The doom-mongers have been proclaiming the imminent death of print for longer than I’ve worked in magazines. It’s still BS!

No Egon Spengler, print is not dead. It wasn’t in 1984, and it won’t be when Ghostbusters turns 40 next year. Well… what do you expect from a guy that collects spores, molds and fungus?

However wrong-headed the line delivered by Harold Ramis was, it’s an early recitation of a magazine mantra that rumbles on to this day. For as long as I’ve worked in this business, people have been proclaiming the imminent demise of the magazine’s original substrate.

And yet, more than a quarter of a century into a web-inspired digital revolution, much of the magazine industry’s revenues come from ink on paper; as much as 80%, according to PwC’s Global Entertainment and Media Outlook 2022-2026.


Thankfully, mutually exclusive media zealots – who I’ve referred to for some time as pixel heads and page sniffers – are increasingly in the minority. Everyone with a clue now talks about print plus digital, not print versus digital.

That doesn’t mean the phony war between the formats is over, however. Try pitching a print proposal to the money men that fund new media projects. And there’s no denying that zombie print is a problem. ‘Doing what you’ve always done’ doesn’t even get you what you’ve always got – not anymore.

Old-school print thinking is ingrained, and investment in innovation is too often trumped by strategies for managing decline. For the bean counters looking at margins rather than revenues, the frustration that print publishing won’t just go away must be excruciating.

Print isn’t going to crawl off into a corner any time soon though. Publishers are still putting ink on paper and, more importantly, people still want to read ink on paper – a survey of FIPP members conducted last year showed 81% of publishers agreed that ‘readers still want print products’.

There is even cautious talk of a print resurgence in some quarters, sparked by the COVID subscription bounce and in response to digital clutter. So why won’t print just lie down  and die?


The literal bottom line is that the revenue delivered by digital simply isn’t enough to fill the gap left by declining print sales. That’s why, according to Jim Bilton’s annual mediafuture’s survey, print revenues average 46% for UK magazine publishers. And although he forecasts a drop to 40% over the next couple of years, that’s still significant.

There’s a stark difference between consumer magazines, averaging 66% of their revenues from print, and B2B titles, averaging 25%, but he says the decline is slowing and “print was finding its place as a premium and increasingly profitable platform”, at least until production costs ballooned.

Print as a premium product was a real theme in the discussions I had for this piece. Future’s launch of The Blend, to be published nine times a year to “meet consumer and advertiser demand for luxury lifestyle content” and the return of an NME print bi-monthly with a £10 cover price underlines the trend. The launch of Dan Crowe and Matt Willey’s Inque annual following a £150,000 Kickstarter campaign nails premium print’s colours firmly to the wall.

High on the list of things that make print worth paying for is that it isn’t digital. Print’s popularity during COVID lockdowns was as much about people needing to get off of Zoom as it was about having more time to spare. Now it’s about much needed ‘me time’.


Growing antipathy towards algorithmically selected content is also a factor. Distrust of automated content selection and dangerous disinformation, is driving many readers into the arms of trusted media brands, including carefully curated print pages.

Beloved print titles also deliver a sense of ownership… literally, but also emotionally. Just as people buy the latest issue of their favourite magazine to place on their coffee table or bookshelf, they buy into the identity that being a regular reader bestows. Holding your copy is a badge of belonging that people wear proudly and share.

To state the obvious, a print publication is also an actual, physical product that occupies space in the real world. Readers know exactly what they’ve spent their hard-earned cash on. They bring it home, or it arrives on the mat, and they can count the pages beginning to end, if they want. They can feel how many pages they have left to read in a way the skeuomorphism of Kindle’s page percentages can never replicate.


Part of the reason print won’t lie down and die is because no one really wants it to. Readers might not want it every day, and they might not want it from as many publishers as they used to. But they still want it if it delivers information just for them, and in a package that they find pleasing.

And magazine makers – maybe not all, but many – refuse to give up on a form that lets them show off their skills at their very, very best without the distractions imposed by digital media. Yes, digital undoubtedly does some things better – speed, scale, search. And without adding digital, print publishers would struggle with discovery and community building.

But even as the days of mass market print slowly draw to an end, print is not ready to give up the ghost. Commercial pressures are forcing publishers to use ink and paper much more intentionally, but when they do, that’s when the magic happens.

One of digital media’s biggest challenges is to convince consumers that online journalism costs exactly as much as print journalism to create. James Laffar at distributors Ra & Olly told me recently that the cover price of his bestseller is more than £20. Tyler Brûlé says 2022 was the most successful year ever for Monocle in print. “The money we made on paper far outstripped podcasts and other things we’ve done digitally.”

Print publishers need to lean into the idea that they are in the business of delivering a premium experience, not just words and pictures on a page. That’s the strategy that will keep readers coming back – and print  very much alive.

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