Opportunities & Threats: Customer Publishing

With concern for the environment growing, brands expect their publishing agencies to deliver on a green agenda.

By Mike Sewell

Opportunities & Threats: Customer Publishing

“Old soldiers never die,” the saying goes. “They simply fade away.”

Many people once thought the same would be said of print in the customer publishing sector. Yet printed magazines will comfortably hold their own in the 2020 customer publishing mix.

Now, there are signs another publishing format many thought would fade away might also prove more resilient than expected.

I’m talking about magazine publishing apps, embraced a decade ago as a key channel for brands to engage with their audiences.

The hope was, readers would enjoy the same ‘lean back’ experience as with printed magazines, with the bonus of beautiful designs and interactive features. Pesky print and mailing costs could then be reduced, or axed entirely, and everyone (except the printers and mailing houses) would be happy.

In the event, in many cases, disappointing download figures led to equally disappointing ad revenues that failed to cover the costs of creating these beautiful app versions.

But with various mainstream publishers, including The Guardian, The Atlantic and the i newspaper, launching new app publishing models in recent months, some customer publishers may see an opportunity to follow suit in 2020.

The general election campaign reinforced public concerns with social media – following on from the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, which showed 60% of people in Europe (including the UK) trust traditional media, compared with 34% for social media.

The benefit of being a (relatively) trusted source offers a continued opportunity for customer publishers and their clients. But they must also be wary of potential reputational threats associated with print magazines.

With continued public focus on the climate crisis, we can expect that in 2020, brands will want to respond sympathetically to the ideals espoused by activists such as Greta Thunberg.

So, when considering printing and packaging, customer publishers will need to be seen to be doing the right thing for the environment.

The National Trust’s customer magazine, with the UK’s highest average circulation per issue at 2.47m, was among those leading the way in switching to biodegradable, compostable, potato starch wrapping. Other customer publishers are following suit, with any extra costs presumably outweighed by the reputational benefits.

While this helps make your readers (and clients) feel good about themselves, it’s notable that the organisation representing the wastes management industry chose not to use potato starch wrapping for its new magazine.

The Chartered Institution of Wastes Management (CIWM) argued that, among other drawbacks, should people mistakenly attempt to recycle a biodegradable wrap, it would contaminate the recycling.

CIWM’s solution? To go ‘naked’, print addresses on the back cover of Circular magazine – and mail it without any packaging at all.

Will other customer magazines go naked in 2020? If so, Greta would surely approve.

Customer publishers will need to be seen to be doing the right thing for the environment.

Customer publishers will need to be seen to be doing the right thing for the environment.

This article was first published in the Publishing Partners Guide 2020, which was distributed with the January / February issue of InPublishing magazine.