summer / 2016

The magazine of branded content
11 top tips from
Professor Samir Husni
on how to create an
engaging print product
Juliet Stott
Juliet Stott
Jun 29, 2016

Far from becoming a dying art, print is still going strong in many sectors including fashion, food, specialised publications, regional titles, and anywhere but the news. In part two of our four-part series on print in the digital age, Samir Husni, Hederman Lecturer and Professor at the University of Mississippi School of Journalism, talked to Content Magazine about how magazines can engage readers and give busy people that much needed ‘me time’ back. Here he shares his 11 tips on how you can create an engaging print product… even one that people will be prepared to pay for.

1. Create evergreen content

“I tell my clients: if you can Google the answer it does not belong in print. We have to go beyond just providing answers, telling people what happened yesterday. We have to be the bridge that ties last week to next week. We have to provide a simple answer to ‘what’s in it for me?’ Any publication that cannot answer that question does not belong in print. Print is about creating something that’s timely, yet timeless. Whether it’s B2B or B2C or C2C, content must be as evergreen as possible.

2. Be a community builder

“We live in a world of multiple niches. People like it when print plays the role of a community builder. Take for example when women with red hair buy a magazine dedicated to women who have red hair. They enjoy the feeling that ‘there’s more of me’.”

3. Curate relevant content

“We are bombarded with information. That’s why we are seeing the rise of good editors, they are the curators. There is still a lot of room for creation, but there’s a bigger place in print for curation. If you Google anything, you will be bombarded with information. As a B2B or B2C editor you will spend hours and hours curating that information, and then providing it to your readers.”

4. Compliment your digital assets

“Net-a-Porter launched a print magazine - with a high cover price - as a complement to its digital experience. It’s what we’ve seen happening with all the catalogue companies including the likes of Victoria’s Secret. Many went online when the economy crashed and almost killed their catalogues. They said [at the time] everybody’s digital now, but they witnessed their sales going down. Now companies are printing more catalogues, mainly because of curation. Customers want to sit down and flick through the pages of a catalogue before ordering it online. It’s about the element of surprise, and not everybody knows exactly what they want.”

5. Make it about anything but news

“Print is excelling when it comes to fashion, specialized publications, food, you name it - outside news - it’s still print’s domain. That’s why we’ve seen a lot of digital only entities discovering print – from Net-a-Porter from WebMD to The Food Network to Oprah – all these that existed only on the airways - TV programs, online shopping etc. they have all discovered the power of print. But their content is not news.”

6. If you charge, people will pay

“When I worked in the Netherlands they had four, free daily newspapers, similar to 24 hours, Seven Days and Metro. But there was one called Next that was published by NCR which you had to pay for. It was amazing to see how people avoided the free publications and bought the paid-for versions. I asked the editor and he replied: ‘even my girlfriend thinks I am a more intellectual person buying a newspaper than picking up a free one’. There’s a lot to be said about premiums. I am firm believer that we have to be in the business of having customers who count. I almost cry when I see offers like ‘subscribe to the magazine for $5 for the entire year’. Folks, when are you going to wake up and go back into the business doing what we’re doing?!”

7. Know your raison d’étre

“Print titles fail because they lose their DNA or their audience, these are the two important elements of a successful magazine. Successful magazines have to have a willing and capable audience – those that are willing to pay for the price of the magazine and capable of buying the advertised goods within it. If you give away your product for free, you give up your audience. You don’t know who they are. When Time Out New York was a paid title, they knew who their audience was. Now, people use it to cover their heads when it’s raining and they’ve just come out of the subway. When you lose your reason to exist, it’s time to quit.”

8. Keep your content relevant

“It’s about knowing what type of information you’re involved in. We are seeing that celebrity magazines are not doing as well as they did, because the celebrity has their own Twitter account, Instagram account… you name it. You don’t need to wait for In Touch Weekly or Heat to tell you that Madonna is pregnant or divorcing… Madonna is telling you herself, the moment it happens. So the function of a celebrity magazine has had to adapt. When I got a Tweet about Prince dying I bought three different magazines that documented his life and picked up the New Yorker because they had a Purple Rain cover.”

9. Make it a luxury

“It’s the uninterrupted engagement. You can flick through to the end, go back to the beginning – indulge in the pages – a luxury environment. It’s not about how fast you can press that “X” on your digital app to bypass an ad. Show me a person that the first thing they do when they get a magazine is cut all the ads out! Ads are an essential part of the environment. In fact, the Professional Publishers Association in the UK did a study a few years back and they found when they asked people to select the 10 best pages of their favorite magazine, three out of 10 were ads.”

10. Give your readers their ‘me time’ back

“We’ve done a lot of experimentation. The most recent study indicates that if you’re holding something in your hand, looking at it and reading it, your brain functions in a different way than if you are looking at a screen. Aside from engaging with all your senses, no one considers reading a magazine work - it’s me time, escape time. We are on our computers for hours every day, but when we lean back with a magazine, it’s our time, our space and our bodies are engaged in the experience.”

11. Print on quality paper

“Print has to be collectable. If you print your publication, whether it’s a newspaper or a magazine, on cheap paper you are telling me it’s disposable, and it’s not worth it. If you don’t invest in the quality of the paper or if you don’t invest in the quality of the photography or articles, you won’t have provided something your readers want to keep.”