7 digital content lessons you can learn from print

We're told print is dead, yet many titles continue to thrive. Here are 7 lessons that you can take from the world of print and apply to your online content.

 7 digital content lessons you can learn from print

‘Print is dead’. We’ve all heard the phrase so many times that it’s easy to accept it as fact and ignore any arguments to the contrary. In actuality, some print magazines continue to be very successful even in this always-on digital age.

Here are 7 lessons from the world of print that can be used to inform our online content strategy:

1. Let your passion drive you

Today’s most successful magazines continue to thrive because they radiate a strong passion for their subject matter. Take independent magazines like Little White LiesThe Wire or The Gourmand. Each treats their chosen subject matter with utter reverence, from the gorgeous design to the care that’s taken over the informative, entertaining and in-depth articles.

By mirroring the passion of the audience they’re writing for, these products become something to treasure and collect. Infuse your online content with a similar level of zest and it will engage your readers on a whole new level.

2. Strong design = engagement

Take a look at magazines such as WiredBloomberg Businessweek and COLORS. These magazines focus on very different topics, but their approach to design and formatting are top of the range.

Whether it’s using explosive, colourful imagery when appropriate, taking advantage of bespoke design elements such as infographics, or just their approach to intuitive layouts, magazines such as these have a lot to tell us when it comes to information design on the web. After all, if Facebook has shown us anything it’s that online audiences love a good image.


3. Embrace limitations

Print publications don’t come with the benefit of the web’s infinite expandability. But those boundaries can be empowering, rather than limiting.

The lack of a concrete word count can be to the detriment of digital content, causing it to bloat into superfluous drivel. In print, the strict physical space limitations demand effective, relevant and impactful reporting without the chaff. The more thought put into content, the better the value to the reader. Embrace this thinking online, too.

4. Employ a strict editorial process

Flatplans, workflows, forward features planners, sub-editing – a print publication cannot run effectively without stringent editorial processes in place. The same goes for online content – consistent top-quality content can only come through editorial rigour and a solid content plan.

5. Zingy cover lines work

Cover lines are an editor’s opportunity to sell the magazine to prospective buyers before they’ve even picked up the mag – and they’re a challenging art to master. The best can cram an article’s worth of impact and intrigue into 5-10 words – much like an online header or call to action should.

Cosmopolitan is a great example of cover lines done well. Whatever your opinion on the actual content they promote, its cover lines are indicative of a publication that knows its audience well.


6. There’s still a place for long-form content

Today the largest volume of online content comes in the form of 140-character updates. Print is the place for longer, ‘sit down’ features that take a time investment to get anything out of them.

However, while short and sweet is often the best option for an audience with a short attention span, there is still is a place for longer-form articles online. If you have a dedicated audience then the occasional in-depth article that delves into the intricacies of a subject can be welcome – and it helps to show a real passion in your topic.

Remember, you don’t always have to be fast and first to get hits, as discovered by the creators of ‘Slow Journalism’ magazine Delayed Gratification.

7. Free content still brings in profit

Few things will get your readers looking for another site faster than a message like this. After all, you’re probably not the only one offering such content.

Free content still flourishes in print – look at Metro (1,346,844 ABC total average distribution), Shortlist (535,505 ABC total average distribution) or Time Out (307,767 ABC total average distribution).

Putting content out for free gets more eyes on it, which in turn can translate into more profit through product sales or on-site advertising. It’s a viable business model, and one that won’t turn away readers the moment they land on your site.