How COVID-19 is affecting digital vs print in b2b

COVID-19 forced many people’s lives inside but fortunately it did not stop b2b publications from producing consistent content. Even though many publications had to move their workspaces from offices to virtual work at home situations, some companies welcomed the new change because it then allowed them to re-examine digital content.

For more than a decade, print media — from newspapers to consumer magazines to b2b publications — have struggled with the print vs online question. As the web is proving to be a more popular option for some advertisers, an increasing number of publications have reduced circulation, cut back on the number of annual print issues, or even gone fully online.

A recent survey by TABPI showed that 41.3% of editors feel that the COVID-19 pandemic has hastened their publications move toward digital content. Nadia Howland, Associate Publisher for The Magazine Publishing Company talked about how her publications were able to move from print to digital gracefully.

“The pandemic hasn’t affected us too much because most of the industries we cover were deemed essential services, so most of our readers are still working and some busier than ever. It’s made our job of finding and showcasing exceptional people and projects much easier, in some respects,” Howland said.

Laurie Shuster, Editor in Chief of Civil Engineering magazine, attributes a lot of the shift to market forces.

“Advertisers are fine with having a print platform, but they also demand a strong website, e-newsletters, social media options, and conference sponsorships — all in one package,” she said. “Our audience is probably not yet ready to go all-digital, but advertisers probably are.”

Kenneth Shapiro, Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of TravelAge West, agreed, noting that, “It was moving in that direction anyway, but the pandemic is making that happen quicker.”

Others mentioned that issues like the environment and shipping costs to readers around the globe were also pushing more magazines to move away from print.

“We’re investing more in video, building new microsites and revamping our general digital experience,” said Keith Gribbins, editor/publisher, Craft Brewing Business and Compact Equipment.

COVID-19 hasn’t changed everything though — slightly more than half of the editors surveyed didn’t see the pandemic changing things away from print. Many editors noted that some readers, as well as some advertisers, still continue to prefer the paper version, and that they’d continue to provide both digital and print options for the foreseeable future.

“As long as advertisers want to advertise in our print publication and readers want to receive it that way, we will continue our magazine in print. On one of our digital publications, a daily, we have sold out through the end of next year already,” said Tina Filipski, Director of Publications/Editor, PPB.

And just because the focus on print may still be important, b2b journalists are finding themselves with plenty of work to do on both sides of the coin.

“Our print magazine is quarterly, so we have to do more digital content in order to keep up-to-the-minute with developments in the sector we cover,” said Tina Nielsen, Editor, Foodservice Consultant. “We are also doing many more virtual roundtable discussions, panel sessions and interviews that would previously have been done in person and printed.”

Another editor explained that their company is moving more definitively towards digital, “but my publication’s experience is still that the main revenue comes from print, so while we are exploring digital avenues in earnest, we have not moved away from our print offering in any significant way. This may, however, change in time.”

Bob Trebilcock, Editorial Director, Supply Chain Management Review, noted that they have not changed the number of print titles; the frequency of publication; the number of articles and columns in an issue; or the number of copies they distribute.

“Remember, we’re b2b and not paid subscription. What’s changing is the number of digital marketing products our sales and marketing team is offering because our advertising base is more interested in that.”