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How to take advantage of print media while it still exists

For many reasons, print media has descended into obscurity, and evolved into digital, but its death is still far off. In the meantime, there are smart ways to use print media to your advantage.

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The decline of print media

We’ve been predicting the death of print media for years, as Newsweek becomes the latest print casualty, but like most entrenched industries, it will always take way longer than anyone would expect. Despite Priceline and Kayak, there are still travel agents, albeit less of them. And print will go on in some form because in some cases, it’s still a useful way to distribute information.

We’ve seen the demise of the medium predicted as publishers cannibalized their own revenues by giving away all their content online for free with the hopes of selling banner ads. We saw a race to the bottom with banner inventory prices that was further ballooned by the rise of bloggers who, without the same barriers to entry as printing, were able to go toe to toe with some of the largest publications in the world. But forget large bloggers – there are just… so many bloggers that even if on average a blog gets 50 hits a month, times a million blogs, that’s still 50 million eyeballs the big players are missing.

When people argue against the end of print, you have to wonder if they somehow had access to hundreds of millions of dollars in investment capital, what they’d think if newspapers never existed and someone came to them with the following idea to invest in:

“Newspaper Business Plan”

“Reading the news online is great, but sometimes we miss a more artistic and tactile approach. Our plan is to take yesterday’s news, quickly create a beautiful “layout” with computer software and designers working day and night, then print millions of copies overnight in a huge printing plant using millions of dollars in equipment. We’ll then send these “newspapers” to distribution points all around the city. From there, we will utilize an army thirteen-year-old boys on bicycles who will distribute the newspapers door to door in their neighborhood after school in exchange for gratuities from our customers so they can go buy Topps baseball cards, Silly String, and Now-N-Laters. And we’ll support the whole thing with advertising. We think printing last week’s help wanted ads and apartment listings will be a surefire revenue driver!”

Why print media is destined to die

Bananapants, right? But that’s what exists. And that’s why its death is inevitable, because it’s essentially a zombie industry whose legacy allows it to borrow against its future, a future that’s dwindling faster than Tim Tebow’s playoff hopes.

Why has the death of print taken so long? While technology allowed for the dissemination of the same information print offered, only faster and for free, the same technology had not caught up to the same aesthetic and user experience that readers are used to in print. We still want a beautiful layout, or even a layout that looks like David Carson went on a meth binge. But being limited to a handful of fonts and fairly straightforward layouts most definitely curtailed online media’s ability to compete. Even though it’s faster and more timely to get information online, we still love to turn pages.

The tablets changed all that. Slowly, we’re seeing digital versions of publications that let us flip through the pages like a magazine or newspaper that have not only the same beautiful design as a printed piece, but even embed video and animations in a way that doesn’t seem weird. We now live in the future. It’s only a matter of time before everyone catches up.

The fudging of distribution numbers

Print is further hampered by the fact that, as opposed to highly trackable and audible online media, for its entire existence, print’s numbers were, well, bullshit.

The standard readership numbers went something like “Well, so we printed 100,000 copies and sent them to 100,000 homes. We figure each home has 8 people living in them, plus, you know 5% of homes were burglarized by second time offenders who had literacy training in prison, and our cousin had a plumbing problem so you know that whole work crew was in his house last week, therefore, if everyone who came within 50 feet of the publication dropped everything and read it cover-to-cover, then clearly at least 4 million people read it (if not like 8 or even 30 million on a good day!) and we have a feeling because of all the pretty colors and its proximity to the last 1000 words of our hard-hitting expose on the 100% rise in toothpick-related fatalities from 1 to 2 in the past year, they especially paid attention to your 1/4 page ad on page 168. Did we mention sometimes after people throw the publication out, the garbage collectors read it on their break?”

Print is on the way out. But you can still take advantage of it as a marketer.

Print on the long tail

Forget buying a full page ad in the New York Times. Media rates at that level are determined more by supply and demand than what their real ROI is going to be to an advertiser. What I’m talking about is local newspapers, college newspapers, anything with a circulation below 10,000 or so. Trying to build a new brand with a broad target market on a budget? As opposed to a major publication, who may not return your phone call even if you do have a check for $50,000, that same money could be spent to advertise in 50-100 small publications and actually reach more people.

Of course, in the digital age, how do we translate our print to online effectively? Creating brand awareness is great. But if you’re used to the instant gratification of seeing your analytics pop up in real time, the glacial speed in which print moves can be quite frustrating.

Bridges to digital

• Contests: Using print as a way to supplement a contest being held via social media is a great way to get more people involved. The key here is the “carrot.” It makes no sense to spend $50,000 to give away a $50 gift card or 10% off the purchase of your mediocre product. Be imaginative with the prizing. Find something bespoke on Etsy made by someone who has a great following and leverage their social audience as well. Buy something bizarre on eBay. Make something compelling enough that I’m going to grab my phone and find your contest right now, while I’m looking at the ad. And sure, use a QR code if you must for tracking, but remember that for most of us, QR codes are ugly and make us throw up in our mouth a little.

