Digital Print: The Emerging Opportunity for Magazines & Catalogs

By: Ellen Harvey & Denis Wilson

Publishers have often spoken fondly of the potential of the “magazine of one” where all content and advertising is customized to readers’ interests. However, this concept has always been conceived in electronic formats.

Developments in digital printing technology (especially inkjet) combined with publishers’ rich audience data, are presenting new ways for publishers to develop print products that are as customizable as online experiences.

Speakers at Digital Print: The Emerging Opportunity Magazines & Catalogs explored how improvements in digital printing technology have raised the quality of digital printed pages while the price to print digital is declining.

For advertisers the value is clear: the ability to reach the right people with a high-impact print experience is especially enticing.

At the event, printers and equipment manufacturers presented case studies where they’ve worked with magazine and catalog publishers to develop targeted and personalized publications.

Keynote speaker Marco Boer of IT Strategies kicked off the evening with a look at trends in print publications from now until 2020. Looking at the numbers of magazine and catalog pages printed in North America is jaw dropping. Marco predicts that the total printed page volume for magazines and catalogs will fall by about 60% from 2007 to 2020. Yet, publication pages will still account for 35% of total page volume by 2020.

Digital printing remains a specialty in terms of page volume, just 1.3% of all pages printed by 2020. But as Boer put it, specialty doesn’t mean digital printing is inconsequential. That’s because digital printed pages present opportunities for publishers to capture new revenue and develop new products.

Overall, print has a fit in today’s digital world, says Boer. “That doesn’t mean it will come back to what it was, but industries are reexamining the role that it plays.”

Speakers from equipment manufacturers and printers explained how they’re helping magazine publishers and catalogers drive new revenue using digital print technology. For example, Canon’s segment marketing manager Tonya Powers and Trend Offset Printing’s VP of sales Jeff Thompson explained how digital printing can make it easier and more affordable for publishers to version their publications. Target Marketing, a sister publication of Publishing Executive, worked with Trend Offset Printing to develop a digitally-printed magazine targeted to marketers in the financial industry. The goal was to create a smaller magazine that drove more value to a specific group of readers and advertisers. The special edition features the subscriber’s name on the cover, a sponsor logo on the cover, and ads from companies that want to get their message in front of financial marketers. Target Marketing plans to create other versions that are targeted to verticals, like automotive and healthcare, and sell higher value ads to companies interested in reaching these audiences.

Kodak’s director of worldwide sales and marketing Will Mansfield said that magazine publishers can also feature ads customized to the individual using digital printing technology. For example, publishers can print an ad with a unique promotion code for each of their subscribers. The subscriber can then enter that code on the advertisers’ site to receive a discount or win a free gift. Then the advertiser knows exactly which readers engaged with the ad. Likewise, publishers can use their own codes to give readers free access to content that is behind a paywall. Publishers can track which readers used the code and nurture them toward a paid subscription. Publishers can digitally print these codes in a special edition of their magazine, or on an insert page that is added to the regular issue.

Catalogers are using their online ecommerce data to deliver personalized print publications to their customers. For example, catalogers can target promotions, article headlines, and content on an individual level to their customers based on past purchases and demographic data. That level of personalization is helping catalogers significantly increase conversions, said HP marketing manager of Core PageWide Web Press Mark Johnson.

The biggest takeaway from the event was that digital printing is not replacing the offset-printed publications magazine publishers and catalogers already produce. Rather, digital printing is allowing these publishers to create new print and advertising products and create new value for readers and advertisers. As personalization becomes the norm in digital content, consumers and advertisers will come to expect similar experiences in print. This is an opportunity that publishers and catalogers cannot ignore.