Print: It's An Evolution - Not A Death Knell

By: Danielle Gudakunst

Just to be clear: Print is not dead. It’s a pesky rumor that coincidentally seems reluctant to die.

But associations are constantly — sometimes, it seems, on a daily basis — reassessing their publications, their value to members, and the best medium through which to deliver content and information. As newspapers in the U.S. continue to shrink, printing costs rise, and e-readers and e-books eek out a growing share of the market, some associations have shifted their focus to digital publications.

Presenters at the Association Media & Publishing’s August 2016 Lunch & Learn made it very clear that this is not the only option for publishers in the digital age. The presenters — Amanda Jennison, marketing director at Bates Creative; Danielle Moore, marketing assistant at Bates Creative; and Association Media & Publishing Immediate Past President Erin Pressley, vice president of publishing, NACS, the Association for Convenience and Fuel Retailing — made one emphatic point right away: Print is not dead.

Associations have always sought to balance tight budgets with their mission to effectively serve members. Whether their flagship publications are newsletters or magazines, whether they are a member benefit or subscription-based, many association editors and publication managers may find themselves in need of evidence of print’s value.

Rather than the long-foretold death of print, the industry is seeing a reinvention and rethinking of the medium. Print provides a personal and tactile connection to readers, and many still look to print publications for authority and credibility.

Not sure you agree? Consider the following:

  • Readers retain knowledge and experiences better through physical interaction (handling a print publication, turning pages, etc.).
  • Readers see more of a print publication (90 percent) than a digital publication and are more likely to pick it up more than once.
  • Print publications have a longer shelf life than digital publications.
  • Millennials (i.e., new and future members) are the largest growing segment of print readers.
  • A decline in print circulation means that the readership has been culled to the most engaged and loyal readers — members who are most dedicated or interested in the association’s particular niche — which makes them very attractive to advertisers.
  • Once the possible misconceptions were addressed, Jennison, Moore, and Pressley explored publishing’s adaptation to modern consumption and engagement patterns through three important actions: restructuring, re-strategizing, and reinvigorating.


As part of adaptation process, associations are learning to leverage multi-channel publishing, which allows them to provide both the benefits of print and the convenience of digital to their members. Print articles can be repurposed for digital content — and that repurposed digital content might be valuable as an evergreen print piece, as well (e.g., a special issue on a "best of” a topic).

Remember: Employ readership studies to see how your members prefer to access and consume the content you provide.


Reading print is a chance for individuals to disconnect from the digital world, which means associations have an opportunity to use that time to connect with their members. To make the best impression (and to stay on budget), work with printers and designers to be creative and consider affordable, outside-the-box print ideas. Readers see print publications as credible sources, and they are evergreen — readers and members can pick them up again or keep them as a resource. Consider reader use and re-use when strategizing how to best employ a print publication. Also, keep in mind that certain content is often better in print — for example, a National Geographic photo — or easier to follow (a "Two Sides” survey showed that 80 percent of respondents prefer to read complicated documents on paper).

Remember: Benefits of association publications are not necessarily tangible and, definitely, not always monetary. Money invested can result in a stronger membership base, making a difference in the industry, or a stronger position for the association.


An association’s publications are often a member benefit — so they need to be perceived as one. Design is a significant factor in making a print publication stand out; it accentuates the content and sets the publication apart from competitors (with whom you are competing for your readers’ time). This is a chance to accentuate the association’s brand — members and readers will judge the magazine or publication by its cover, so use the brand and creativity to make it count.

Remember: Work with your printer. Many will help you find cost-effective ways to get the effect or new approach you’re seeking.

Print does still have power. What some people mistook as the death of print was just the beginning of another round of evolution, and associations need to stay abreast of the changes. Those who recognize print’s vitality will continue to succeed.

Author: Danielle Gudakunst

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