It is no secret that the world is and has been undergoing a process of digitalization. But all is not as straightforward as we might be tempted to assume.
The Association of American Publishers found that of the total consumer publications revenue for the month of August 2019 ($661.2 million), paper book formats made up 79.9% while eBook revenues only accounted for $86.3 million, 7.3% less than August 2018.
Similarly, there has been a resurgence of print in the marketing world, especially in the form of magazines and catalogues. Why?
There is something about the smell of book pages and weight of a bound piece resting heavy in your palm that keeps us flocking to the local bookstore (the one populated by wonky floors and wandering cats).
While this enchantment often stems from the promise of a good story, the intrinsically powerful vessel of print cannot be discounted.
Bookworms are not the only ones bewitched; companies are once again invoking printed formats to conjure niche, intimate experiences between their consumers and their brands.
Whereas the majority of a book’s allure rests in its story, the magazine format charms followers for a myriad of reasons—the unique benefits the experience of print offers (where digital media falls short) or the strategies of cross-media campaigning—but, ultimately, a deeper current nourishes this revival.
The persistence of marketing in print is indicative of a societal craving for connection and conviction.
In 1994 Sven Birkerts wrote,
The world we have known, the world of our myths and references and shared assumptions, is being changed by a powerful, if often intangible, set of forces…
We all feel a desire for connection, for meaning, but we don’t seem to know what to connect with what, and we are utterly at sea about our place as individuals in the world at large.
You need only take a peek at any of the recently-launched magazines to detect the saliency of Birkerts’ words.
The majority of magazines, in some variant or other, speak to this hunger by promising, explicitly or implicitly, resources for meaningful connection. Indeed, the very form of the magazine appeals to, grows from, and contributes to a niche community.
The Magnolia Journal
Take, for example, The Magnolia Journal.
First launched in the fall of 2016 as an extension of Chip and Joanna Gaines’ Magnolia brand, the lifestyle magazine has a reported following of 5,585,000 with a 1.2 million rate base.
(“Rate Base” refers to the guaranteed average net paid circulation, or the average number of a periodical’s copies that are sold through subscriptions and newsstands, per issue. It is set by the publisher and helps advertisers determine whether or not it is advantageous to place ads within a certain periodical).
In 2017, media and marketing company Meredith Corporation reported that the magazine had established one million paid subscribers within a year with an estimated seventy percent sell-through rate on newsstands.
Christine Guilfoyle, Meredith’s SVP/Group Publisher, commented,
Consumers are captivated with Chip and Joanna’s passion and enthusiasm around things they love: family and the celebration of each new season. When you give consumers what they want in a space that fills a specific niche, there is obviously consumer success attached to that and advertising success has followed. Importantly for our industry, The Magnolia Journal continues to support the power of print.
Joanna Gaines’ goal with The Magnolia Journal is “to connect with readers from all walks of life, to share content so valuable and so meaningful that you hold on to each issue and return to them again and again.” She says to the reader, “I want you to be inspired, confident and empowered to try something new by simply picking up a copy and setting aside a quiet moment for yourself to read.”
Joanna’s vision for the journal touches on two crucial aspects of the print experience: the endurance and the intimacy.
She knows how busy and loud the world can feel so she has created a journal which touches on people’s yearning for slower rhythms, beautiful environments, and rich foods. The magazine allows Magnolia to take on a companion-like role beyond its brand status; like a friend, it is reliable and timeless, inviting its reader into a quieter way of living.
The Magnolia Journal, however, is not alone. Countless other brands, from REI to Airbnb, have begun launching their own print magazines.
REI’s Co-op Journal “Uncommon Path”
REI, popular outdoor retail and gear company, launched a print magazine in the fall of 2019.
REI’s Uncommon Path provides a collection of stories which are accessible beyond the edge of the screen. Hoping to nurture people’s connection to life outside, the magazine embodies silent grandeur through printed stories and vivid landscapes. It seeks “to help awaken, nurture and restore a lifelong relationship with the outdoors.”
