target audiences where they are, marketers need to consider end-goals and applications more carefully. Just as we’d consider microtargeted ads more effective than organic search in some instances, we should consider how print may serve certain purposes better digital, and vice versa.

Print and digital are not mutually exclusive formats. The resilience of print as a valuable medium behooves publishers and marketers to consider how to use print and digital initiatives in measured combinations to achieve their specific ends.