• Experiential and Events: Hold some sort of special event in a local market that requires an online RSVP. Or use it to announce that your experiential tour van is going to give away free samples at a set time and place and anyone who pre-registers online gets a special incentive. Remember, when we use the long tail print above, you’re in local and college newspapers – people tend to actually pay more attention if you’re taking about something going on in their community. For example…

• Making a difference in the local community is a great way to translate print to digital. You can pay Facebook $1 per like by buying ads, or you could donate a dollar to the local homeless shelter or community garden, or even let people vote on what difference they want made in their community. Even if it’s used to grow Austin weird.

Enjoy it while you can

Once your have your print pointing to digital, you can consider a feedback loop. Follow up the print with ads featuring photos of the event you held, pointing to a microsite where the people who attended can download them. Update it with news on the progress of the community activation, so people can see that you did use the funds to have 3D Chalk Dude draw the rival school’s mascot being sucked into the fiery pits of hell.

As print becomes less popular, ad rates will continue to fall. It won’t last forever, but smartly integrating print into your digital is something you can enjoy while you can.

Marc Lefton is a creative director and tech entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience. He's a partner in Digikea Digital based in NYC and Gainesville, Florida.

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5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. agbenn

    December 26, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Great article, the only thing missing is the monitization of the online space, it’s expensive for online publishing too and just gets more expensive every year. Dev costs, hosting costs, passed on cost of bandwidth we used to get for free because we were smaller publications, and the overhead of content production in general, web editors, staff and the like. This notion that paying penny ad rates on a niche site is bullshit in and of itself. It ain’t going to happen. What’s it cost to run a television ad that’s barely targeted? It should be equal to the ad spend on many online publications but it isn’t even an nth of that. No, my prediction, is the web is going to get even more expensive, and even the big online publishers will suffer as long as companies like google continue to drive down the cpc or cpm, demand has a price, and pretty soon, those eyeballs will be paying for it – it’s just a matter of them catching up to reality – business cost money no matter it’s location.

    • halffiction

      December 27, 2012 at 7:59 pm

      Thanks, Benn – yes it’s not only rising costs on your end, the driving down of CPMs by Google, etc. but supply/demand are affected by taste and lack thereof. I’m in the business of making creative and beautiful ads which are expensive to produce and require talented people to execute, much like your business. However, someone who has a cousin with a stolen copy of photoshop could easily make a mockery of what we do both from a design and copy aesthetic all the way down to the technical details of production and a client with poor taste will just see the cost savings. In an online publication’s case, the oversupply is coming from many more directions, from content mills and SEO spammers, people posting cat photos on Facebook, etc.

  2. JoeLoomer

    December 27, 2012 at 7:42 am

    Benn hit the nail on the head. I thoroughly enjoyed the article, but at least in my small neck of the woods, the only local paper charges similar fees for online ads as for print, even increasing their fees as their distribution numbers decline (thereby helping the snowball down the hill).

    Navy Chief, Navy Pride

    • halffiction

      December 27, 2012 at 8:01 pm

      That definitely makes sense, when I lived in a small town I saw the local paper doing the same thing. Local advertisers are often not savvy about what online stats are meaningful.

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Business Marketing

Spruce up your product images with Glorify (just in time for Black Friday!)

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Want professional, customizable product images for your company? Consider Glorify’s hot Black Friday deal.

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Glorify app lets you create beautiful designs for your products.

Glorify, the app that creates high converting, customizable product images for your business, is offering a lifetime deal for $97 this Black Friday. In just a few clicks, you can transform one of Glorify’s sleek templates into personalized, professional-looking content – and now, you don’t have to pay that monthly fee.

Whether your business is in electronics, beauty, or food & drink, Glorify offers a range of looks that will instantly bring your product images to the next level. With countless font styles and the ability to alter icon styles, shadows and other elements, you can access all the perks of having your own designer without the steep price.

In 2019, Glorify was launched – the app was soon voted #2 Product of the Day and nominated for Best Design Tool by Product Hunt. Since then, they have cultivated a 20k+ user base!

Glorify 2.0, which was launched last week, upgrades the experience. The new and improved version of the app is complete overhaul of intuitive UI improvements and extra features, such as:

  • background remover tool
  • templates based on popular product niches and themes
  • design bundles for your website/store, social media
  • annotation tool
  • upload your brand kits and organize your projects under different brands
  • 1 click brand application
  • & much more!

“But the most important aspect of Glorify 2.0, is that it comes with a UI that sets us up for future scalability for all our roadmap features”, said CEO of Glorify Omar Farook, who himself was a professional graphic designer.

Farook’s dream was to provide a low-cost design service for the smaller businesses that couldn’t otherwise afford design services. Looking through reviews of the app, it’s evident that Glorify does just that – it saves the user time and money while helping them to produce top-notch product images for their brand on their own.

Glorify is one of the many new design-based apps that make producing content a breeze for entrepreneurs, such as Canva. As someone who loves design but doesn’t have the patience for Creative Cloud, I personally love this technology. However, Glorify is unique in that it is the only product-driven design app. All you have to do is upload your photo!

