- For years, brands have experimented with print publications in an effort to build awareness and equity.
- These efforts are frequently shuttered after a few issues as brands grapple with the range of challenges that print presents, including defining and measuring success.
In November, Stripe published the final issue of its quarterly print publication “Increment”. The payment processing company’s foray into print lasted 4 years and 19 issues, and was notable for one key reason: that it existed as long as it did.
Numerous high-profile brands’ have attempted to stand up print publications over the past decade, and the majority share a similar fate of being shuttered after a handful of issues, or being “pivoted” to digital (read: moved to a website that’s updated a couple of times a year.)
As anyone who’s wrestled with the complexities of producing a print product. (including myself) finds out one way or another – InDesign or painstakingly checked proofs (I’ve done both) knows, print is difficult. It’s hard for traditional publishers, and it’s particularly hard for brand publishers who rarely possess the skill sets, experience and mindsets necessary to create regular print products. It can also be difficult to measure the success of print. For many brands, print isn’t used for the right reasons – chiefly, building a brand. And for others, it’s that they don’t recognize that it can take a while to be successful, and aren’t willing or able to put in the necessary investment into it.
Plus, print requires other investments, too, such as in infrastructure and staffing to create a product in a new medium. It also needs a lot of content to fill it out, and may necessitate hiring new types of people, such as creative directors or operations managers to see it through. Distribution can also add wrinkles; brands will need to ensure they have addresses and delivery mechanisms to get the publication into the right hands.
Print in publishing can take a few different forms, but a monthly, quarterly or even bi-annual magazine is common. It’s often attractive to brands for a few different reasons. Content in print can be interpreted as more important or authoritative than online content, which can be helpful for brand publishing teams in signaling authority in the chosen subject matter.
Print can also open up new opportunities in terms of executive buy-in internally, as well as more external interest from people to be interviewed or be part of the content in some way. A physical magazine or publication can act as a flagship product that can bring together previously published and created material and present it in a new way, thus giving content a longer lifespan. From an organizational perspective, creating content for one physical magazine per quarter or month, then releasing it online consistently can be a good way to organize content efforts, particularly for teams with fewer resources.
But the graveyard of print efforts is pretty full. In the summer of 2021, American Express’ Departures, which it published in collaboration with Meredith, went digital-only. The magazine was a lifestyle and travel publication that went to holders of its Platinum and Centurion cards. The new Departures lives online, paywalled for those cardholders to access.
The travel category has not been particularly successful in print. American Way by American Airlines stopped print operations last summer as well. United in 2013 launched Rhapsody, a luxury and lifestyle in-flight magazine designed only for first-class travelers, then shut it down in 2018.
Launched in 2017 online and in print, Increment was about how teams build and operate software systems. Each issue covered a topic such as planning, mobile, containers or working remotely. Stripe has invested heavily in brand publishing – the company acquired knowledge-sharing website and forum Indie Hackers around the same time Increment launched, and has developed a robust publishing arm with Stripe Press.
Another brand-funded print endeavor was Airbnb’s Pineapple. The print magazine published its first issue in 2014. The idea was it would run quarterly and feature stories of Airbnb and its members. It shuttered a year later having only published one issue. At the time, reports said the magazine fell through when marketing budgets were slashed.
Consumer startups were particularly big on print. Mattress brand Casper famously had Van Winkle’s, a publication about sleep. The company had millions of dollars in funding, and Van Winkle’s was an attempt to reposition the company as more than selling mattresses. Content was part of its effort to own the conversation around “sleep.” After it shut down, it was replaced by Woolly, which unlike Van Winkle’s retailed for $12 a pop and was meant to run quarterly. Woolly’s site is no longer functional.
There are some successful outliers. One of the most successful and long-lasting print endeavors is the McKinsey Quarterly, a journal of management thought, that goes to print to select clients of the firm. It works in tandem with a robust digital publishing strategy that includes a well-staffed team.
Print publishing can be exciting for brands. But like most other publishing endeavors, print requires a clear strategy, and comes with the added burden of physical logistics, as well as measurement issues that web publishing does not have to the same extent. Brands looking to embark on print journeys should seek to think carefully about their goals and how much they’re willing to invest before they begin.
For help and direction implementing the steps and requirements needed to build successful brand publishing operations, see the Brand Publishing Toolkit for comprehensive and actionable guides, strategic insights and practical resources.