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  • Writer's pictureJohn Wilpers

"But, I want the REAL version...!"

The appeal of print: Why millennial and GenZ bloggers demanded tear sheets of their blog promotions, and four other new and immutable print attributes driving its resilience.

(This article originally appeared in fourth quarter 2021 edition of"Print & More", the German-language publication of the German magazine association.)

By John Wilpers

Katahdin Media Management

What appeal could print media possibly have for digital natives like millennials and Gen Zers?

A lot, as it turns out.

For example, BostonNOW made media news (the NYTimes, National Public Radio) when its editor convinced 4,000 bloggers, mostly millennials, to host their blogs on their website. Whenever the editors saw a great post, they promoted it in the print edition with a headline, an excerpt, and a QR code to the full post.

The next morning, the newspaper got calls from those digital native authors begging for tear sheets from the print paper. The editors would suggest that they print out a PDF. “NO!” they’d indignantly reply. “I want the real version to send to my mother and post on the refrigerator and put in my scrapbook.”

Wait! What? Why?

“One of the appeals of print is permanence, having a touchstone that is real, tangible, and credible, a physical proof of achievement and value,” said Ruud van den Berg, Senior Vice President Sales, UPM Communication Papers.

That newspaper was victim of the global 2007 recession. But at the time, the number of bloggers on the site and in the paper was actually growing in leaps and bounds, and the young bloggers’ deep desire for “real” evidence of their achievement was timeless.

And that’s just one example of how the immutable print qualities resonate with every generation.

Print has also begun resonating, especially with the young, for reasons we didn’t see coming as recently as two or three years ago.

Consider sustainability.

Everyone knew paper was recyclable, but few knew about the negative environmental impact of digital publishing. Journalists used to be accused of working in a polluting industry but today people are coming to understand the damage digital does.

For example, according to a recent study, the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector accounted for 3–3.6% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2020. That’s more than the fuel emissions for all air travel in 2019 (2.5%).

Meanwhile, paper companies like UPM are contributing to the protection of the environment, not its destruction. “Paper is a renewable material and can be recycled efficiently,” said van den Berg. “Products are sustainable over their entire lifecycle, from forest to recycling. The wood raw material is sourced from sustainably managed forests and the production process complies with the occupational health and product safety requirements, and minimises impact, waste and consumption of water and energy.”

Consider safety and privacy.

Print readers do not have to worry about invasions of privacy, data theft, pop-up screens, spam, power outages, viruses, trust issues, obnoxious interruptions, and too much screen time.

Consider digital burnout.

Since the pandemic hit, we have been tied to our digital screens for hours a day. Our tolerance for more digital in our lives, especially after work, is very low.

Print lets people disconnect from tech. “Print is more than just an alternative to digital; it’s an antidote, a calming experience, an escape, a relief,” said van den Berg.

Consider, too, the double appeal of luxury.

First, niche luxury magazines about high-end fashion, home decor, lifestyle, and other topics are experiencing a renaissance. “But also consider the luxury experience of a highly produced print product,” said van den Berg. “The elegance of the photo spreads, the feel of the high-quality paper, the statement such a magazine makes on a coffee table.”

This is not theoretical happy talk. Print subscriptions and cover prices are on the rise. Print subscriptions have risen 25-30% during the pandemic, according to Samir Husni, a Mississippi University Journalism School professor and self-titled “Mr. Magazine”.

“Although uptake in digital magazine subscriptions has risen, interest in print subscriptions has risen by at least twice as much as digital since the start of lockdown,” said Carola York, VP/Publishing at marketing company Jellyfish.

Media preferences swing like pendulums. “Print was declared dead not so long ago,” said van den Berg. “Today it is a robust tool for publishers in their diverse portfolio of platforms for delivering high-quality content and advertising.”

Welcome back to the future.

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