Story | 03/15/2022 07:43:20 | 5 min Read time

Print publishing in the post-pandemic world: FIPP CEO James Hewes provides his insights into the modern media landscape

As the world begins to take tentative steps out of the Covid-19 pandemic, we open the door onto a very different terrain to the one we entered lockdown from. During the past two years, pre-existing anthropological trends have been accelerated, such as a rise in remote working, digital fatigue, and for the media industry, an upturn in direct-to-consumer (D2C) revenues.

So just where is the media industry today? And looking specifically at the print sector, how is this content being positioned within the modern media mix? Here, FIPP President & CEO, James Hewes, gives us a global view.

From the newsstand to the home

“The two most notable trends in magazine publishing that have been accelerated by the pandemic are the shift away from newsstands towards home subscription, and the repositioning of print as a luxury product,” Hewes tells us.   

This is perhaps unsurprising, as newsstands were either completely closed during the pandemic, or simply experienced huge reductions in footfall. The negative was that this obviously led to sharp declines in newsstand sales, but conversely it also heightened publishers’ awareness of the need to invest in direct-to-consumer models, which as Hewes points out had long since been a desirable revenue stream before the onset of the pandemic.


“Increasing direct-to-consumer revenues is something that the industry has been eyeing up for some time. Partly, this is to help reduce their dependence on newsstands financially, but it also has one eye on sustainability goals. During the pandemic, necessity in many cases forced publishers’ hands, and the shift towards direct sales through home-delivery-subscriptions has ended up being hugely beneficial.”

The benefits of placing print products directly into consumers’ hands have allowed publishers to:

  1. Retain a higher proportion of the revenue generated from copy sales
  2. Reduce waste from unsold copies
  3. Generate consumer data, which can be used to establish greater ongoing relationships with customers

During the pandemic, we also saw that these benefits were coupled with some solid growth in subscription numbers, as consumers sought to fill the increased leisure time they enjoyed as a result of not having to commute.

With a dearth of physical events during the pandemic, many audiences rediscovered the importance of the ‘magazine moment’


From fast fashion to luxury items

While digital revenue streams like subscriptions and e-commerce have naturally grown during the past two years, print has firmly established itself as a high-end, luxury product.

With a dearth of physical events during the pandemic, many audiences rediscovered the importance of the ‘magazine moment’ - a chance to switch-off from the carousel of daily zooms and instant messaging and reconnect with aspirational content, as the latest copy of Vogue or Men’s Health dropped through the door.

Hewes says that the positioning of print as a luxury product is leading to five key transformational trends in magazine publishing:   

  1. Higher pagination, delivering more content
  2. Higher paper quality
  3. Direct delivery
  4. Higher cover price
  5. Reduced frequency

“And this is not solely the preserve of the magazine industry,” he adds. “The positioning of print as a luxury product is also something we’re seeing right across the direct mail industry.”

“Mainstream print publishers are also increasingly taking notice of what independent publishers are doing and repositioning their magazines as higher quality products. This is related to the decline of the newsstand and increase in subscriptions, as there is less need to deal with large wastage of copies.”

Back to Live, Back to Sustainability?

Of course, wastage too was an important issue for the industry long before the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic. There is a significant social and environmental impact that goes alongside publishing activities, and as awareness in the sector grows, media owners are becoming more aware of their footprint across the entirety of the distribution and supply chain.

“They must document elements such as plastic usage, carbon emissions and human impact,” say Hewes. “This is in addition to demonstrating that they are working to actively reduce these. Increasingly, this will be a ‘hygiene factor’ for their consumers, and the good news is that the industry has made good progress in this area so far - although we must continue to work hard to deliver greater improvements.”

Throughout the pandemic, and indeed before, we saw many publishers turning to innovation for continued competitive advantage. As we begin to move into a new post-pandemic phase, what kinds of trends are we seeing in the media space?

“Innovation has always been a critical success factor for our industry. Naturally, much of this happens in the digital space. This year we have seen publishers move into areas such as NFTs to generate new revenue streams.”

“However, each year we produce our Innovation in Media World Report, and each year I am amazed that we continue to discover new innovations in print. In recent years, these have included additions such as heat-sensitive paper in a shoe ad, to allow you to measure your feet accurately, and paper embedded with seeds that you could plant in your garden. It seems as though there is no limit to our ability to continue innovate in print.”


Writer: Jamie Gavin, FIPP


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