While faithful REI followers will appreciate the tangible permanency of these personal stories, interviews, tips and advice, the magazine is striking a profound societal chord.
The desire to forgo the noise of city life for a silent retreat under the cool shadows of cedars and pines may not immediately resonate with everyone but Uncommon Path isn’t daunted by them. Rather, it moves in closer and extends another invitation: “No matter where you come from, what you look like or what you knew before, everyone’s welcome outside. This is your invitation to take the path less traveled.”
It recognizes the universal, underlying need for steadied rhythms and encounters with beauty. For connection. In this case, facilitated by a tangible print experience.
Even dating apps are beginning to call upon print’s spellbinding properties in their marketing strategies.
In the spring of 2019, Bumble introduced Bumble Mag. Like the app, which provides platforms for dating, friendship, or networking and focuses on the empowerment of women, the magazine is about much more than romantic advice. Within its bright covers there are features, interviews, and articles on networking, friendship, and work-life balance.
Bumble Mag marries the dating app with the age-old, trusted tradition of reading and writing in a strategic dance of symbiosis.
It further establishes the brand as a champion of women and as an expert source on connection, online or offline.
Casper is proving itself to be much more than a mattress company.
In the fall of 2017, Casper launched Woolly magazine. Saturated with humor and educational tidbits about health and self-care and “human burrito time,” the magazine—available in print and online—adds a new, relatable element to the sleep genre of marketing. Like Uncommon Path and Magnolia Journal, Wooly offers an escape from the fast-paced work world.
Readers can move through the magazine in the quiet of their own homes—or, perhaps, more appropriately their beds—without fear of being bombarded by notifications, messages, emails, and updates.
For an enjoyable, humorous read, check out this introduction to the magazine by Editor-in-chief, John Devore. According to Devore Woolly is all about “comfort and bubble baths and soup and the various ways we rest, relax, and recharge…. Sometimes it is comforting to have a nice sit.”
Airbnb swoops down from their typical birdseye view to ground level with Airbnb Magazine.
Launched in May 2017 the popular vacation rental company’s magazine invites the reader to “be at home in the world” and to see it “through a local lens” by espousing both the mundane and the spectacular sides of travel. What if a night around the dinner table was just as spectacular a view as a night under the Milky Way?
Airbnb Magazine blends brilliant hues and pictures with catchy, niche articles to create a local and personalized feel.
A teaser selection of articles on Medium ranging from “A Local’s Guide to Europe’s Top Holiday Markets” to “A Letter to My Thin Friend Before Our Trip” provide a glimpse into the up-close perspective of the magazine.
The magazine’s “manifesto” states:
Airbnb Magazine celebrates humanity wherever it exists: across borders, time zones, languages, and skin tones. We believe that travel is transformative, and key to building bridges in increasingly strained societies. We champion commonality and connection, and spotlight the experiences made possible when we are open with each other and curious to explore the world—and ourselves.
The magazine challenges the assumption that Airbnb is just another vacation rental company.
The local and nuanced approach of Airbnb Magazine paints the brand with empathetic and observant colors.
It reminds Airbnb’s customers of the brand’s deeper vision and value: to connect people across the world, encourage the growth of communities, and promote trust.
Through the compelling and personal nature of print, each of these brands is tapping into a universal reservoir: the desire for meaning and connection.
Whether people seek out the answer in nature or among communities of people with similar passions, few are immune from this yearning.
Indeed magazines bear about them a scent of sanctuary.
As notifications and (seemingly) limitless choices fill the world, the gravitation towards reading materials that we can carry into quiet spaces with us as we disconnect increases.
People are more and more attracted to anything which provides or resembles (even if only faintly so) a niche community, a safe landing spot, a place of retreat. Starving humans are not likely to pass up on a meal when it is offered to them.