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Business Marketing

This new Chipotle location will be fully digital

(BUSINESS NEWS) In the wake of the pandemic and popularity of online delivery, Chipotle is joining the jump to online-only locations, at least to test drive.

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Chipotle exterior, possibly moving to a fully digital restaurant space soon.

A lot of industries have switched to an online-only model in the wake of the pandemic. Most of them have made sense; between abundant delivery options and increased restrictions on workers, moving away from the traditional storefront paradigm isn’t exactly a radical choice. Chipotle making that same decision, however, is a plot twist of a different kind—yet that’s exactly what they’re doing with their first online store.

To be clear, the chain isn’t doing away with their existing locations; they’re just test-driving a “digital” location for the time being. That said, the move to an online platform raises interesting questions about the future of the restaurant industry—if not just Chipotle itself.

The move to an online platform actually makes a lot of sense for businesses like Chipotle. Since the classic Chipotle experience is much less centered on the “dining” aspect than it is on the customizability of food options, putting those same options online and giving folks some room to deliver both decreases Chipotle’s physical footprint and, ostensibly, opens up their services to more people.

It’s also a timely move given the sheer number of people who are sheltering in place. A hands-on burrito assembly line is not the optimal place to be in a pandemic, but there’s no denying the utilitarian appeal of Chipotle’s products. To that end, having another restaurant wherein you have the option to order a hearty meal with everything you like—which is also tailored to your dietary needs—is a crucial step for consumers.

Chipotle’s CTO, Curt Garner, says he is hoping this online alternative will offer a “frictionless” experience for diners.

As a part of that frictionless experience, consumers will be able to order in several different mediums. Chipotle’s website and their mobile app are the preferred choices, while services like GrubHub will also be available should you choose to order through a third-party. The idea is simple: To bring Chipotle to you with as little fuss as possible.

For now, Chipotle is committing to the single digital location to see how consumer demand pans out. Should the model prove successful, they plan to move forward with implementing additional digital locations nationwide.

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Business Marketing

Your business’ Yelp listing may be costing you more than you think

(BUSINESS MARKETING) The pay per click system Yelp uses sounds good in theory, but it may be hurting small businesses more than helping.

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Man browsing Yelp for his business listing in open office environment.

We all know Yelp – we’ve probably all used Yelp’s comment section to decide whether or not that business is worth giving our money to. What you might not know is how they are extorting the small businesses they partner with.

For starters, it’s helpful to understand that Yelp generates revenue through a pay per click (PPC) search model. This means whenever a user clicks on your advertisement, you pay Yelp a small fee. You never pay Yelp a cent if no one clicks on your ad.

In theory, this sounds great – if someone is seeking out your product or service and clicks on your ad, chances are you’re going to see some of that return. This is what makes paying $15, $50, or even $100 a click worth it.

In practice, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. When setting up your Yelp account, you are able to plug in keywords that correspond with your business. For example, owner of San Francisco-based Headshots Inc. Dan St. Louis – former Yelp advertiser turned anti-Yelp advocate – plugged in keywords for his business, such as “corporate photographer” and “professional headshots”. When someone in the Bay Area searches one of those terms, they are likely to see Headshots Inc.’s Yelp ad.

You are also able to plug in keyword searches in which your ad will not appear. That sounds great too – no need to pay for ad clicks that will ultimately not bring in revenue for your business. In the case of Headshots Inc., Dan plugged in terms such as “affordable baby photography” and “affordable studio photography”, as his studio is quite high-end and would very likely turn off a user who is using the word “affordable” in their search.

How Yelp really cheats its small business partners is that it finds loopholes in your keyword input to place your ad in as many non-relevant searches as possible. This ensures that your ad is clicked more and, as a result, you have to pay them more without reaping any of the monetary benefits for your business.

If you plugged in “cheap photography” to your list of searches in which your ad will not appear, Yelp might still feature your ad for the “cheap photos” search. As if a small business owner has the time to enter in every single possible keyword someone might search!

In the case of Headshots Inc., Dan ended up paying $10k in total ad spend to Yelp with very little return. Needless to say, he is pissed.

So what does this mean for you if you use Yelp for your business? If you don’t want to completely opt out of Yelp’s shenanigans, try these 3 tips from Dan:

  1. Try searching some potential irrelevant keywords – are your ads showing up in these searches?
  2. Do your best to block the irrelevant keywords. It’s impossible to get them all, but the more you do the more money you will ultimately save.
  3. Keep an eye on the conversation rate on your profile – does more clicks mean more client inquiries? Make sure Yelp isn’t sending low-quality traffic to your profile.

Ultimately, it’s about protecting your small business. Yelp is the latest in big tech to be outted for manipulating individuals and small businesses to up their margins – a truly despicable act, if you ask me. If you don’t have tens of thousands of dollars for ad spend, then either boycott Yelp or try these tips – your company may depend on it.

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