How print media can evolve in fast-changing digital world

Newspapers and magazines could thrive, if publishers keep readers' consumption preferences in mind

epa07482356 Algerian men look at local newspapers a day after Algeria's President Abdelaziz Bouteflika submitted his resignation, in Algiers, Algeria, 03 April 2019. According to official media reports late 02 April 2019, Bouteflika has announced his resignation, after weeks of popular mobilization against his rule and his intention to run for a fifth term in the upcoming presidential elections. Mr. Bouteflika withdrew from running for a new term but canceled Algeria's presidential election, which had been set for April 18.  EPA/MOHAMED MESSARA
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With the increased usage and accessibility of the internet, there has been an ongoing debate about what print media’s role will be in the digital world and what its future might look like.

There have been different opinions – some of the more extreme ones claim that print will cease to exist in as little as five years, while others believe it will only remain in the form of special editions by publications. Conversely, many argue that because of the abundance of information online and the content being screen-bound, readers will favour the touch of paper, enhancing print media's appeal. They believe that a reader's time spent flipping through pages could never be replaced by a digital screen.

In a panel discussion at the Culture Summit held in Abu Dhabi last week, the issue was brought to the table. There were concerns about the lack of advertisements in print. Advertisers often prefer options such as Google Ads, Facebook and social media influencers, which adds a strain to the budgets of publications. Another matter discussed was how fast news has to publish to compete with Twitter users and those who break news first on their platforms. By the time a monthly magazine is released, for instance, some articles may be outdated, so many are resorting to relying on publishing evergreen topics.

As a millennial, the way I consume daily news is different from how my dad did at my age. The 10pm news on TV and subscribing to different newspapers and magazines were the norm. I, on the other hand, don't watch the news on television and get all of my information through my phone. I prefer blogs over magazines and I read analysis by different journalists from across the world instead of just my local newspaper.

The millennial perspective, therefore, is broader and we have more timely knowledge about what's going on around the world.

And then there is generation Z, who are even more tech savvy, and their consumptions habits are still unfamiliar to many media outlets.

Print media is not obsolete yet, and may well never be so, but how does its future look? I believe that it will depend on several factors:

Print publications will continue to appeal depending on the location of its consumption. For instance, a dentistry journal will make sense in the office of a dentist. A local travel publication will make sense on a flight. If your target audience is senior citizens, then direct mail and special print editions will make more sense than investing time in a social media personality.

The traditional definition of a newspaper or a magazine will have to change. A story should not only be told in a one-dimensional way. Video, photo, sound and illustration should be considered as other ways to tell the same story. When a story is written, a user's news consumption experience will have to be considered. Nowadays, a newspaper or a magazine doesn't have only one way to share the content. There will be customers who like to read the newspaper or the magazine but there will also be readers who prefer social media channels.

Some prefer Instagram over Twitter, for instance, and in that case the story has to be told in a completely visual way. Users would rarely read a lengthy post under an Instagram photo upload, for instance. So in that case a strong visual, or a 15-second video, is required. For Twitter users, a story has to be summarised in 280 letters/characters, and often accompanied with a link to the relevant website. For generation Z, video is key, and SnapChat and Insta-story videos are two platforms that can also be considered.

I also believe we will be seeing more special editions or publications by different media outlets. These would appeal to advertisers, especially if the subscription list is influential, or one that advertisers would like to reach.

Moreover, it would provide a solid revenue generation scheme, especially when executed correctly.

Do I think print media will completely cease to exist? No. In fact, it could thrive if publishers adapt to readers' consumption preferences.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi