Why some magazines are going back to print

Artwork from the upcoming March 2017 issue of Paste
Paste Magazine

At a time when print publications are shuttering their physical editions, Paste is going back to print.

The publication, which has been around since 2002, ceased its monthly print edition in 2010. However, it has found that among its 7 million digital readers exists a hankering for a copy of the magazine they can hold in their hands. To meet that demand, it's relaunching a quarterly print edition, which will ship with a vinyl sampler for its readers. The first issue will be March 2017.

"There is some aspect of it that is a throwback," said Josh Jackson, founder and editor-in-chief of Paste. "So much of what we consume is online. There is something about having a physical product. … If you are going own something, it should feel and look beautiful and it should be something to savor."

Paste's decision comes at a time when many larger publishers are struggling to keep their print products viable. Bloomberg Pursuits said at the beginning of December it would be ending its print edition. Around the same time, Conde Nast's Self magazine also said it would be going digital only with special print editions. Complex's last print edition will be its December 2016/January 2017 issue. The New York Observer announced in November it would be ending its print version. Earlier in September, Mental Floss ended its print run.

Print advertising costs considerably more than digital advertising to reach the same amount of readers. With subscribers migrating online, advertising budgets are shrinking. About 38.4 percent of marketing budgets will go to digital advertising next year, overtaking the 35.8 percent of once ad category leader TV, according to eMarketer. Print's share has dwindled to around 13 percent, with 6.6 percent going to newspapers and 6.4 percent going to magazines.

Still, Paste isn't the only publication going back to print. Spin published its first print edition since 2012 in October. And, some previously online-only publications are trying their hand at a physical product. Advertising publication Digiday launched a quarterly print magazine, Pulse, in April. Jewish news site Tablet launched a bimonthly print edition in late fall 2015.

"When the vinyl resurgence happened in 2008, that was very much in response to music being digitized," said Stephen Blackwell, chief strategy officer of Billboard-The Hollywood Reporter Media Group. "Our audience is consuming 70 percent of our content on a mobile device. But for this 18-to-34-year-old millennial generation, I think there is a bit of a nostalgia factor. There is a totally different experience bouncing around a print component. It forces you to focus in on what you are doing. I think that is really what you are seeing."

Billboard-The Hollywood Reporter Media Group acquired SpinMedia publications Spin, Vibe and Stereogum on Friday. Blackwell was formerly the chief executive officer of SpinMedia.

To be fair, the majority of publications choosing to start the print route have niche or very targeted audiences. Paste and Spin both said they have no intention of slowing their digital output or resurrecting their previously monthly editions.

And, both publishers' print editions come with huge caveats. Spin only did a one-off free print edition sponsored by Amazon Studios for its show "Good Girls Revolt." About 15,000 copies were distributed at hotels, record stores, barber shops and other cultural hubs. It also published a corresponding digital edition for those who couldn't get a copy. The online version got hundreds of thousands of readers.

However, Blackwell said thanks to the success of the Spin/Amazon collaboration, it is offering the print edition as an advertising option to its partners. He added the print edition was able to garner a lot of media attention, which brought more attention to Amazon's advertising campaign.

"This was an instance where the scale and [return on investment] came out of the digital front, but were able to make this really cool piece of value out of the print response," Blackwell explained.

Paste, on the other hand, will cover all print costs through its subscription fees. Each issue will cost $20, with $70 getting readers a full-year subscription. Any print advertisers the media company can secure will be additional revenue. But going more frequently than four times a year would be too costly, Jackson said.

"We're not looking at this as a sort of pivot back to becoming a print brand," said Jackson. "I don't see print ever being nearly as big as our online presence. But I hope we will be able to find more cool things to do with the magazine. It's expensive, but we're sparing no expense in the making of it."