Is Print Journalism Obsolete?

By: Christanna Ciabattoni

In middle school while all of my friends were reading the Harry Potter books cover to cover, I was devouring Teen Vogue and Seventeen Magazine. I’d carefully tear out the glossy pages to decorate my bedroom walls alongside 4×6 printed pictures of my besties. Who needs posters (except the huge one of Vin Diesel that hung above my desk) when these beautifully styled editorials and advertisements were works of art?

I decided in high school that I wanted to pursue a career in magazines. I specifically declared my college major as “magazine journalism,” a track that would teach us the ins and outs of this medium, from writing blurbs about the latest celebrity-coveted face moisturizer to reporting on trend stories and conducting in-depth profile interviews. For those four years of college, I was never without a copy of Glamour or whichever book had my favorite “it girl” on the cover.

While my path eventually lead me to work in PR and strategic communications, magazines have always had my heart. I still have subscriptions to Vogue and W, and I still have iconic covers hanging on my bedroom walls (this time in frames and not taped.) Throughout my time at SBM, I’ve had the absolute pleasure of working with the very best editors at all of my favorite publications, and I have worked on everything from attending cover story photoshoots with clients to working behind the scenes with journalists to ensure the story and reporting is accurate.

I shudder every time a magazine announces that they’re ceasing print, and I cross all 10 fingers and toes that our beloved editors at these publications remain on the digital mastheads. The latest print pub to go is Allure, the go-to outlet for all things beauty. Last year Allure hired their first Black beauty editor-in-chief, Jessica Cruel, to run the title and successfully diversify coverage. Years ago they brought on Jihan Forbes as their digital hair editor to further cover the nuances of Black hair culture (if we read one more article about “trending box braids” written by a white person…smh.) Allure has set a precedent in the industry, and we’re confident that they will continue to do so with this digital shift.

In this case, and in the case of other great titles like Parents and InStyle (as of February 2022, Dotdash Meredith ceased print for six of their publications), all good things must evolve (not come to an end!) The shift from print to more digital mediums does not mean that PR and journalism are outdated, but rather that they are shifting to new mediums that meet consumers where they are NOW as opposed to in the past few decades. Back in my day (when we walked to school both ways in the snow!) when I was carrying around magazines in my backpack, I never could have imagined that one day we’d have cell phones that would literally manage our entire lives.

At SBM, we pride ourselves on being futuristic, and we think about the multitude of opportunities that can come from these shifts. This shift means more opportunities to position our clients in digital spaces like Web3 — and more opportunities to work with these legacy titles on their IRL experiences and podcasts. Our team recently worked closely with the social media editor at ELLE to secure an opportunity for our client VoteRunLead to be featured on the brand’s TikTok. This opportunity introduced the organization to more of a GenZ audience, many of who will be voting for the first time in this next election cycle. Because social media outlets show metrics, we were able to present our client with measurable outcomes and proof of ROI. We met the audience where they were, and our client’s message was received. It was a win-win.

Magazines require lead times that are often months in advance. With advancements in social media and 24 hour news, people now want their information almost immediately. And less desire to advertise in print (hello Facebook and Google) equals less funding to print. Simply put, printed magazines are no longer meeting a need.

Are we forecasting the total end for print magazines? Not necessarily. We believe there will be a continued desire for certain publications (especially at those airport newsstands). But at the end of the day, media is a business. So we ask, are print magazines a good investment? Will the pendulum ever swing back? Tell us what you think in the comments.